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Photo: NASA
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Updated 08/07/2016
Participation fee $0
Expenses $10
Spend the time outdoors
Location anywhere
Appropriate for kids yes
Teaching materials yes

Required Gear:

Make a spectrometer

The Public Lab spectrometer is a Do-it-Yourself tool made from simple materials:

4 1/8" x 8 3/8" stiff black card paper
a clean DVD-R
a webcam
velcro, dark tape, a box cutter/x-acto knife
The DVD's tightly packed grooves act as a diffraction grating -- basically a prism. When light enters, the different wavelengths of light are bent to different degrees, forming a rainbow -- a spectrum.

For instructions on building and use, see here: http://publiclaboratory.org/tool/spectrometer

The basic $10 smartphone compatible foldable mini spectrometer and $40 desktop spectrometry kit are also available on the PublicLab store : http://store.publiclab.org/collections/spectrometry

Public Laboratory Spectrometer

Develop, apply open-source tools to environmental exploration
Incorporate this DIY spectrometer into your research.

A spectrometer is a ubiquitous tool for scientists to identify unknown materials, like oil spill residue or coal tar in urban waterways. But they cost thousands of dollars and are hard to use -- so the Public Lab community has designed its own.

This open hardware kit costs only $35, but has a range of more than 400-900 nanometers, and a resolution of as high as 3 nm. A spectrometer is essentially a tool to measure the colors absorbed by a material. You can construct this one yourself from a piece of a DVD-R, black paper, a VHS box, and an HD USB webcam.

Public Lab has also created open source software to collect, analyze, compare, and share calibrated spectral data. We've even made an experimental version which converts your cellphone into a spectrometer.

Public Lab community members have used this new tool to identify dyes in "free and clear" laundry detergent, to test grow lamps, and to analyze wines.

Now we need your help in collecting data to build a Wikipedia-style library of open source spectra, and to refine and improve sample collection and analysis techniques. We imagine a kind of "SHAZAM for materials" which can help to investigate chemical spills, diagnose crop diseases, identify contaminants in household products, and even analyze olive oil, coffee, and homebrew beer.

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