Public Lab Research note

Public Lab Launches a Kickstarter for a Homebrew Oil Testing Kit

by liz | September 24, 2014 14:12 24 Sep 14:12 | #11180 | #11180

September 24, 2014

Public Lab Launches a Kickstarter for a Homebrew Oil Testing Kit

New Do-It-Yourself kit "fingerprints" oil contamination by type

NEW ORLEANS, LA -- The Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science (Public Lab) has launched a Kickstarter campaign to introduce a new community science technique: the Homebrew Oil Testing Kit. Oil and gas contamination affects communities around the world, yet nearly all lack the basic tools to measure and identify crude, heating, or motor oil. Public Lab’s $50 kit will enable coastal residents, beachgoers and backyard scientists the world over to analyze oil pollution themselves using simple, open source hardware. The kit is constructed from easy-to-find materials like a Blu-Ray laser pen, a cardboard box, and a piece of a DVD.

Public Lab’s open source spectrometry project was originally begun to ground-truth the presence of oil in the wake of the BP oil disaster of 2010. A spectrometer can precisely measure the colors of light emitted by carefully prepared samples when they are illuminated with strong ultraviolet light. The Homebrew Oil Testing Kit will provide everything needed to collect and prepare samples, scan and analyze them, and share the results online.

Unusually, this campaign has only two main reward levels: the $50 Kit itself with a April 2015 ship date, and a $100 early-access beta tester program set to begin just one month after the October 23 campaign close. Public Lab is calling for beta testers to join the project through this campaign in order to solve key remaining challenges in the open source techniques, and participants will be asked to publish their own solutions and to improve the kit’s design.

“The collaborative approach is what makes this project special. We’re working together toward open solutions, built on the innovations of Public Lab members around the world.” -- Jeff Warren, Public Lab

Inspired by the Homebrew Computer Club of the 1970’s, a hobbyist group which set out to make computing more accessible, the Homebrew Oil Testing Kit aims at bringing the ability to identity oil and gas contamination into every home. The Homebrew Oil Testing Kit Kickstarter is an expansion of a $110,000 Kickstarter campaign in 2012 that shipped an early version of Public Lab’s DIY Spectrometry Kit to over 1,600 backers, and introduced the idea of everyday people using low-cost spectrometers to identify environmental contaminants on their own.

“Who can tell the stories of environmental contamination? Without accessible tools like the Homebrew Oil Testing Kit and communities that know how to use them, industry controls the narrative.” -- Shannon Dosemagen, Public Lab

Additional information on the Homebrew Oil Testing Kit Kickstarter can be found at:

About the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science

The Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science (Public Lab) is a community which develops and applies open-source tools to environmental exploration and investigation. By democratizing inexpensive and accessible “Do-It-Yourself” techniques, Public Laboratory creates a collaborative network of practitioners who actively re-imagine the human relationship with the environment.

The core Public Lab program is focused on “civic science” in which we research open source hardware and software tools and methods to generate knowledge and share data about community environmental health. Our goal is to increase the ability of underserved communities to identify, redress, remediate, and create awareness and accountability around environmental concerns. Public Lab achieves this by providing online and offline training, education and support, and by focusing on locally relevant outcomes that emphasize human capacity and understanding. For more information, please visit


Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science: Shannon Dosemagen; phone: 504.239.4642; email:


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