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Insert Coin: Public Lab DIY Spectrometer wants to be the 'Shazam of materials'


In Insert Coin, we look at an exciting new tech project that requires funding before it can hit production. If you'd like to pitch a project, please send us a tip with "Insert Coin" as the subject line.

Spectrometers are a pretty invaluable piece of lab equipment. They make it rather simple to identify substances by analyzing the light that they absorb. Problem is, for the hobby scientist, they typically cost thousands of dollars. Jeffrey Yoo Warren's latest Kickstarter project aims to put these powerful tools in the hands of your average Joe, with an open-source DYI model, where the key ingredient is a shard of DVD-R. Using that piece of plastic in conjunction with black paper and a webcam, his $35 kit allows anyone to quickly and easily reveal the spectral fingerprint of any substance. There's even a $5 model that works in conjunction with a free Android app, turning your smartphone into a legit lab tool. The goal, ultimately, is to build up a library of substances that can easily be matched with samples caught in the wild -- in essence, to build a "Shazam for materials." The original inspiration was an effort to identify contaminants left behind by the BP oil spill, but Warren also touts its ability to reveal hidden dyes in laundry detergents and to differentiate wines or olive oils. For those with grander ambitions, a $300 pledge will score you a pre-built and calibrated desktop spectrometer, complete with pyrex dishes and a full spectrum lamp. To help fund this backyard (or back pocket) science revolution, hit up the source link.

Previous project update: Less than a week after bringing you news of Quickdraw, the lens holster system has seen its funding nearly double to about $78,000. With 20 days left to go, it's got a pretty good shot of meeting its $100,000 goal.

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