Public Lab Research note

Workshop: spec-tacular

by liz | March 11, 2014 14:40 11 Mar 14:40 | #10158 | #10158

Event details


  • Sunday, March 16
  • 1:30pm - 4:30pm


  • 630 Flushing Avenue -- enter around side via Thompkins Ave
  • 8th floor, end of the long corridor (keep going), suite 867 "Public Lab"

Stuff we have:

  • lots of equipment to use/borrow!
  • foldable specs, desktop specs, smartphone spec, sampling kits
  • cute robot toys
  • tea/coffee

Nifty things you could bring if you have them:

  • Your foldable spectrometer (we'll provide for those who don't)
  • Clean glass jars with samples of cooking oils - clearly labeled!
  • Clean glass jars with samples of motor oil, heating oil, etc - clearly labeled!
  • sterile sticks for stirring samples around. be creative.


"Reading Rainbows" is the coolest thing since balloon aerial mapping. We are beginning this workshop with constructing our spectrometers so that everyone has one of their own. Then, we will learn how to use the website to calibrate it using common fluorescent lights. Then we will but the spectrometers and our samples into a bigger, lightproof box so that we can shine lasers into them.

First up is to get spectra of known substances to begin building our library of environmental chemicals. In the future we will be setting forth to identify unknown environmental chemicals.

But don't take my word for it.


Looking forward to it! Would thread cutting oil be good? I think it has some extra sulfur in it. Jay

Is this a question? Click here to post it to the Questions page.

Reply to this comment...

Sure! we are just starting out with cataloging common oils, so i think a broad selection would be good. We also know that the more complicated the substance, the more unknowns we will be dealing with when understanding the spectral signature. But we will begin!

Reply to this comment...

Adding this to the comments of the post too, but i also recommend:

  • cotton swabs
  • bring rubber gloves and plenty of mineral oil! and extra AAA batteries!

Also worth it:

One big question it'd be great to answer is how concentrated you have to get the mineral oil with your sample before it fluoresces brightly enough. And how do you measure it? I've been saying add more sample until it's "like weak tea". but maybe comparing it to a % grey reference or something...

Take good pictures of each step so you can share what went well or poorly!

Some pure oil references you just pour in from a bottle (instead of dissolving from street residue around the edge of a drain or from a tar ball) may need to be diluted quite a bit with mineral oil because the laser doesn't go all the way through it. I found this was true for motor oil and olive oil.

Is this a question? Click here to post it to the Questions page.

Reply to this comment...

Just posted a series of steps in great photos here:

collecting dissolving

Reply to this comment...

Login to comment.