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

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This DIY kit helps analyze materials and contaminants. We need your help to build a library of open-source spectral data.

Update: So many people have asked: we ARE doing an iOS version, having passed the threshold weeks ago!

A spectrometer may not sound like what you wanted for your birthday, but it's a ubiquitous tool for scientists to identify unknown materials, like oil spill residue or coal tar in urban waterways. But they cost thousands of dollars and are hard to use -- so we've designed our own.

This open hardware kit costs only $35, but has a range of more than 400-900 nanometers, and a resolution of as high as 3 nm. A spectrometer is essentially a tool to measure the colors absorbed by a material. You can construct this one yourself from a piece of a DVD-R, black paper, a conduit box, and an HD USB webcam.

We've also created open source software (spectralworkbench.org) to collect, analyze, compare, and share calibrated spectral data. We've even made an experimental version which converts your cellphone into a spectrometer (see rewards -- now with iOS in addition to Android)!

Public Lab community members have used this new tool to identify dyes in "free and clear" laundry detergent, to test grow lamps, and to analyze wines.

Now we need your help in collecting data to build a Wikipedia-style library of open source spectra, and to refine and improve sample collection and analysis techniques. We imagine a kind of "SHAZAM for materials" which can help to investigate chemical spills, diagnose crop diseases, identify contaminants in household products, and even analyze olive oil, coffee, and homebrew beer.

Public Lab is an open community (join now!) which investigates environmental issues with DIY tools. You might have heard about our first big project to document the BP oil spill using aerial photos from kites and balloons and our balloon mapping kits Kickstarter. Since then we've been working on new ways to ID contamination on the cheap. We hope you'll join us in taking the next step!

"Countertop" spectrometer prototype
"Countertop" spectrometer prototype
Web-based Spectral Workbench analysis software
Web-based Spectral Workbench analysis software
Prototype of fully-functional "fold-up" spectrometer ($10)
Prototype of fully-functional "fold-up" spectrometer ($10)

FAQ

1,633
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  • Pledge $10 or more
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    280 backers

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

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  • Pledge $35 or more
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    612 backers

    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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  • Pledge $65 or more
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    235 backers

    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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    282 backers

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

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  • Pledge $200 or more
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    5 backers

    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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  • Pledge $300 or more
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    38 backers

    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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  • Pledge $400 or more
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    50 backers

    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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  • Pledge $1,000 or more
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    3 backers Limited (2 left of 5)

    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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Funding period

- (39 days)