How To: Discover the Hidden Colors in Everyday Objects with This DIY Video Spectrometer

Discover the Hidden Colors in Everyday Objects with This DIY Video Spectrometer

A spectrometer is a device that splits light into all of the different colors it's composed of that can't be seen with the naked eye. It does this by using a prism to refract or bend the light.

Image via staticflickr.com

Jeffrey Warren over at Public Labs created a tutorial showing how you can make your own video spectrometer and create spectra like the one pictured below. Any guesses as to what the subject is?

Image via spectralworkbench.org

Believe it or not, that's what whipped cream looks like when viewed through a spectrometer.

You can do this with just about anything, and it's hard to tell what other common household objects can produce colorful images like this one.

Making a DIY Spectrometer

Here's how Jeffrey made his cheap, DIY spectrometer out of a VHS video case, USB webcam, and a DVD.

First, he cut a small slit in a piece of thick black card paper and folded it to fit into the VHS case. Next, he split the DVD into layers and cut out a small rectangle, attaching it inside the lens hole on the webcam with epoxy.

Images via staticflickr.com

After removing the infrared filter from the camera, he attached it inside the box, using Velcro in case it needed to be readjusted.

Image via staticflickr.com

Here it is in action, using spectral matching to tell the difference between two different types of olive oil.

If you want to build your own, check out Jeffrey's detailed tutorial and the video below for step-by-step instructions. Once you're done, visit this page for ideas and inspiration on how to use it, as well as check out some images that other people have captured with their own spectrometers.

You can also make a simpler spectrometer with a cereal box and a CD, or learn how to make a homemade mass spectrometer that can detect greenhouse gases.

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