What is it?

Spectral Challenge is a call to makers, hackers, and Do-It-Yourselfers worldwide to tackle real-world environmental problems with low-cost, open source spectrometry.

What if there were an affordable device you could build yourself, take into your neighborhood and use to test for heavy metals, oil contamination, or other toxics, without needing to have a PhD or access to a lab?

Two Challenges

Stage 1: Collaboration

The goal of Stage 1 is to support and encourage the thousands of new people building and using open source spectrometers. To win, a team must publish techniques and/or documentation which dramatically improves the process of open source spectroscopy for the whole community. A winning team might:

  • Describe sample preparation from start to finish in a legible, friendly way
  • Improve site documentation to help newcomers get started faster
  • Publish a technique which improves the resolution or replicability of everyone's data

Stage 1 is open now; all entries must be posted on the Public Lab site by May 31, 2013. The winning team will receive $1000 from the prize pool.

Stage 2: Real World Use

The goal of Stage 2 is to use low cost open source spectral analysis to identify an environmental contaminant such as petroleum or heavy metals. Full details of Stage 2 will be announced at the end of Stage 1, and will build on Stage 1 work.

Stage 2 will start on June 5, 2013; the winner of Stage 2 will take 80% of the prize pool -- 20% will go to Public Lab to continue organizing and promoting open source science.

Read about the challenges and enter >


A crowdfunded prize

Spectral Challenge is like an X Prize for DIY science, but it's crowdfunded -- meaning that if you support the goals of the Challenge, you should contribute to the prize pool. You can also help by getting the word out to find pool contributions; use the hashtag #spectralchallenge

Read more about the prizes >

Donate now!


View Progress

Frequently Asked Questions

Who judges?

Stage 1 will be decided by members of the Public Lab Organizers group. Stage 2 will be decided by a jury selected from the Public Lab community.

Read more >

How do I enter?

Teams must post a series of research notes on the Public Lab website tagged with "spectralchallenge". Regular posting -- open sourcing your progress -- is highly encouraged.

Read more >

How do I find potential teammates?

Forming teams and sharing work is in the spirit of the Challenge. The best place to find teammates is on Public Lab's plots-spectrometry mailing list:

Why should I publish regularly if it benefits other teams?

The winning team should be that which makes the core contribution to the Challenge -- so you should publish before someone else does! If others use your work, it proves that you've made a significant contribution; be sure to highlight that in your entry.

What can I use?

The winning entry will use materials which are affordable and simple enough for anyone to reproduce. No expensive, proprietary lab equipment!

Read more >

About Public Lab

Public Lab is a community which develops and applies open-source tools to environmental exploration and investigation. By democratizing inexpensive and accessible Do-It-Yourself techniques, Public Lab creates a collaborative network of practitioners who actively re-imagine the human relationship with the environment.

Public Lab's open source spectrometer launched last year and is now in the hands of thousands of civic scientists. Then we created a shared open source spectral data library at SpectralWorkbench.org so that everyone can analyze and share their data. What happens next is up to you!