Biohacking - Spectrometry Workshop

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Alessandro Volpato, Biotop Community Lab e.V.


DAI Makerspace






only for participants


main room, biohacking corner, laser cutter


(what's an "event"?)

Background[edit | edit source]

After the PCR workshop, we continue our adventure in do-it-yourself biology by giving you yet another tool to explore your health, environment and food.

This time we'll build a spectrometer, an instrument which is able to detect the exact light wavelengths absorbed or emitted by a substance. In the same way a fingerprint identifies each individual human, from the light spectrum it is possible to identify and quantify different substances.

Many DIY spectrometers have been developed by citizen science communities, especially to address environmental and health concerns of their local communities, such as water pollution. The success of these initiatives has resulted in a recommendation for the US Environmental Protection Agency to recognize the power of citizen science and embrace it to promote the protection of the environment.

Many citizen scientists are getting involved in spectrometry. There is even an online community where people upload spectra of the most various substances.

Here are some examples of what you can do with spectrometry:

  • monitoring oxygen content as well as pollution in freshwater and marine ecosystems
  • characterization and measurement of proteins and DNA
  • analyzing spectral emissions of sun, stars and galaxies
  • measuring the amount of chlorophyll in plants
  • measure alcohol content in beverages
  • testing espresso coffee spectra

Workshop[edit | edit source]

In this workshop, we'll build a desktop spectrometer for the biohacking corner at the DAI Makerspace, and in addition all participants will have the opportunity to build their own DIY spectrometer to take home.

The device can work in combination with either a smartphone camera or a webcam. So, if you're planning to build your own, please bring your smartphone or a webcam (also, don't forget to register so we can buy the material needed!).

The webcam offers more sensitivity, however if you don't have one available it's no problem: since the spectrometer has a modular design, it is possible to upgrade it later and add a proper camera to it.

After building the device, we'll calibrate it with reliable reference spectra (compact fluorescence light) and we'll backcheck with other reference spectra (LEDs).

We will then explore the applications of a spectrometer in two ways:

  • Emission Spectrometry: in 2012 the EU Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) published a study about health effects of artificial light. During the workshop, we'll investigate by practical experience what this issue with some lamps is.
  • Absorption Spectrometry: we'll perform a simple biology experiment by extracting pigments from plant leaves and analyzing their spectrum. Different plant are characterized by their pigments and therefore unique spectra; moreover chlorophyll levels can be detected and can indicate how healthy the plant is.

The spectrometer further expands the possibilities for biohacking projects in Heidelberg. In particular, spectrometers have proved useful in citizen science initiatives monitoring water and air pollution. You are welcome to bring in your personal projects and ideas on how to use the spectrometer and to discuss them with the biohacking community.

Facilitators[edit | edit source]

Alessandro Volpato is a biologist and biohacker located in Berlin, where he's part of the Biotinkering community. Alessandro joins open-source projects, combining biology skills with hardware-software programming and integrates bio-protocols on modular-drawn devices. Last year he took part in the Science Hackday Berlin with the "Rock Your Rainbow" project, which was focused on building different DIY spectrometry devices.

Participants[edit | edit source]

The workshop is open to beginners and experienced bio-intrepids alike. No previous knowledge in electronics or biology is needed, as all the relevant notions will be covered during the workshop.

We would appreciate a small donation (about 12 ?) to cover the material costs. To allow everyone to have hands-on experience on the project, we set the maximum amount of participants to 20.

REGISTRATION[edit | edit source]

If you would like to take part in the workshop, please register on the Biotop website here.