Funded! This project was successfully funded on October 5, 2012.

Update #15

Quick revision to Desktop Kit instructions!


A follow-up -- the print instructions which shipped in the Desktop Spectrometry Kit ($35) contain a small error; they show the webcam being focused to 3" away, but in fact that distance should be 9". The online instructions have been revised and if you've already built your spectrometer, it's not hard to change. (download a revised PDF here) Your spectra should come out much sharper! Something like this:

(example by contributor seekerdave) Thanks to contributor ckmurt for catching this issue!

Also, full instructions with build photos and lots of helpful troubleshooting tips are coming together now on the Desktop Spectrometry Kit wiki page. Check it out!

Thanks and sorry for the trouble!

--The Public Lab staff

Update #14

Spectrometers arriving: what next?


All but 64 of the Desktop Spectrometry Kits are now shipped, and from the buzz on twitter and the new spectra being uploaded to, many have already received, assembled, and begun to use them. As you get started with your kits, here are some useful links:

Remember, you are the vanguard -- the bleeding edge early adopters -- so as much as you can expect others to help you out, you should try to help each other debug and troubleshoot your spectrometers. We have a FAQ wiki page to add common issues to and if you find software issues you can post them on Github.

For the next weeks and months, we expect a lot of people to be just getting online with their devices, calibrating them and getting used to them. But once your spectrometer is calibrated and configured...

What next?

That's the question, really, that we hoped to answer by launching this project. We are far from having a mature, rigorous, credible scientific device, and we need everyone to pitch in to make progress. Some open questions include:

  • how best to scan liquid, gas or solid samples
  • what kind of lights to use; halogen, xenon, LED, laser, or UV?
  • how to detect faint light, like when putting samples in flame
  • how to compare data between different instruments
  • how to match an unknown spectrum to a known library of samples

What's important here is that we solve these problems together -- which means posting your work, images of your setup, and explaining your goals -- ideally on the community website. Its DEPRESSING to see data being uploaded without any explanation or background!

Problems to solve, ideas to explore

The above problems all have to do with the engineering and methodology, but what about use cases? Luckily, we asked you all to describe what you hoped to do with your devices in our survey, and we've posted most of those responses here, sorted by topic:

They include such diverse applications as:

  • Measuring output of LED arrays for a NASA-funded project for growing plants inside extraplanetary habitats
  • Solar cell efficiency
  • Maybe see if the color of campfire flames can reveal contamination (flame spectroscopy with a marshmallow)
  • Test the water in Greenpoint!
  • Compare soil samples for gardening
  • Testing springs along the Appalachain Trail
  • Testing whiskey, maple syrup, bananas, etc
  • Analyze alloys and compounds for home forge/foundry
  • Measuring colors of flowers
  • Blood analysis
  • Identify plastics for recycling through 3D printer
  • Use with my telescope on stars
  • Analyzing gasoline engine deposits and by-products
  • Make an Android app resembling a tricorder
  • Top Secret! (ed: hey, what about open source?)
  • Taking over the world!
  • Showing off to girls, that sort of thing

There are hundreds of ideas on the list... these just the tip of the iceberg! Really, check them out, they're super interesting -- and of course reach out on the spectrometry discussion list to find others who share your interests. This is only going to work if we work together, and open source what we do!

Beta beta

Finally, keep in mind that although we've put an enormous amount of effort into this project, it's still fairly experimental! The software is usable but may not have all the features or nicities we hope will be added. (It IS open source, however -- if you can help develop, please join in at We now have a Twitter account for Spectral Workbench code updates: follow @SpectralWB So be patient, work with us to refine and improve it, and make constructive suggestions!

Update #13

We are shipping!! Plus iOS/Android updates & preorders


900 webcams just arrived, and we are in the midst of final assembly for the 974 Desktop Spectrometry Kits ($35 reward; the remaining webcams should be here soon). What's more, the night before last, all of our foldable mini-spectrometers shipped out from Portland, OR. We expect to ship the first 900 desktop kits tomorrow.

Thanks for your patience -- we're doing our best to assure that these arrive before Christmas, and we think for US buyers that should work out. For international orders, it's harder to tell.

Final instructions for the Desktop Spectrometry Kit

We've also posted a PDF of the final assembly instructions for the "DSK", which is shipping in each kit. It can also be used to build your own (all open source, all the time!), assuming you can find a webcam that will fit in a given spectrometer box, and that you cut your own imaging slit (not hard!). 

Spectral Workbench updates + iOS and Android

If you've used Spectral Workbench recently, you may have noticed the frenetic pace of changes over the past week. Wholly revised interfaces such as the above front-page screenshot, as well as a vastly improved (but still in-progress) mobile interface for the site have accompanied bugfixes and other revisions. Give it a browse!

One big improvement is that on mobile devices which lack the live video API our mobile site uses, we are automatically directing users to upload an image of a spectrum, and prompting them to do so with their native camera app. Until more mobile browsers support the MediaStream webcam API (as Opera Mobile does), this will allow anyone on Android or iOS 6+ to use the mobile webapp. We are also taking the first steps in developing a native iOS app to enable live capture, but we've found the native camera app technique to work fairly well.

Read more about this here:

Now accepting preorders

Finally, we are accepting preorders for a February shipment of post-Kickstarter Desktop Spectrometry Kits. We are setting the final retail price at $40 each. Reserve one now! - $40 - $10

Design sketches for the mobile spectrometer attachment

One more thing! We're starting to move on the $65 mobile spectrometers -- the rigid plastic version of the paper one we just shipped. Check out the sketches and as always, get involved at!

Update #12

Spectrometer assembly is in full swing!

1 comment

Things are humming along! Fellow Public Lab staff member Mathew Lippincott has been up to his elbows in foldable paper spectrometers out in Portland OR for the past week or two, and here in Somerville MA, we are preparing for our own big assembly of desktop spectrometry kits. Some of you may have been following our progress at, but for the rest of you, I know you're eager to see our progress. Here are some photos and other updates, including a look at our super-hot newly redesigned spectrometer kit at the bottom! Apologies for slow responses to your messages and comments; please bear with us as we get these rewards out the door. 

Foldable spectrometers

Mathew spent a lot of time cutting up DVDs, which will be shipping with your foldable spectrometers. I get to do this tomorrow. After extensive testing, DVDs have been shown to be as good or better than purpose-made gratings. 

Assembly instructions with DVDs taped to them.

Lasercut spectrometers ready to be folded up by you.

This is what you'll be receiving shortly if you selected the foldable spectrometer reward!

A partially assembled spectrometer prototype:

DIY Spectrometry Kits

The black paper inserts, conduit boxes, and other parts have been steadily flowing into our workspace in Somerville (the Pirateship). The inserts are now being lasercut, and we've put a call out for folks to volunteer packing boxes in exchange for free pizza and spectrometers! At this point the only thing missing is the webcam shipment. Fingers crossed for this to arrive in the next few days!

The 800+ lbs of aluminum conduit boxes which are our new spectrometer enclosures were the most dramatic:

Finally, we stickered a few with our new labels, assembled final packaging, and did a quick photo shoot. Gorgeous!

Update #11

Packaging updates and latest draft of foldable mini-spectrometer

1 comment

Hello all! I know we've been a bit quiet but don't worry -- we've been moving ahead full steam with ordering bulk parts, refining designs, and kicking off lots of exciting new research on the new Public Lab spectrometry mailing list (join now by checking "plots-spectrometry" on this page. Ideas and plans have been posted for ultraviolet spectrometer mods, a flame spectrometer for soil analysis, a carbon arc setup for vaporizing samples (!!!) and much more. Remember -- we're an open source community, not a corporation, which means you can join in and contribute to the design of these devices even before they're assembled and shipped!

Packaging and assembly

We've gone out of our way to find an aluminum conduit box for the DIY Kits ($35 model) instead of the nasty PVC boxes which are also full of fire retardant. Soon, 1500 will be headed our way in a boat. See progress on the kit here.

We also ordered boxes and are doing basic packaging design, as seen below; we want these to be basic but nice. Here, see 1500 boxes clogging traffic behind our workspace in Somerville:

Foldable Mini-spectrometer

The foldable design is shipping first, and so we've spent the most time on this design up front. Eight versions in and we're really looking at a pretty finished product which we've tested and are confident with. You can download the design right now, print it, and try it out -- but the ones we'll be mailing will be on stiff matte black card paper and will have lasercut imaging slits.

The above is the foldable one assembled temporarily with rubber bands -- it's a bit wrinkly from being carried around too much in my bike bag. Don't worry -- the final one will be sturdier and nicer-looking. That's more or less it for now; we'll keep you up to date as things get closer to shipping!

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    A fold-up spectrometer attachment for your smartphone. Ships flat -- you cut it out and assemble it.

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    A proven and tested "desktop" USB spectrometry kit which you assemble inside of a VHS box. 400-900 nanometer range and 3-10 nm resolution. (please add $10 for international shipping)

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    An experimental "backpack" which clips to your Android phone's camera and turns it into a spectrometer. If more than 250 backers want this, we pledge to develop a native iPhone app as well. (please add $10 for international shipping)

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    All three of the above, as they become available (please add $60 for international shipping)

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    A "Classroom pack" of 6 desktop spectrometry kits for teachers and those of you who just can't get enough spectra! Please add $40 for international shipping.

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    A fully-assembled and calibrated "countertop" model with Pyrex sample dishes and a full-spectrum lamp. Would look great in a coffeeshop, a wine bar, an exhibit or classroom. (please add $40 for international shipping)

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    All four -- countertop, desktop kit, mobile, and papercraft spectrometers -- please add $100 for international shipping, as we'll be shipping these separately.

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    This completely egregious "steampunk" spectrometer is made from polished aluminum, brass, and finely finished, laser engraved wood. It's functionally identical to the "countertop" model, but has enough polish to make Isambard Kingdom Brunel proud. Don't back this unless you are a) feeling sooo rad or b) trying to support the Public Lab nonprofit.

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