Thursday, February 9, 2012

Spectroscopy for everybody else

I've just come across a tangle of connected websites that have to do with do-it-yourself spectroscopy -- meaning REALLY do-it-yourself, like building your own video spectrometer from a DVD-R (as the grating), a USB webcam, and an old VHS box or some such.

This interested me, especially as someone named Adam Hasler has been using one of these homemade spectrometers to test different types of wine. I am one of those people who have no doubt that wine is the nectar of the gods; in fact, my idle (very idle) websurfing was how I ran across this wine/DIY/spectroscopy thing in the first place.

The sites I found are mostly part of the Public Laboratory for Open technology and Science (, which describes other fascinating open science projects as well, such as balloon aerial mapping, air-quality measurements, and others, all for which you can build your own equipment from commonly found items.

Anyhow, Adam and his friends tested wines, including (with URLs for their spectra):

2009 santa barbara pinot noir:
2009 clos de vaulicheres epineuil:
2010 simfebvre_sauvblanc:
2010 talmardchardonnay:
2010 honig sauvblanc:
2010 riffualt sancerre:

According to the website (see, at the wine testing (no, I didn't misspell that), Adam described the background of each wine and its place of origin, and "we spent some time discussing how to improve readings and sample prep for this early stage prototype instrument."

These DIY spectrometers have also been used to make other measurements that, although not necessary for one's survival, are interesting (to me, anyway), such as an Android phone / iPhone LCD spectral comparison (maybe a little hard to see here):


Along with plans for a DIY spectrometer (or a $30 kit, if you're so inclined), there is open-source software called Spectral Bench ( that is described as being "in alpha, though with some configuration it should run on Linux, Mac, or Windows."

Specs for the spectrometer:
-- around 400-900 nm range, maybe wider (what you can see with the naked eye, plus some infrared)
-- 5-10 nm spectral resolution
--20-30 samples per second
-- ~ $10 in materials
-- < 1 hour construction time

Because I didn't come across any sort of conclusion for the wine experiment, my assumption is that the researchers are still in a very early phase and have many years of experimentation left.

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