Public Lab Research note

DIY Spectrometer at Women in Photonics Week

by isabellagonzalez | November 01, 2017 00:48 01 Nov 00:48 | #15136 | #15136

isabellagonzalez was awarded the Excessive Enthusiasm Barnstar by 31gane for their work in this research note.

Women in Photonics Week

UC Santa Barbara Photonics Society hosted Women in Photonics Week from Monday, October 23rd through Saturday, October 28th, coinciding with the IEEE Photonics Society's "Introduce a Girl to Photonics" Day & Manufacturing Day: A week of lectures, demonstrations, and facility tours, all of which were led by women who are scientists and engineers and many were open to everyone, with the purpose of encouraging young women in the Santa Barbara area to get involved in photonics.

My workplace, Freedom Photonics, hosted visitors from area junior high and high schools on Friday, October 27th. The schedule for the day consisted of check-in, a presentation, a facility tour and demonstrations. The visitors, about 20 people, were divided into four groups, and rotated through four hands-on demonstrations.

DIY Spectrometer

image description

My colleague, Madison Woodson (standing in the photo above), led the DIY mini-spectrometer activity. This was the third time that I have used the DIY mini-spectrometer during an outreach program, which was featured as a demo at Women in Photonics Week last year (in 2016) and at STEM Day at Girls Inc in Santa Barbara (in 2017). This year's demo was a bit different because we presented it as a craft activity that the students could take home, instead of sharing a single spectrometer with the whole group.


  • Mini-spectrometer template:
  • Scissors
  • Tape and/or glue
  • DVD diffraction gratings created according the instructions in template (these were pre-cut for the students)
  • Broad spectrum light source
  • Cuvettes with chemical samples, color filters, etc.
  • Smartphone or webcam

image description


After a brief explanation of the operating principle of diffraction and spectrometry, the students cut, assembled, and demonstrated their own spectrometers, which they were able to take home with them.

A laptop displayed the Spectral Workbench software, demonstrating how to capture spectra:

A desk lamp functioned as the light source. To test the operation of their spectrometers, the students mounted them to either the webcam of the laptop, or, if they had access to smartphones, to the phones' cameras.

The students examined the effect on the measured spectra of different colored liquids in the cuvettes, as well as color filters, and captured spectra data on the laptop.

We could not load the Spectral Workbench page on the mobile browser, but the Camera app on the phones was suitable for observation. Although the students could not save raw data, they could observe the spectra in images.

The students enjoyed the activity and many expressed enthusiasm for collecting their own data.


@31gane awards a barnstar to isabellagonzalez for their awesome contribution!

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