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Public Lab Research note

Spectrometers arriving: what next?

by warren | December 19, 2012 21:35 19 Dec 21:35 | #5264 | #5264

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](

Desktop Spectrometer Kit assembly

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!

SpectralWB on Twitter

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!



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