Public Lab Wiki documentation


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The Public Lab spectrometry project is an open source community effort to develop low-cost spectrometers for a range of purposes. All open spectrometry hardware and software efforts are welcome here!

Join in by:

  • Reading about goals and asking great questions
  • Building a basic spectrometer using one of our starter kits
  • Trying (and critiquing) our community-made how-to guides
  • Posting your own how-to guides and mods
  • Building on others’ work; hack and remix the kits to refine and expand them
  • Submit your improvements for inclusion in an upcoming starter kit release or add-on
  • Serving on a Research Review Group for a 3 month period


This is a list of community-generated guides for experiments using your spectrometry setup (either a starter kit or a modded design) toward specific applications. Some may be more reproduced -- or reproducible -- than others. Try them out to build your skills, and help improve them by leaving comments.

Purpose Author Time Difficulty Status Goal
Wavelength-calibrate with a Compact Fluorescent Blub (CFL) @warren 10 m - 150 replications Try It X replications
Scan sunlight to see Fraunhofer lines @cfastie 10 m - 80 replications X replications
Compare different concentrations in a liquid sample (Beer’s Law, absorption) @straylight 4 h easy 0 replications Try it X replications
Compare milk fat percentages @wagnerc4 easy 0 replications Try it X replications X reviews
Compare blends of olive and peanut oil @ygstc 3 h moderate 0 replications Try it X replications
Extract samples (tomato) with ethanol @cfastie 2 h easy 0 replications Try it X replications | X reviews
Detect presence of sugar in beverages (wine) @ygstc 2 hr easy 0 replications Try it X replications
Oil testing @gretchengehrke 2 h moderate 20 replications Try it X replications
(draft) Determine presence of organophosphate or carbamate pesticides @silverhammer 5 hr difficult 0 replications Try it X replications
(draft) Collect and concentrate oil sheen @matej 6 h difficult 1 replication Try it X replications
(draft) Flame emission spectra of metal salts @kgradow1 3 h medium 0 replications Try it X replications
(requested) Determine effects of weathering on oil samples - - difficult - -

Add your guide here Request a guide

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

Hardware Mods

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:

Title Author Time Difficulty Status (?) Goal
Oil Testing Kit (fluorescence, cuvette frame) multiple 6 h moderate 0 builds Build it 0 reviews
“Ebert” mod @cfastie 4 h easy 0 builds Build it 3 reviews
Plab3 spectrometer upgrade prototype @stoft 13 h difficult 0 builds Build it 0 reviews
Oil Testing Kit Proto 3 @stoft 4 h difficult 0 builds Build it 0 reviews

Add your hardware modification here Request a hardware modification

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


There’s a lot going on in open source spectrometry -- if you’ve developed another open source design you’d like to show others how to construct, post it here!

Starter Kits

Public Lab’s Kits initiative offers several starter kits, including many of the basic components, and instructions for constructing a basic visible light spectrometer. The point of the kits is to provide a shared reference design for building experimental setups onto.

  • 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. We have not yet met all our intended goals for this design, which is still at an exploratory phase: build on this design by adding a sample holder, attaching a light, or incorporating it into an experiment.

Visit the Desktop Spectrometry Starter Kit version 3.0 page

  • New to spectrometry? You might like to try the Papercraft Spectrometry Starter Kit, a $10 foldable spectrometer which you can attach to a smartphone or webcam. It’s made of paper to reduce cost and complexity, and is mainly intended as an “introductory” or educational kit.

Visit the Papercraft Spectrometry Starter Kit page

Using spectral data

Overview of spectra, calibration, units, comparison, and fluorescence/absorption/… Using the spectrometer with the interface, spectral data is recorded, which includes qualitative light intensity at specific wavelengths of light. Data is presented visually in a plot with light intensity as a function of wavelength, ranging from 400 to 700 nm. By creating “sets” of multiple spectra, you can visually assess the similarities and differences between the spectra, although it cannot be used to compare the color of substances.


Same, remix, or expansion of existing docs.
Spectral data can be analyzed with to create spectra plots, find centers of emissions plots, and find similar spectra. Data also can be exported to graphing programs such as Plotly, Gephi, or MatLab for further analysis and visualization.

How does this compare to a lab instrument?

The Desktop Spectrometry Starter Kit is only one part in an experimental setup, and the following shows where it fits in an overall diagram of a lab spectrometric setup:

[ Analysis computer ] [ Spectrometer ] = || [ Sample container ] || = [ Light source ]

[ Extraction system ] [ Sample storage ] [ Sample collection equipment ]

Many commercially available spectrometers are UV/Vis, meaning they have dynamic ranges from UV (~200nm) through the visible range and often into near infrared (~900+ nm). If interested in fluorescence specifically, a UV/Vis spectrometer may be important because many molecules respond to excitation wavelengths in the UV range. The Public Lab spectrometer only operates in the visible range (~400-700 nm). For visible range spectrometers, a commercially available product from Cole Parmer has a range from 335 to 1000 nm: