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Public Lab Wiki documentation


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« Back to Spectrometry


The PLOTS Spectrometer is a tool Colin Frazer and Jeff Warren have been developing at RISD's Environmental Justice research group. A spectrometer is a tool for identifying the unique patterns of light refracted, reflected or emitted from an object, like a fingerprint. Using spectrometer you can collect that pattern of light and use it to identify what a substance is made of.  We hope to use spectrometry to identify harmful gases emitted during the course of oil and gas production. Our spectrometer consists of a cardboard box, a broken CD, and a digital camera. The cardboard box or tube collects the light from an object. The broken CD splits that light into a rainbow like spectrum. The digital camera photographs that spectrum so we can analyze it using our online tools.

Analysis: Interpreting your spectra

We've created an online analysis tool to upload your spectrometer photos for interpretation. All of this is very prototoype-stage, and we haven't yet identified a material based on the spectra it generates.

However, as our first goal, we're interested in identifying PAHs (Poly-Aromatic Hydrocarbons) (which are present at the Gulf Coast and the Gowanus Canal, and benzine, which is amongst the contaminants found at natural gas extraction sites, especially those employing hydraulic fracturing.


The spectrometer has also been the subject of a public workshop by Jeff Warren and Nadya Peek at Escuelab in collaboration with FabLabLima in Lima, Peru:


An alternative set of instructions not requiring PVC or razor blades: here