Public Lab Research note

New Contest Seeks DIY Scientists Addressing Pollution with Open Source Devices

by Shannon | March 07, 2013 15:24 07 Mar 15:24 | #6233 | #6233


New Contest Seeks DIY Scientists Addressing Pollution with Open Source Devices

The Public Lab’s Spectral Challenge Offers Crowd-Sourced Prizes

NEW ORLEANS, LA— Starting today, makers, hackers and do-it-yourselfers worldwide are invited to join the Spectral Challenge, offering crowd-funded prizes to teams that tackle real-world environmental problems with low-cost, open source spectrometry.

The challenge is a project of The Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science, a non-profit and open-source community that promotes civic engagement in science and develops and applies open-source tools to environmental exploration and investigation. Participants in the challenge are encouraged to use the Public Lab’s $40 spectrometry kit to develop easy tests for heavy metals, oil contamination or other toxics without needing special training or access to a lab.

The challenge has two phases. The goal of Stage 1: Collaboration is to support and encourage the thousands of new people building and using open source spectrometers. To win, a team must publish techniques and/or documentation which dramatically improves the process of open source spectroscopy for the whole community. The goal of Stage 2: Real World Use is to use low cost open source spectral analysis to identify an environmental contaminant such as petroleum or heavy metals.

“There are significant hurdles to be overcome in the reliable use and calibration of any DIY scientific instrument, and it has been exciting to see that highly talented members of the citizen science community have already begun to engage these issues and come up with design modifications. The Challenge is a way of pushing tool development forward at an even faster rate, and enhancing collaborations among members of the growing community. It’ll be really exciting to see what new capabilities the community brings out in this tool.” – said Don Blair of Pioneer Valley Open Science, a group from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst that promotes open science initiatives.

“The growth of this open source spectrometry community has been amazing, and it’s incredible to hear about all the diverse things people are attempting with their spectrometers. Since we started this whole project with the intent of making it easier to identify pollution, we’re hoping the Challenge will foster collaborations between these new grassroots spectral experts, and inspire a renewed focus on investigating contamination. In 1948, Polaroid revolutionized photography by putting a whole photography lab in the palm of your hand; we look to that example in democratizing spectrometry.” -- Jeffrey Warren, Public Lab

Since the spectrometer gained widespread popularity, Public Lab has seen people from many backgrounds using them to test for substances such as brightening agents in laundry detergent, or to measure the quality of home brewed beer. The Challenge specifically requires people to first engage in the open source development process of sharing research during the Collaboration stage and then, during the Real World Use stage, use an open source spectrometer to identify environmental contaminants such as heavy metals and polyaromatic hydrocarbons. The Challenge will be crowdfunded with $1,000 going to the winner of the Collaboration stage and the remainder of the prize pool split 80% between the Real World Use Challenge winner and 20% with the Public Lab nonprofit for administrative costs of running the Challenge.

Information on entering the Challenge or contributing to the prize pool can be found at: For updates, follow @PublicLab and #spectralchallenge on Twitter.

About the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science

The Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science (Public Lab) is a community which develops and applies open-source tools to environmental exploration and investigation. By democratizing inexpensive and accessible “Do-It-Yourself” techniques, Public Laboratory creates a collaborative network of practitioners who actively re-imagine the human relationship with the environment.

The core Public Lab program is focused on “civic science” in which we research open source hardware and software tools and methods to generate knowledge and share data about community environmental health. Our goal is to increase the ability of underserved communities to identify, redress, remediate, and create awareness and accountability around environmental concerns. Public Lab achieves this by providing online and offline training, education and support, and by focusing on locally relevant outcomes that emphasize human capacity and understanding. For more information, please visit


Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science: Jeffrey Warren, Director of Research; phone: 415.508.6769; email: or Shannon Dosemagen, Director of Outreach and Partnerships; phone: 504.239.4642; email:

Files Size Uploaded
Desktop spectrometer (2).jpg 96 KB 2013-03-07 15:50:12 +0000
Mobile Spectrometer.jpg 102 KB 2013-03-07 15:34:42 +0000
Countertop Spectrometer.jpg 83.8 KB 2013-03-07 15:50:00 +0000
Barn raising 2012 (2) sample prep.jpg 371 KB 2013-03-07 15:35:11 +0000
Spectral Workbench.png 147 KB 2013-03-07 15:35:32 +0000
Mini-foldable spectrometer.jpg 102 KB 2013-03-07 15:35:45 +0000


Login to comment.