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Oil Testing Kit Beta

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See the latest news and updates on the Oil Testing Kit blog



Read about the Oil Testing Kit program in the Public Lab booklet, entitled DIY Oil Testing: Progress toward community oil pollution analysis

Order now ($10 paperback)

Beta Program Participant Tasks Checklist:

User Name You've responded, Thanks! You've Posted on Public Lab, Brilliant! Your Samples are on Spectral Work Bench, Amazing!
eustatic Yes Link Sets
Tofu Yes Link _
ronhuber Yes Link _
ernestootero Yes Link Sets
craig Yes Link Sets
tmccarffr Yes _ _
charles_hamilton Yes _ _
_mahsa_ Yes Link _Sets
MelissaN Yes _ Sets
zhughbanks _ _ _
wsg Yes _ Sets
LKStendie _ _ _
JeanellSullivan _ _ _
ethanbass Yes Link Sets
Cindy_ExCiteS Yes Link Sets
chongukwai Yes Link _
drocheleau _ _ _
gracecagle Yes _ _
bluemountainsurfer Yes _ _
Others who have beta tested Posts Sets
@stevie Post Sets
@gretchen Post Sets
@liz Posts Sets
@ddileona Post Sets
@DFlores6073 Post Sets
@mathew - Sets
@matej Post Sets


Each member of the Beta program will, by November 2015, be required to:

  • Create a profile on (if you don't already have one)
  • Join the plots-spectrometry list (in the left-hand sidebar of this page!)
  • Post unboxing photos & tweet them with @PublicLab & #OilTestingKit!
  • Build and document the beta kit and sample preparation process
  • Run triplicate spectra of each known and unknown sample (the kit includes five labeled and five unlabeled samples)
  • Upload all of the spectra, tagged with "oil-testing-kit", add them to a set, and post a research note of their tests (more details on this to be posted soon)
  • Run a sample that you find locally. This can be anything from suspected motor oil residue on storm drain to the tar like substance you sometimes see by train tracks!
  • Attend two meet-ups to chat with other Beta Program members (times to be announced)

In general we are seeking participants who will:

  • Share input and updates about their use of the kit (see Share your work below)
  • Make suggestions for improvement to the kit building process & documentation
  • Help to refine and expand the online documentation at the Public Lab Wiki (especially the Oil Testing Kit page)

Suggestions and input will be integrated into the final release of the kit!


Share your work

Participating as a member of the Beta program means that you've volunteered to share feedback, notes, and suggestions about your use of the kit. Click here to post notes of any length, and be sure to include photos!

Post about your beta oil testing kit

Suggested topics for sharing:

  • Construction or setup issues - help fix them by documenting with photo or video!
  • Field reports - pictures and report-backs from collecting oil samples outdoors
  • Background - tell the story of why you're hoping to affordably identify oil contamination
  • Fixes and hacks - did you figure out a way to improve the kit?
  • Related work - share published papers, input from colleagues, related projects

Example post:

Hi, I'm Zaphod Beeblebrox, a member of the OTK Beta program. I just got my kit and assembled it (see this post) but wanted to post about the sample collection work we did yesterday. I'm monitoring motor oil runoff in a parking lot in my neighborhood, where I often seen sheens when it rains. So I went on a dry day (see the picture below) and...



@eustatic, @cquijano84, @Tofu, @ronhuber, @norby, @uprmotero, @Craig, @tmccaffr, @Charles_Hamilton, @mahsa, @JayB, @MelissaN, @LKStendie, @wsg, @zhughbanks, @JeanellSullivan, @Webstertiums, @emilycheung17, @ethanbass, @Cindy_ExCiteS, @chongyukwai, @drocheleau, @gracecagle, @Bluemountainsurfer

New addition: @matej


  1. For each analytical session, make a white light calibration scan, and use that to calibrate each scan performed in that session (see instructions here:
  2. Scan a cuvette filled with just mineral oil to confirm a "negative" result, and name it "Mineral oil". (Be sure your mineral oil does NOT have vitamin E additives, as some baby oils do -- this will produce visible fluorescence)
  3. Scan each of the 5 labeled and 3 unknown samples in your Beta package pictured above on Spectral Workbench.
  4. Take triplicate scans of each sample and label them OTK_(sample#, e.g. 20W50)_a, OTK_(sample#)_b, etc.
  5. Ensure the appropriate intensity range using the attenuator strip (i.e. ensure that the red, green, and blue lines do not max out intensity, which will make it impossible to correctly identify the maximum peak wavelength).
  6. For darker samples, you may need to dilute using mineral oil, which should (as you demonstrated in step 2) not produce any fluorescence. The crude oil sample is very dense -- just one drop of it in mineral oil may be sufficient. Remember to note any dilution, with # of drops or ratios, in the spectrum description! Read more about dilution here
  7. In the notes section for each scan, record the excitation source used (e.g. Blu-Ray 405 nm laser), any attenuation, any dilution done, ambient lighting conditions, and any other relevant information, such as changing styles of cuvettes or a different webcam connection.
  8. Tag each scan (including the mineral oil) with oil-testing-kit, and your unknowns with unknown
  9. Run the "Auto smooth" macro in the "More Tools" menu (shown below) on each spectrum.
  10. Add all your scans of one sample type to a set.
  11. Use the "Equalize area" button below the graph on the set display page
  12. Use the "Find graph 'centers' only between 410-700nm" tool under "More tools" in the set display page
  13. Take a screenshot of the resulting graph and post it to this site as a research note along with a link to your set.

A. Documenting known samples 1. Take triplicate scans of each known sample, and label the scans as stated in the Procedure above. 2. Make a set from your triplicate scans of a given sample. 3. Analyze and post results, as described in the Procedure.

B. Investigating unknown samples 1. Take triplicate scans of each unknown sample, labeling the scans appropriately. 2. Make a set from your triplicate scans. 3. Analyze the results. 4. Compare the results against the suite of known samples you have already analyzed. 5. Post your results, along with your assertion of which kind of oil comprised each unknown sample.

C. Further Investigations 1. Try diluting samples using mineral oil, recording the dilution factor (e.g. 1 mL oil sample + 3 mL mineral oil = 4 mL total, and a dilution factor of 4), and analyzing the diluted sample as described in the procedure above. How dilute can a sample be and still be detectable and discernible? 2. Try mixing oil samples and analyzing the resulting mixtures. Are their spectra additive and discernible as such? 3. Try other fun things!

C. Share your thoughts 1. Provide ongoing feedback about the oil testing kit, including hardware, software, and programatic aspects. 2. Utilize Research Notes, the Spectrometry google group, and wiki editing to communicate and exchange knowledge.

Alpha program

Before the Beta program, we sent out about 20 prototype "alpha" kits to people around the US to give the oil test kit a try, and refine it to get ready for a bigger release. If you have one please share what you've done with it and post any ideas, feedback, complaints, suggestions, questions and modifications you have by using this button:

Post about your alpha oil testing kit



spectrometer oil crude-oil oil-testing-kit beta alpha

list:plots-spectrometry parent:oil-testing-kit