Public Lab Wiki documentation

Desktop Spectrometry Kit 3.0

« Back to Spectrometry

The Desktop Spectrometry Starter Kit (now at version 3.0) is our most recent “reference design” incorporating some community improvements while balancing low cost and relative ease of construction. The DSSK was originally created as part of the Public Lab Spectrometry Project’s goal of identifying suspected oil residue after the BP oil spill.

We have not yet met all our intended goals for this design, which is still being refined by contributors like you. Explore its capabilities in the Activity grid, and post your own for others to try. Improve on this design by (for example) adding a sample holder or attaching a light, and contributing to the Additions & Modifications section section of the main spectrometry page.


Many basic improvements or additions can improve the capabilities of the DS3. But with the starter kit alone, you should be able to:

Can you propose an experiment to provide a better answer?

Limitations & Goals

Because most webcams’ exposure compensation cannot be disabled, we don’t know if or how much colors have been “boosted” between different photos. Because of this, you can compare spectra taken with the same device, but you can't necessarily compare between different devices -- but this is a challenge we’re working towards (see gain calibration in the grid below).

Note: If you are working on an urgent issue such as a threat to your or someone else’s health, please know that these techniques may not be ready for your use; it's possible that they never will be. Read more here

Add limitations here in the form of questions like "How can we correct for gain compensation in webcams?" so that others can propose solutions. Propose a solution, upgrade, or new feature yourself by first posing the question it addresses:


Ask a new question to explore further possible upgrades

Here are some which we'd like to adapt into question/answer format:


We're working to refine and improve DIY spectrometry on a number of fronts; here, take a look at the leading challenges we're hoping to solve, and post your own. For now, we're using the Q&A feature, so just click "Ask a question" to post your own challenge.

Be sure to add:

  • constraints: expense, complexity
  • goals: performance, use cases

Title Author Updated Likes
Can the spectrometer or turbocharger be used for lal testing? @Ag8n 7 months ago
How can we detect contaminants in water samples with a DIY spectrometer using reagents? @warren 10 months ago
Can a DIY spectrometer be used to measure water turbidity? @warren 10 months ago
What's an easy way to compare two liquid samples with a spectrometer? @warren about 1 year ago
How do I collect a sample for laboratory analysis? @warren about 1 year ago
Desktop Spectrometry Kit to arduino? @jjoll over 1 year ago
Can a Spectrometer be used to detect material type? @jjoll over 1 year ago
What are good containers to use for spectrometry samples? @warren about 2 years ago
Can I upgrade a DIY spectrometer with a Raspberry Pi camera? @warren about 2 years ago
Question: Can DIY-spectrometer be used for analysis of soil @interestedperson_ha New Contributor over 2 years ago
Getting the spectrometer to work with a Raspberry Pi? @anjohn12 New Contributor over 2 years ago
Show 1 more

Ask a question  or help answer future questions


These are some activities specific to the Desktop Spectrometry Starter Kit -- for a full list of activities you can do with a DIY spectrometer, see the main Spectrometry page

Purpose Category Status Author Time Difficulty Replications
Calibrate your spectrometer in Spectral Workbench verify review-me @warren 15m easy 5 replications: Try it »
Desktop Spectrometry Starter Kit 3.0 Assembly Instructions build complete @abdul 45min introductory 1 replications: Try it »
Spectrometer 3.0 add-on v2 - - @programmer1200 - - 0 replications: Try it »
Spectrometer 3.0 Upgrades - - @programmer1200 - - 0 replications: Try it »
See the Fraunhofer absorption lines in sunlight verify draft @warren 1h easy 4 replications: Try it »
Stress-testing the Desktop Spectrometry Starter Kit test-limits in-progress @warren 1h medium 0 replications: Try it »

Add an activity  or request an activity

Activities should include a materials list, costs and a step-by-step guide to construction with photos. Learn what makes a good activity here.

Add your own activity Request an activity guide

Guides should include a materials list and a step-by-step construction guide with photo documentation. Learn what makes a good activity here.


Have you added to your starter kit, improved it, or redesigned it? Show others how to take it to the next level by posting a build guide here:

Purpose Category Status Author Time Difficulty Builds
Stability upgrade mockup for PLab Spectrometer 3.0 build review-me @stoft 1h easy 1 builds: Try it »
OTK Proto3 - - @stoft - - 0 builds: Try it »
PLab 3 Spectrometer Upgrade Prototype - - @stoft - - 0 builds: Try it »
Some Suggestions for Spectrometer v3.0 and Oil Testing Kit (OTK) Attachment - - @ygzstc - - 0 builds: Try it »
Constructing a Desktop Spectrometer with no Wood, and no Velcro build in-progress @abdul 1h easy 0 builds: Try it »
Prototype of easy-to-build rigid spectrometer housing - under-development @warren 3h easy 0 builds: Try it »
Reduce interior reflections in your spectrometer with black ink build review-me @warren 10m easy 2 builds: Try it »
Camera Focus IR Filter Removal - - @stef - - 0 builds: Try it »
Spectrometer 3.0 Cuvette Add-on - - @programmer1200 - - 0 builds: Try it »
Ongoing design of compact cuvette frame - under-development @warren 5h medium 0 builds: Try it »
Spectrometer Light Tight Cover Build build - @stef 30m easy 0 builds: Try it »
PLab-3 Proto Slit Upgrade - - @stoft - - 0 builds: Try it »
Spectrometer 3.0 Upgrades - - @programmer1200 - - 0 builds: Try it »
Build Instructions For The DH 4.0 v4 Spectrometer build in-progress @dhaffnersr 3h medium 0 builds: Try it »
Show 4 more

Add your upgrade guide here Request or propose an upgrade

Mods should include a parts list and a step-by-step construction guide with photo documentation. See an example.

Get involved in the next revision

As these upgrades mature, the Kits initiative will incorporate some into the Desktop Spectrometry Starter Kit itself (depending on cost & complexity) as part of our commitment to an open hardware design process

Frequently Asked Questions

This section is for questions about the Desktop Spectrometry Starter Kit, specifically. For questions about spectrometry in general, see this FAQ.

Ask a question about the DSSK


Using your spectrometer

Once you've assembled your spectrometer and are ready to use it, plug it in and visit to begin recording data with it. The web-based software works in the Chrome, Firefox and Opera browsers on most computers and smartphones.

(Peer) Support

Public Lab is not a corporation; we're an open community of DIY environmental science researchers which you have just joined! The best place to get help is the spectrometry mailing list; to join, sign up in the form to the left.

The spectrometry mailing list is made up of people like you, who are building and improving open source spectrometry techniques. Ask questions, look for help, and consider helping others too!

You can also post a question on this site; it helps to share some photos or screenshots of what you're trying to do:

Ask a question about spectrometry or Sign up to answer questions on this topic


Assembly instructions are now provided as a step-by-step activity; leave feedback and ask questions in the comments below the post:

Desktop Spectrometry Starter Kit 3.0 Assembly Instructions - by @mathew, @warren, and @abdul -- formerly hosted on this page.

Design files

The card-paper box design files can be found here:

Print assembly instructions

instruction_booklet_1.0-print-halfpage.pdf - Print a cleaned-up version of this page from a PDF

spectrometer3.0-instructions1.0-booklet.pdf - Print a booklet-formatted version from a PDF

Design notes

Here are the series of notes printed on the spectrometer. Notes below by: @amysoyka, @straylight, @wagnerc4, @ygzstc, @cfastie, @stoft, & @Alex-McCarthy.

Spectrometer development:


Consult the following notes on development for the evolution of this design:

Public Lab is open for anyone and will always be free. By signing up you'll joined a diverse group of community researchers and tapped into a lot of grassroots expertise.

Sign up