Public Lab DIY Spectrometry Kit: Analyze materials and contaminants at home
Scientists use expensive tools called spectrometers to analyze unknown solid or liquid samples. Spectrometers can also be used to identify species of plants or crop diseases, coal tar in urban waterways and have many other applications. What started out as a way to find contaminants in the BP Oil Spill is now a full grown project to build a cheap and effective Spectrometer. The Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science (PLOTS) are working on a cheap open source hardware which hopes to identify all ranges of chemicals from oil contaminants in soil and water to toxins in various other substances.
What we perceive as a single color consists of multiple blended colors. A spectrometer splits light into the various colors it is composed of through diffraction, which we otherwise cannot distinguish with the naked eye. One can distinguish the exact mixture of colors, which correspond to specific wavelengths of light, which make up the perceived color of the sample.
The PLOTS spectrometer is a DYI tool made from simple materials: a stiff black card paper, a clean DVD-R, a VHS box, a webcam etc. The DVD-R is the main component, which acts as a cheap and effective diffraction grating splitting up the light into its various constituent wavelengths. It promises around 400-900 nanometer wavelength range, utilises around $10 of materials and can be constructed in less than an hour. It runs on an open-source software to collect, analyze, compare, and share calibrated spectral data. They kind of imagine it to be “SHAZAM for materials” with a vast library capable to identify all kinds of materials.
They even have an experimental version which converts your smartphone into a Spectrometer and it costs just $5 for the model (the app is free), how cool is that! You can also try building the model on your own. Right now the app is available only on Android smartphones, but they plan to expand to other devices depending on the support they receive on their Kickstarter page.
Detect chemical spills, diagnose crop diseases, identify contaminants in household products, and even analyze olive oil, coffee and homebrewed beer or wines. It’s great to identify any contaminants or adulterants in the food/drinks we buy. Right now we depend on the companies producing the products and the health department to assure us of the quality of edible food/drinks we buy. In my opinion, this tool in the hands of common man will revolutionize the consumer industry bringing in better quality checks at consumer level.
They even have a fully-assembled and calibrated “countertop” model prototype with Pyrex sample dishes and a full-spectrum lamp, just the kind of tool to help any small businesses or educational institutions.
Though these specs look pretty good, they still need to be compared rigorously with a traditional laboratory spectrometer. Just have a look around at its Kickstarter page, the project has already been funded with 37 more days to go. Join the revolution!
Salman Ravoof is a freelance writer, a mechanical engineer and an avid science and technology enthusiast. He likes creativity and is a great fan of fantasy and sci-fi genre. When not busy, he revels in experimenting and spends most of his time pondering about the existence of reality.
29 August, 2012