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Spectrometer in your pocket

Posted 28/08/2012 by cgodfrey

Earlier this year, C&I reported that, at PittCon, the annual laboratory equipment and analysis conference and exhibition, there was much talk about reducing the size of spectrometers, and even that in the very near future, spectrometers would become an item of personal use.

As might be expected, the instruments on show, although small, did not have an everyday price tag. However, in the space of just a few months, a spectrometer in your pocket, at an affordable price, may be about to become a reality.

The solution is of course the smart phone – that ubiquitous piece of electronics that haunts us all – matched by low-cost 3-D printing.

The development has been preceded by a so-called self-assembled open hardware kit that costs just $35 but has a range of more than 400-900nm, and a resolution as high as 3nm. This spectrometer and its associated open source software has been developed by an open community Public Lab, with funding through the website www.kickstarter.com, which presents projects for funding by small investors who can pledge as little as $10 to help fund a project and then receive copies of the end result in proportion to their pledges.

For just $10, backers will receive a fold-up cardboard spectrometer attachment for their smart phone, while for a pledge of $35 or more backers will receive a tested ‘desk top’ USB spectrometry kit which can be assembled inside a VHS case. For $65 or more, backers will receive an experimental ‘backpack’ probably produced by 3-D printing, which will clip onto an Android mobile phone; if sufficient backers sign up then an iPhone version will be developed.

The key words are open and community – a community of very small investors and open development both of hard- and software. This is not a trend for the future – it is here today.

Neil Eisberg - Editor

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