Public Lab Wiki documentation

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Question: Why average? And what happens to the second Green?

by viechdokter about 14 hours ago | 10 | 59 | 0

I have been reading a lot about spectroscopy and spectral analysis lately. I got a lot of feedbac...

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Using Potassium Bromide (KBr) in UV/VIS spectroscopy

by dhaffnersr about 20 hours ago | 1 | 66 | 0

Using UV/VIS spectroscopy, either an unknown substance can be identified or the concentration of ...

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Tweaks to foldable mini-spectrometer design

by warren 1 day ago | 0 | 94 | 0

What I want to do A few months ago, I taught a papercraft class at Parts & Crafts, and we we...

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Highlights: Working with Communities in the DIY Oil Testing Booklet

by stevie 1 day ago | 0 | 115 | 1

The second section of the new DIY Oil Testing Booklet, which we’re highlighting this week, is foc...

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DIY Oil Testing Toolkit: Graphic Template Release!

by mlamadrid 1 day ago | 0 | 151 | 2

Hello! I have uploaded a template version of the book design for the DIY Oil Testing Toolkit. It'...

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Some tools of the trade and a new Cree highpower Blue LED that I put together

by dhaffnersr 2 days ago | 0 | 82 | 0

I received yesterday my Cree high powered 470nm blue LED, and so I put it together and tested it ...

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Rhodamine b in ethanol study May/02/2016

by dhaffnersr 3 days ago | 0 | 104 | 0

What I want to do: Using the new spekwin32 v172.2P3 hardware control prototype software, I wante...

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Fluorescein study 6 sample concentrations plus an upgrade to the DVD grating

by dhaffnersr 5 days ago | 0 | 147 | 0

First, I had to make an upgrade to the DVD piece in my spectrometer this weekend, the way it was,...

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More research on "spectrometer" »

Title Last edited Edits Likes
DIY Oil Testing Advocacy 9 days ago by warren 14 1
DIY Oil Testing: Community 9 days ago by warren 14 2
DIY Oil Testing Questions 9 days ago by warren 25 2
Spectral Workbench Operations 12 days ago by warren 14 2
DIY Oil Testing 3 months ago by warren 18 1
Oil Testing Workshop 4: Analyzing and Sharing 3 months ago by warren 4 1
Oil Testing Workshop 1: Design an experiment 3 months ago by warren 12 2
Oil Testing Kit 3 months ago by stevie 128 12
DIY Oil Testing Tools 3 months ago by warren 7 1
Oil Testing Kit Beta 3 months ago by stevie 66 8
Oil Testing Kit Literature 4 months ago by warren 9 8
Desktop Spectrometry Kit 3.0 4 months ago by warren 45 13
Oil Testing Kit Construction 5 months ago by warren 10 0
Refinery Watching 6 months ago by warren 18 4
Smartphone spectrometer 7 months ago by tonyc 27 5
Desktop Spectrometer 3.0 parts list 10 months ago by warren 3 6
Ottawa about 1 year ago by warren 2 4
Spectrometry Sampling about 1 year ago by OpenSourceScience 22 5
Pesticide Detection Methods Development over 1 year ago by silverhammer 27 6
The Homebrew Sensing Project over 1 year ago by Becki 5 0
Spectrometer History almost 2 years ago by mathew 4 0
Oil Testing Kit Illustrations almost 2 years ago by warren 3 0
spectrometer-media almost 2 years ago by warren 2 2
How to make a homemade spectrophotometer almost 2 years ago by Haripriya 3 3
Spectrometer Curriculum about 2 years ago by bicwood 25 3
Suggested Spectrometer Readings almost 3 years ago by PeterDavidowicz 10 0
Spectral Challenge ideas almost 3 years ago by philippg 18 3
Spectrometry health applications almost 3 years ago by warren 10 1
DIYBIO Ideas and Applications almost 3 years ago by briandegger 3 2
Spectral Challenge Teams about 3 years ago by warren 1 0

Desktop Spectrometry Kit v3

The standard -- plugs into your laptop

Build one Buy one

Smartphone Spectrometer

Rigid plastic version which attaches to your smartphone

Build one

Foldable Mini-Spectrometer

Cheap, easy, starter version for smartphones and webcams

Build one Buy one

Public Lab's Do-It-Yourself spectrometers are designed to help everyday people detect pollutants where they live.

Our community has been working since the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill to develop a cheap, open source, Do-It-Yourself spectrometer which we hope to use to identify oil pollution in soil and water, as well as a range of other possible contaminants.

What's spectrometry?

Colored light is often a blend of different colors. A spectrometer is a device which splits those colors apart, like a prism, and measures the strength of each color. A typical output of a spectrometer looks like this spectrum of the daytime sky, with the actual light spectrum at the top and the graph of wavelength (horizontal axis) and intensity (vertical axis) below:


Types of spectrometry

There are different ways to use spectrometers, and the key difference is how you illuminate your sample.


This project focuses on fluorescence spectrometry in order to identify oil pollution samples, which is where a high-energy light like an ultraviolet laser is used to excite a sample so that it fluoresces, or glows.

See the lead image of this page for a diagram of a fluorescence spectrometer setup. Since different oils fluoresce in different colors, this technique can be used to match an unknown sample with a reference sample to identify it.

Read more on the Oil Testing Kit page »



Emission spectroscopy is the kind often done in the classroom, where burning a material emits a colored flame. A spectrum of this colored flame can be used to match a material, but it can be unsafe to burn unknown samples, so we have primarily begun to use this technique to attempt to monitor distant flares, for example at gas refineries in Louisiana, to try to detect heavy metals.

[image of refinery watching]


Absorption spectroscopy -- shining a full-spectrum light like a halogen or incandescent (not a fluorescent or laser) through a sample to see what colors are absorbed -- is a bit more difficult in the visible light range, as most of the "fingerprint" features of spectra are too long or too short wavelengths for our webcam-based devices. However, a considerable amount of work has been done on absorption spectrometry of:

Make a spectrometer

The links at the top of the page offer step-by-step instructions on making your own spectrometer. Our main design, the Desktop Spectrometer, features:

  • around 400-900 nanometer range, maybe wider (what you can see with the naked eye, plus some infrared)
  • 1-5 nm spectral resolution
  • 20-30 samples per second
  • ~ $15 in materials
  • < 1 hour construction time
  • web-based, open-source software


Once you've built a spectrometer, there are many ways to improve it -- by using a narrower slit, darkening the interior, using a better camera, and more. For upgrading the USB webcam-based Desktop Spectrometry Kit, see the Upgrades section of its documentation.



Along with the physical devices, the Public Lab community has also developed Spectral Workbench, an website to capture data with your spectrometer, analyze and compare spectra, share them in an open database, and comment and collaborate with others.

The software includes:

  • direct connection to your USB-based or smartphone-based device
  • calibration, comparison, and matching tools
  • XML, JSON, and CSV data download
  • a JavaScript API
  • offline mode
  • read more in the documentation


Frequently Asked Questions can be found here »


This document, and this methodology, is still under active development. What you see on this page is only the best attempt so far at collating and presenting the work of Public Lab contributors to date. Some of the challenges that remain include:

Other uses

While many of us have focused on identifying oil pollution with fluorescence spectrometry, there are many other uses for cheap, open source spectrometers, and many other ways to use a spectrometer.


In 2012, Public Lab ran a Kickstarter project to distribute an early version of our DIY spectrometers to over 1600 people. The video is a bit out of date, but is still a compelling way to understand what we're attempting to do:

The Homebrew Sensing Project is made possible in part by the generous support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Knight News Challenge: Health.


spectrometer list:plots-spectrometry tabbed:notes tabbed:wikis tool