For those of you that slept through chemistry in high school, spectrometry (also known as spectroscopy) is the process of measuring the spectrum of light that either passes through, or is reflected off, of an object. As different chemicals and compounds have different spectral emission patterns, the wavelength of the light entering the spectrometer can be used to determine the makeup of the substance being tested.
To put it another way, looking at the light that comes through the substance it’s possible to determine it’s chemical components, and therefore, what it is.
This technology is incredibly useful, having applications in everything from the medical field to homeland security. Unfortunately, there are two things you need to perform spectrometry which have not previously been easy to get your hands on:
An actual spectrometer
A database of chemicals and their spectra
Until now, that is. The Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science (PLOTS) has put together open source software and the plans to build your own low-cost spectrometer so that anyone in the world can dive into this fascinating field.