Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A DIY Kit To Determine If Your Water Is Contaminated

To get definitive evidence if oil from the BP spill has seeped into water sources, citizen scientists need a device called a spectrometer. Sounds fancy and expensive. But a new project will send you one made with nothing but a few parts for just $35.

Ever since the BP oil spill, the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science has been trying to help amateur researchers explore their communities for evidence of oil contaminants and pollution. The project began with balloon-mapping, a good tool for gathering aerial views of environmental damage. But if you really want persuasive signs of, say, an oil spill, you need a chemical snapshot, not a photographic one.

You need, well, a spectrometer. "It was kind of a surprise to us, a grassroots science community, to realize that when people wanted to identify an unknown substance, there's this completely ubiquitous device that's used in almost all branches of the sciences in different ways," says Public Lab research coordinator Jeff Warren, who counts himself among the community's members without a formal science background. "It really does sound kind of like a Star Trek device."

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