Time-lapse Vid of Dissolving an Oyster Card in acetone (aka nail varnish)

Disclaimer: Just to cover my back, be aware that TFL probably won't like you doing this. So get permission first etc.

I'm pretty certain that ever since BoingBoing featured Chris Woebken dissolving an oyster card to get at its juicy inner workings (a RFID chip stuck to a loop of wire, fact fans) geeks across London have been attempting it.

As such I'm rather late to the party on this one. The rather splendid SciencePunk beat me too it with this grand attempt codenamed Operation Ladybird. Nevertheless I knew I must attempt this epic journey too.

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What you will need

If you want to play along this is your shopping list:

1) ~ 400ml of Nail Varnish Remover - I bought 2 bottles of Boots own brand at 99p each. I could probably have got by with one.
2) An oyster card - I bought a prepay one for £3, though I got a funny look when I didn't want to top it up there and then.
3) A jar big enough to contain the oyster card - I bought a jar of beetroot (urgh) for 72p.

Total Cost: £5.70

It's simple enough process, fill the jar with the nail varnish remover, dump the oyster card in it. Put the top back on and wait for a few hours. Brilliantly, I picked up bunch of PS2 eyetoy cameras on clearance (£1.99 each from Gamestation) which means I now own a webcam! (Aside: they can be turned into pretty good webcams once you've installed macam, and they appear to be quite easy to break apart so I'm turning one into an infrared camera next). So I'm proud to present Skeptobot's first ever youtube video. Time-lapse footage of my Oyster Card dissolving.

Notes on the vid: I've never used a webcam/youtube/imovie before so sorry for the quality. The smudge on the card that appears about half way in is from when I poked it with a pencil, and the paint on the pencil stripped off. It's best to keep checking the card, first it will get soft, then after about 90 mins it folded over and I was able to peel off the first layer of the card, exposing one side of the chip. Then I cut the centre of the card out with scissors (so there was less plastic for the acetone to work on). I put these pieces next to the jar, and I was quite suprisied when the time-lapse showed them wobbling about.

Then after another half hour or so, the other side of the plastic loosened enough to peel that away exposing the intact chip and antenna. Nail Varnish Remover takes longer that SciencePunks miltary grade stuff but I think a more dilute source of acetone is more effective than SciencePunks military grade stuff.

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The chip itself
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The chip still attached to the loop of wire acting as it's antenna

So tomorrow morning I'll attempt to use this naked oyster card to journey to work. If I'm successful (and not arrested for terrorism) I'll have to decide what my new oyster card will be. So far I'm thinking either stitching it into my watch, or wrapping it around a magic wand (though that might kill the signal).

UPDATE - It still works!
This is how the oyster card currently looks (I've put it back inside it's wallet to keep it safe and so I don't look too weird):
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And this is how it still works!

The magic wand draws closer...


Dr* T said...

The idea of dressing up as a wizard and piz-azzing the turnstile with a magic wand and having it respond really tickles me.

Let me know how you get on!

SciencePunk said...

It's like Edison and Tesla, all over again!

I've soldered my chip onto a hunk of brass wire in what I think is the correct circuit. Any chance of some sweet macro shots showing the chip & connections?

I love the idea of a magic wand, BTW.

gia said...

I'm TOTALLY into the idea of a magic wand!! Love it!

Annie Mole said...

Interesting - can you please let me know if it actually works though? I saw this on Boing Boing a couple of days ago as well and don't actually know of anyone who's managed to get through the gates on it. As you didn't put any top up on your Oystercard - will the £3 be enough in itself to get you through the gates?

I have an annual card and don't use prepay plus don't know enough about how the whole prepay stuff works.

But if it does work I'll be all over this like a rash.

Thanks to gia's tweet which is how I found your post in the first place.

Lave said...

I'm going to top it up and try it out in about an hour, then I'll report back.

I'll try and get you a macro shot sciencepunk, but my camera's macro mode is awful.

I'll see if I can wrangle some one elses today,

Lave said...

Hey Annie, well it worked. Now I've just got to get in it a wand. I'll keep you posted best I can.

Love your blog by the way!

gia said...

A wand!!!! Haha! You need to video that. I need to see it in action!

Martyn said...

Put it inside a glove, then you can just wave your hand across the turnstyle Obi-Wan style.

"This isn't the oyster card you're looking for...."

Anonymous said...

Nice. I like this a lot and would like to incorporate it into my watch strap.

That said, I know someone at work who had their card confiscated for mutilating it, as apparently even though you pay for it, it still belongs to TfL.

Anonymous said...

Public Service Announcement: Incidentally, don't try and cut cocaine with an oyster card. Whatever it's cut with contains a solvent that attacks the plastic, and you end up with these indelible white craters all over it.

Still, I suppose that's a reminder of what you're doing to your septum and your brain cells at the same time

schrodingerspig said...

Utterly fantastic!

And hurrah to you, you're in the b3ta newsletter.

Annie Mole said...

You rock basically - I loved the home made aspect that anyone could potentially do this. Looking forward to seeing the magic wand and hope my post generated a bit of coverage for you too.

Anonymous said...

"Still, I suppose that's a reminder of what you're doing to your septum and your brain cells at the same time."

Whilst I'm not endorsing the use of narcotics, I'd like to point out that the solvents in question react with the plastic oyster card entirely differently from the innards of ones head. If you dip your hand in acetone it won't dissolve, unlike an oyster card.

PPS. Great idea! Slightly niche using a wand, but I like the idea. Surgically implanted in your right fore-arm? The possibilities are endless...

Lave said...

Yeah thanks Annie I appreciate it.

Hello b3ta. I am honoured.

The wand was just a throwaway idea that people seemed to like (it's that or a Sonic bloody Screwdriver out of, off of Dr Who).

But my main goal in the end is to stitch it into my watch so I don't forget the blasted thing all the time and be forced to pay ridiculous paper fares.

Oh and (obligatory self plug) some of you might be interested in the rest of the site - it's some not very coherent ramblings about why God's a dick, religion is silly, pseudo-science is a bag of wank and why Gillian McKeith is a loathsome creature.

Urgh that felt dirty. Sorry.

Irregular Shed said...

You do realise that videoing yourself using an ex-Oyster card dissolved in chemicals on the tube is a terrorist act? Guantanamo for you, matey!

(Tis very good though. I'd make a knitted Oyster card myself.)

Lave said...

Indeed so Mr Shed.

I do worry about this (we'll being fined) but I thought only my locals would read it so it wouldn't be a big deal.

Hey ho!

Neill said...

The Japanese have the same sort of card in Tokyo and I've been telling them all about your little adventure;
(Don't trust google translate...LOL!

Anonymous said...

What about stiching the card into a dog collar, then you could scan your dog across the reader to get on board.

Mr T said...

The fact that the antenna is ready-made into a loop would suggest to me that the way to go is not with a wand, but with a COCK RING! Just imagine Monday morning in the queues, swiping your old man over the top of the machine - sheer genius! In the Soho area it could even be branded the "Blue Oyster" ;-)

Dalorin said...

Hi Lave

I tried this out tonight and managed to extract the chip, however the antenna seemed to just crumble away. Any idea what I did wrong? I'm guessing I left it in the acetone too long.

Lave said...

Hello dalorin

Hmmm, either that or not long enough. I've done it twice now and both times I kept a close eye on it, opening it up and prodding it every so often. Both times the *front* of the card could be seen to be peeling away slightly. Then I took it out and could easily remove the front.

This exposed the front of the chip but *not the wire which was no wear to be seen. Dumping that half back into the solution for another 20 - 30 minutes should be enough to dissolve away the thin layer of plastic thats still infront of the wire. Which then came away easily, without any real resistance.

If you pull the chip out of the card too early you just tear the wire off.

Hope that helps, let me know how you go. I'm still working on the project - but real life is getting in the way.

Irregular Shed said...

Damn you real life! I want to see the Oyster Wand!

Uncle Dean said...

You can get replica Dr Who sonic screw drivers that make a noise and everything. Beats a wand in my opinion!

Mimmy Mim said...

WAND! WAND! You've got to make a wand!

Do the watch thing later - we all want to see the wand. :D

Phillip said...

Just got back from the UK.
Have you heard of MagiQuest? You could probly get a used MQ wand off eBay and fit it up...

Phil said...

Okay here's another alternative.

(For a girl, or a he-goth)

If nail varnish remover destroys it, then nail varnish is probably okay for it, so nail varnish it to your finger nail and hey presto - you can just point at the yellow pad and in you go!

Okay, so a ring would probably work too. But I like the idea of pointing.


queensized said...

sonic screwdriver! sonic screwdriver!

Timmy said...

Respect for posting the method. Today I was wearing my longboarding gloves with the card inside and apprearing to hack the batrriers with only my hand, and I thought about the possibilities of embedding the system into other things. Now you've given the method away, all sorts of mischief shall ensue!

Blackheath Bugle said...

Just tried this method, but managed to screw it up... Used the same brand of nail polish remover, but my card didn't seem to have wires inside it - when I peeled the top layer off, it looked as though the antenna was made from printed metal tracks instead of wires. So not sure what to try now instead? Anyone else come across this. The inner layer also had the numbers "4.5" printed on it...

Lave said...

Sometime the first layer you can peal off doesn't remove enough to expose the arial, but you can normally see it through the thinner plastic remaining. Leaving it in the solution for longer should eventually expose it.

It's also worth cutting out the central region after a while so that the acetone has less plastic to work on - though that can make removing the card a bit more difficult.

I will becoming back to this - but I'm just so bust at the moment.

Hibone said...

If the wires do get stuck in there cant you just solder another on there?

Songo said...

"Blackheath Bugle said...

Just tried this method, but managed to screw it up... Used the same brand of nail polish remover, but my card didn't seem to have wires inside it - when I peeled the top layer off, it looked as though the antenna was made from printed metal tracks instead of wires. So not sure what to try now instead? Anyone else come across this. The inner layer also had the numbers "4.5" printed on it..."

i'v got the same problem :/ but is 4.7 printed on mine.

have ypu guys seen any number on your card with wired antennas?


Anonymous said...

hi lave i just tried it and got left with the rubber in the midle. as it was very flexible i thought that i wouldnt need to get the coil and chip out. however where the copper attaches to the chip and then come out the other side about an inch i cut off about a half inch. should this affect it?

Songo said...

man the topic is dead for ages now. i dont think anyone is gonna reply. meh i wish i have one of those old cards ^^

Muhammad Saeed said...

Have a look over some of the nice uses of oyster card in acetone and its benefits.
Plastic Card

wardy said...

I think it's a brilliant idea and want to make a wand myself! Just wondering if when I melt the oyster card, can I cut the wire which is attached to the chip?

Plastic Cards said...

Dissolving an oyster Card in acetone is not an issue but color combination need some attention hope u got my point

Pierre K said...

Interesting... I used Superdrug acetone-based nail polich semover, seemed to take an awful lot longer (4 hours or so for the card wrinkling and first peeling, overnight for the second)... I appear to have yet a third variation on the 'chip and antenna loop' design and location - smaller chip on periphery of card, with two distinct loop arms following around the edges of the card - set in a third, sandwiched plastic substrate. I should be able to trim it down to get a 'rubber band' strip which I can then insert into my tool of choice (Sonic Screwdriver in this case)...

Kehkshan MAnzoor said...

I like this a lot,fantastic...
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salma said...

I think that's a brilliant idea... can you please let me know if it actually work through????
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as seen on tv said...

bad idea for that term

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elk_mazury JustChillPL laptoptuning.co.uk said...

is it YOU?


dude, i was trying to get it out of the plastic but I've used a primitive method and damaged the antena.

Thanks for the tip!!!!!!

ali naqvi said...

It's stunning work.....really amazing post...thanks..can you give some info about Plastic card printing!!!!!!

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