Public Lab Wiki documentation

Spectral Challenge event model

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Interested in Spectral Challenge? Not sure how to get started? Browse the steps below, then pick and choose a sequence that works for you and your community! Believe it or not, you can do spectral analysis without having prior knowledge or training. Simply being observant and trying to figure out what is going on will get you far. Posting your spectral results to will connect your efforts to a community of researchers who can help.

Setting up your online notebook

Join this website to and use the "online logbook" for keeping track of your process under your username (for example, here's my my profile page, scroll down to see all my research notes). This login will also work for the web software you will eventually use:

Figuring out what you are interested in

Either ask yourself, or get together as a group to think about what environmental contaminants you're interested in. For instance, lead, crude oil, PAH - polyaromatic hydrocarbons, e. coli bacteria, and many others.

Consider whether these contaminants are elements, molecules, biological, other? A rule of thumb is that the simpler the chemical structure, the simpler the spectrum. Since biologicals are conplex and change over time, perhaps it's better to start with elements and molecules.

Getting ready with sample containers

Get ahold of a clean glass container, perhaps even order some cheap sterile glass containers from a science supply website to avoid soap residue from handwashed tupperware ;). A container with flat sides and bottom will make it easier to shine light through. Perhaps you can encourage a friend to take care of this step?

Collecting known reference samples

Think about where you can get a sample of the contaminant(s) you are interested in:

  • If you are thinking about fertilizer runoff from nearby farms, consider going to a farm supply store and buying a small quantity of common fertilizer.
  • If you are concerned that fuel from a local waterfront fuel depot spilling into your waterways, you could go to the depot and ask the staff for a small sample.
  • If you suspect lead in your soil, go to the fishing section of a local store and buy a lead fishing weight.

If you are working with a group of people, this is a perfect task to share. Each person can go out and get one reference sample.

Sample preparation


Setting up your work station

Connecting to the spectralworkbench community

Inspirational quote!

“If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.” ― Nikola Tesla