stories from the Public Lab community
We've been making and distributing Do-It-Yourself spectrometers since 2011, and have been through 4 major kit versions and hundreds of different community contributed modifications, new versions, changes, and more. As a community we've gotten really good at helping people build a spectrometer, but we need to do a huge amount more to support more advanced work, more rigorous and consistent experiments, and more consistent and better data collection.
For the numbers, we've shipped thousands of spectrometry kits, and over 12,000 people have uploaded spectra to our open source online database, Spectral Workbench. That database now includes over 100,000 spectra:
Now we're ready to take this to the next level with a better design that incorporates a vast amount of input and ideas from this huge contributor community.
The new 4.0 Desktop Spectrometry Kit is made of... Legos! We're calling it the Lego Spectrometer.
You can pre-order it for $50 now in the Public Lab Store, or see the plans at the bottom of this page, in several formats.
We'll also be posting build instructions shortly -- and like all Public Lab kits, it's open source hardware -- CERN OHL 1.2.
Over the years, we've identified a few really critical improvements that have been tough to solve:
Our mission is to make it easier, cheaper, and more accessible to do environmental monitoring, and to do that as an open source, collaborative community. And of course part of that is cost -- while people build upon our kits with more expensive options and upgrades, we want the basic kit to be extremely affordable.
So, this design tries to address each of these challenges with ideas and input from the community:
A stable, rigid device is pretty critical for consistent measurements, but many of the ways we tried to solve this were cost prohibitive at the price point we wanted in our kit -- wood frames, lasercutting, 3d printing. There have been some fantastic designs that are rock solid, but Legos allowed us to make a kit that's extremely precise and robust enough to throw in a backpack and not worry that it'll go out of calibration.
Past kits have been wonderfully cheap and easy to modify, but they incorporated die cutting and printing with white ink on black paper -- not easy to replicate in the home. This Lego design has almost identical dimensions to our foldable papercraft spectrometers, but you can affordably order parts for just one kit from http://Bricklink.com, or print it on a 3D printer from the models below, and know that the dimensions will be exactly the same. See the assembly instructions for a list of the exact parts and where to source them.
It can be tough in an open source community to get people to work together on a single design, to agree to shared conventions -- everyone wants to try something new and exciting! But if we could get people to modularize and separate out their spectrometers, their sample holders, their light sources and cameras, we could mix and match, and people could make improvements to one piece without breaking compatibility with the rest.
Today we're proposing a standard Lego-based interface, which will ensure rigid connections between each part, starting with the connection between the spectrometer body and the sample holder and light source.
Below you'll find open source 3D models for the key components, so you can 3D print these connections, but if you already have a device or a sample apparatus, just add these pieces to make it compatible with other Lego Spectrometers. And post your designs! We'd love to hear from you in the comments below.
The revolution kicked off by the Raspberry Pi project has made high quality imaging incredibly easy. The Raspberry Pi camera modules are perfect for a DIY spectrometer, with low noise, high sensitivity and small size.
But there are still problems to solve there, not least an easy way to connect the whole system to our browser-based uploader at Spectral Workbench! Pitch in and let's iron out some of these issues.
We're really hoping people will build on these designs, using the Lego 3-pin interface described above, and add things like:
But most of all, we're looking for well-documented guides on how to do different tests with these devices. Let's put them to work!
Try solving some of these challenges, or add your own!
|Can the spectrometer or turbocharger be used for lal testing?||@Ag8n||about 1 year ago||1|
|How can we detect contaminants in water samples with a DIY spectrometer using reagents?||@warren||over 1 year ago||0|
|Can a DIY spectrometer be used to measure water turbidity?||@warren||over 1 year ago||0|
|What's an easy way to compare two liquid samples with a spectrometer?||@warren||over 1 year ago||1|
|How do I collect a sample for laboratory analysis?||@warren||almost 2 years ago||0|
|Desktop Spectrometry Kit to arduino?||@jjoll||almost 2 years ago||1|
|Can a Spectrometer be used to detect material type?||@jjoll||about 2 years ago||1|
|What are good containers to use for spectrometry samples?||@warren||over 2 years ago||0|
|Can I upgrade a DIY spectrometer with a Raspberry Pi camera?||@warren||over 2 years ago||2|
|Question: Can DIY-spectrometer be used for analysis of soil||@interestedperson_ha||almost 3 years ago||1|
|Getting the spectrometer to work with a Raspberry Pi?||@anjohn12||about 3 years ago||2||Show more|
Follow related tags:
spectrometer kits spectrometry blog
Image obtained from: https://imgur.com/gallery/zfxwB
The FCC will likely be voting to repeal Net Neutrality on December 14th. The two main modes of civic engagement to protect Net Neutrality are to (1) contact Congress (who oversees the FCC) to remove or delay the scheduled vote, and (2) contact the FCC and tell them to NOT repeal Net Neutrality. There are also protests scheduled outside of Verizon stores (since the head of the FCC used to be a top lawyer for Verizon).
Some resources for civic engagement are:
Contact Congress: http://act.freepress.net/call/internet_nn_call_congress/
Find a local protest: https://www.battleforthenet.com/
There are some great informational resources available about what Net Neutrality is, why it is important, the regulatory context of it, and political and social analyses of the current proposal:
For clear and concise information about Net Neutrality and its importance, please see: https://www.savetheinternet.com/net-neutrality-what-you-need-know-now
For more discussion of its importance and some regulatory context about Net Neutrality, please see: https://www.wired.com/story/fcc-wants-to-kill-net-neutrality-congress-will-pay-the-price/
For a brief analysis from a centrist news source, please see: http://thehill.com/policy/technology/362868-fccs-net-neutrality-repeal-sparks-backlash
Please make your voice heard, and share information widely!
Follow related tags:
View of the marsh in the morning, as seen from my dormitory window. An egret basks in the sunlight.
As a 90's child in Houma, Louisiana, we would visit LUMCON on school field trips. I remember being charmed by the facility at a young age, a strange and seemingly out of place cement fortress at the end of the world, surrounded by wooden homes raised on stilts to protect them from rising waters. LUMCON has been the site of five Public Lab Barnraisings, in part because it exists at the very fringe of land and water off of the Louisiana coast, at the front lines of climate change in the United States. It's been about two decades since my first visit to LUMCON and the change in landscape is visceral and painful for me to acknowledge. It's been five years since the first Barnraising in Cocodrie, and the importance of Public Lab's work is made emminent when overlooking the receding marsh land and discussing the challenges we still face as advocates for a healthy natural environment.
LUMCON as seen on Google Maps. The amount of land loss is striking, as is the very linear canal across the bottom of the image which bisects the meandering natural waterways.
This year's barnraising brought together a diverse collection of knowledge - experts in their fields ranging from the Gulf coast to the Eastern seaboard, with representatives from the United Kingdom and China present to discuss the ways that we can continue to work collaboratively in order to better understand the environment and make scientific knowledge more accessible. Although everyone had their own specific question, or method for studying the environment, there was a common goal of creating an interdisciplinary, international network of citizen scientists and activists.
The weekend's agenda was built based on negotiating time and space for everyone's questions to be heard.
The ethos of the Barnraising is to address what knowledge is available within the Public Lab community, and how this information can best be disseminated to a multifaceted audience using a variety of organizing techniques. While a large amount of Public Lab's work is rooted in technology and development, there is an equally important foundation built on participatory science, community organizing, networking and power building. By taking an interdisciplinary approach to science and education, Public Lab promotes the capacity of each and every participant as a unique and invaluable asset towards furthering the goals of Public Lab as a community. On our first day at the Barnraising, Liz introduced a few mantras that encapsulated this sentiment perfectly, one of which being "EVERYONE HERE IS THE RIGHT PERSON."
Scott Eustis and a team of volunteers launch a Public Lab balloon mapping kit in order to create imagery of a nearby pond.
My prior involvement with Public Lab is minimal: I am trained as an archaeologist and a digital cartographer, with ancestral ties to the landscape of coastal Louisiana and an ingrained sense of stewardship for the cultural ecology that I was raised in. However, it was made apparent from the initial introductions and reading of the Code of Conduct that all sources of knowledge, ancestral or academic, were integral towards building an interconnected body of information and toolkit for studying the environment. The discussion frameworks endorsed by Public Lab incorporated the ecological, historical, social, and cultural backgrounds of all participants, and examinend the points wherever these bodies of knowledge and experience intersected.
The team deflating and repackaging the balloon, while confirming that the data collected covered the study area.
The Barnraising this year focused upon many issues that have increasingly impacted the quality of life for citizens across the globe for the past year. Some issues examined the natural environment, such as coastal land loss, lead and hydrogen sulfide poisoning, and the increasing number of oil spills and hurricanes, while other issues were anthropocentric, working to build strength through community organizing, raising support / funds, and democratization of data collection and tools for analysis. As a prerequisite for many sessions, the group would tackle major issues by unpacking issues down to their core, redefining common terms, and designing solutions based on publicly available resources. What is science, and why does the word have negative connotations? What is a community, and how do they define themselves?
Take-aways from the session, "How do we influence climate change deniers? / How do we make science cool?"
In each of session, regardless if it was discussion based or more tactical, the goal was to identify a problem, and then develop methods that will generate a better understanding of the issue. These discoveries should be recorded as data, so that others who share a similar curiosity can build off of an existing idea, set of code, or game design. Communicating data and results in an accessible manner, regardless of the audience's experience or background, was the central focus of every session that I attended.
@Rockets taking selfies of the group during a Barnraiser editing session using his DJI Spark drone.
In every interaction, there was a genuine feeling of admiration and respect for each other. The community established after spending three days exploring, building, kayaking, and sharing with others in a research center at the end of the world is a testament to what can be created when people come together around a common interest. In three short days, a group of 30 strangers gathered together to build a digital microscope and a weather-hacking antenna, while simultaneously solving the issues of climate change denial and lead contaminated soil in historic cities, forming friendships and connecting information.
Weather satellite antenna team, with sample hacked imagery behind them. From left to right: Gabi, Chase, Lyssa, Shan, and Tony.
I am inspired by the dedication and hard work exhibited by the Barnraising attendees towards each of their individual projects, and their willingness to contribute mental energy and emotional labor towards the disappearing landscape of coastal Louisiana. The struggle felt in the Mississippi delta is a result of an exceptional, uniquely self-sabotaging relationship between the land, water, and energy infrastructure that depends on depleting our resources for profit, however, our exploitative model of resource extraction has inspired others and spread. The gulf coast has felt the imminent crisis of climate change, rising sea levels, increasing subsidence, and more frequent hurricanes approaching for decades, and adaptation strategies are already being implemented in some of the most vulnerable communities. Our struggle is echoed in the environmental justice fights happening around the globe, and it is crucial that other cities learn from the successes and mistakes that have already occurred in Louisiana.
View from the tower of the surrounding marshland. One team of kayakers is just setting out on their journey, while another group walks towards an outdoors discussion.
The landscape of coastal Louisiana is historically volatile, and the people have adapted to the abundantly harsh ecosystem by forming a culture of resiliency and self sufficiency. I believe that these cultural values are reflected in the work of Public Lab, which operates in order to return authority and power to the groups of people who come together to build it. It is my hope that Louisiana will soon become a place for radical experimental development in coastal monitoring and restoration technology, so that lessons learned here can be utilized in other locales which are less prepared for life in a rapidly changing landscape. Public Lab provides an excellent framework for individuals from all walks of life to engage with the world around them using science, math, code, visual art, language, and storytelling as tools of inquiry. These open source, accessible tools are necessary in order to rapidly and thoroughly document a vulnerable landscape. Governmental organizations simply do not have the most important resource to complete the tasks at hand: they lack the sense of purpose, the ability to create place, and the inherent power residing in a group of people united.
Follow related tags:
balloon-mapping community louisiana conservation
The Barnraising starts tomorrow morning! We're all super excited.
At the past two Barnraisings, in Morgantown, West Virginia ( #west-virginia ) and in Cocodrie in November 2016, I was able to interview and video folks who came, and ask them what questions they brought with them. This post is a continuation of my last, featuring Barnraising attendees -- and we're about to start this year's Annual Barnraising in Cocodrie!
Last time, I mentioned why I like this format:
I like asking this question because many people come with a specific need in mind, hoping to find someone from the diverse Public Lab community that may be able to help, and some come with knowledge, skills, and capacity -- and I'd wager that most people come with both of these! But finding ways to exchange knowledge, and support one another, is one of the keys to making an event like this work.
We've been sharing these with the tag
#barnraisingQuestion on Twitter and Instagram. Please reach out with your own questions as you arrivein Louisiana today!
Hey, I'm Leslie Birch, I came from Philadelphia, and I was really excited to come to this particular regional barnraising because I'm interested in the problem of fracking that's going on because it obviously affects Pennsylvania as well as West Virginia. My big question is: is it true that they're using radioactive isotopes as tracers in the process of fracking? I'm still waiting to get that answer, but I'm excited about discovering it. I'm also wanting to figure out how I can use art and my knowledge technology and hardware to better communicate the problems that are going on in these ( @zengirl2 )
Hey, I'm Matej Vakula and I came here from Brooklyn -- I'm originally from Slovakia. I came here with a question of how to build infrastructures for sharing knowledge, and for knowledge production -- how to produce knowledge. ( @matej )
I'm Ryan Covington, from Washington DC. And the one thing I wanted to get out of the barnraising was to figure out how myself and the organization I work for, Skytruth, a small technology and conservation organization in West Virginia, can more broadly distribute our expertise, and satellite imagery and digital mapping to Appalachian communities and advocates that need it.
Follow related tags:
west-virginia cocodrie barnraising blog
Since early 2016, Public Lab has worked to make our open source software projects more welcoming and inclusive; to grow our software contributor community in diversity and size. This series collects some of those strategies and initiatives.
I've written a bit before about software outreach at Public Lab, but I'm interested in taking a broad overall look at the specific strategies we've developed, borrowed, and built on since around April 2016, when we started this initiative. This will be a series, and I'll be collecting resources on this page. (Above: GitHub profile icons of some of our contributors)
What's this series for? A set of experimental new strategies and patterns for outreach have emerged over the past 2-3 years which are rapidly changing the landscape for newcomer engagement. I'm excited because they hold promise for more welcoming (and technically superior!) project growth which also support more diverse and equitable communities.
We started out pretty "stuck," like many open source projects. From 2010-2016, we had only 16 contributors, total, 6 of whom were part of our Google Summer of Code programs (today we have over 100; we're still a small project, but growing fast). Our code was byzantine -- not because we were terrible coders, but because we were all busy, and we put new feature development before all else. Documentation, code cleanliness, install process, and even updating to the latest versions of our dependencies, all fell by the wayside as we made pragmatic decisions -- after all, I was the only consistent long-term developer, and I had something like 1/3 or 1/4 time devoted to this.
Our first foray into better onboarding was led by @justinmanley, one of our earliest and best GSoC contributors, who wrote this excellent post on how to reform and improve our code and outreach strategy. He did a huge amount to rework our code and systems to set us on the right track. With his help, we were ready for the next step...
Three events led to our completely changing our direction. First, SpinachCon (in 2016), hosted by Shauna Gordon-McKeon and Deb Nicholson, was a great -- and humbling -- opportunity to try to get our code to be installable by newcomers. We'd estimated 30-60 minutes, after much work (even worse, in the past our GSoC students had sometimes taken more than a day to get dependencies installed!). We found several people who couldn't install our code at all over a couple hours. We spent a lot of time after that to get the install process down below 15 minutes, with an install video and a standard install environment in a free VM service, Cloud9, and things have improved a huge amount since then. Without this initial step, none of the following strategies would have worked!
Second, in the spring of 2016 I attended a fantastic set of talks at BostonJS, which highlighted both the need for a wider conception of who contributes (including issue creators, commenters, etc) and, from Gregor Martynus of the Hoodie project, a whole new framework for thinking about building a contributor community. Click the link above to read more, and I'll be writing more about this soon, but I learned about the First-Timers-Only "movement", and really loved Gregor's attitude of "rolling out the red carpet for new contributors."
It really seemed to me that Hoodie might even be more interested in recruiting and welcoming newcomers than in actually writing code! I was game -- writing a first-timers-only issue usually takes longer than solving the issue yourself. It's aimed at inviting someone new into the project, using a small but substantive issue to be solved as your initial point of collaboration, and as the start of a conversation and a relationship.
But I was wrong about one thing; as I learned in the coming months as we adopted this approach, a focus on first-timers really is an investment in the long-term growth of a community, both in size and diversity. It's a commitment to supporting people to take their first steps, but it recognizes that it takes work to do so, and that this work is totally worth it.
And in my mind, it emphasizes equity and diversity as core values, not only because they match our personal values, but because we recognize that they are fundamental to improving our work and ourselves. At the recent Google Summer of Code Mentor Summit, one thing I really appreciated hearing from a few people was that diversity was important to the success and growth of their project -- to incorporate new ideas and perspectives, and to be shaped -- transformed -- by them. It's a relief to hear people acknowledge that they're not just looking for someone to type out some code, but some insight, some human qualities, that they can't achieve without diversity.
So, before we start diving into the actual strategies in subsequent posts, I'll say that one thing I've learned is that doing good software outreach means acknowledging that your own work must change. Not only in shifting from direct coding work to organizing and cultural work, but also in transforming your own coding style and even your project architecture (see Modularity, in an upcoming post) to make it easier for others to enter into your work and work with you. Good outreach will make you a better coder!
So thanks to everyone who's helped make this journey possible! I'm sure I'll be naming a lot of amazing people and projects as this series develops.
Up next: Friendliness, codes of conduct, and first-timers-only. Read more of this series on this page.
Also: do you have ideas or suggestions? We're seeking submissions for this series -- leave a comment or reach out to email@example.com!
Follow related tags:
web-development software outreach development
Lead Image from YES! Magazine
It seems fitting that the last interview we did in this series was with Yvette Arellano of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (TEJAS). TEJAS is a Houston based organization. They are a small, but extremely mighty Environmental Justice group. With just five staff, they’re one of the most well known and respected organizations in the field. In their work, TEJAS is “dedicated to providing community members with the tools necessary to create sustainable, environmentally healthy communities by educating individuals on health concerns and implications arising from environmental pollution, empowering individuals with an understanding of applicable environmental laws and regulations and promoting their enforcement, and offering community building skills and resources for effective community action and greater public participation” (http://tejasbarrios.org/about-us/).
This interview was conducted in May, well before the tragic and terrible events of Hurricane Harvey. There is no doubt the events of Hurricane Harvey have stretched this group thin, and strained their many community constituents. TEJAS- Yvette and Deyadira Arellano, Juan, Ana and Bryan Parras, you and your community are in our thoughts. In solidarity.
When it comes to community organizing, anything from individual walking into the office, to funds to help us get the work done. We’re hoping there are young people looking to come in and help us with capacity for things like social media, and keeping the website up to date. We’re also looking for capacity through collaborations with schools, scientists, academics. We’re ultimately hoping to get more information out at a faster pace.
Also funding is a big one right now-- everyone’s crunched under this administration. Before we could count on federal funding, but now our organizations are trying to go after scraps that are left. Bigger organizations can see people laying down funds to support their work because they see what’s happening, but that’s not always the case on the grassroots level.
We just got done working over past year with project with the Union of Concerned Scientists -- it’s a massive network with nothing but capacity. Together we got out the Double Jeopardy in Houston report.
The beginning of year was tough. We checked EJ Screen for missing information and the site went down for a solid week. It was a huge concern. We reached out to USC friends, they called up the ladder to ask why there was so much missing information. We also reached out to our friends in EJ community who gathered together and helped us download information from EJScreen and the Toxics Release Inventory so that we had it.
National Air Toxics Assessment is the most comprehensive source of information on cancerous toxins and amount of cancer on different parts of the country. It comes out once every three years, but it just released information in January regarding results from 2011. We went before NEJAC (The National Envioromntal Justice Advisory Council) and asked the EPA to have a more solid schedule for the data release for NATAData because we need it.
Different databases give us information that help us with our work. The TRI data (The Toxics Release Invintory) is the one that comes out the most frequently- annually. The National Emissions Inventory comes out every three years. Where TRI tracks what’s reported to come out of the stack, the NEI tracks fugitive and stack emissions. If there’s an accident - stuff that’s not supposed to come out NATAData grabs that all and pumps out numbers. ECHO (Enforcement and Compliance History Online) is a solid basis for grassroots groups to know what has been done and help community members. Finally, EJ Screen helps translate this all into graphs, and common language.
They’re technical. EPA has addressed this by telling grassroots groups, or anyone, that there are technical assistance grants to help people. So you have to apply for a grant to get someone to translate it out of the technical jargon - and this is for a public database. It’s unfair.
Just like anybody else - social media, email, news, and conferences. We also get together and share from our communities through regional meetings and phone calls. We also get out and do the old school block walking.
Navigating datasets and databases with older people who aren’t used to it is challenging. Also translating from English to any other language is something that’s a barrier as well.
Yes, 100%. I think working with different organizations from different backgrounds and populations is important. We need to be able to communicate with their groups, and they with ours. We have more experience with these issues when we work together so we need to make a vast network of people to deal with these issues.
Ideally, I would want to be able to piece the puzzle together faster. Pipelines through Illinois are going to connect to Texas and to Louisiana refineries. That’s very similar to so many parts of the country. Across region or nation we have these joint issues. We could work together. We could reach a solution together and create mass momentum across a nation.
I see the space being populated with scientists -- that’s new, we’re not used to scientists and academics opening their eyes and seeing challenges our communities face. Opening that space and really uplifting that message against the administration. We need legitimacy as grassroots organizers. We’re not seen as having the most legitimacy, but when scientists come in and support our message with data it’s really helpful. It’s also really important for young environmental justice organizers to connect with elders. We live in age of technology. If we can’t share those skills, we’ve already lost.
You’ve probably already heard this. Jemez principles of engagement. Environmental Justice principles are about being open and inclusive. Letting people -- community -- speak for themselves. Committing to self-transformation. At the end of day, we’re struggling, and we should be aiming at a joint approach. There is power in numbers.
End of inteview
Thank you Yvette!
It has been a wonderful journey learning from amazing grassroots and environmental justice organizers over the past several months, but that learning doesn’t stop with the end of this series. I’m wondering for those who have read and followed along:
Note on Harvey Recovery: You can support TEJAS in response to Hurricane Harvey by donating to A Just Harvey Recovery Fund here.
Other avenues to share and help on Public Lab:
**This post is part of a series with Grassroots and Environmental Justice Community Organizers. Read more on the series here or follow the blog tag to get updates on new posts.
Follow related tags:
gulf-coast interview blog grassroots