Tummino #NTNM Assignment 4

Part I: I am intrigued by how Public Lab, a do-it-yourself community of people who investigate environmental concerns, used sensors to track where oil had spread after the BP Oil Spill. This information was crucial, as it would let Public Lab know where the oil was reaching land (so cleanup efforts could be organized) and possibly help assess liability and damages. They did this by taking pictures of the Gulf with weather balloons and kites. But in late 2010, the focus shifted to discovering the source of leftover oil that was still washing up after cleanup operations were already complete. So, Public Lab decided to use spectrometry in an attempt to prove that the black sludge showing up on Gulf beaches had the same composition as the oil that came from the Deepwater Horizon spill. While the spectrometer results could not prove liability, the low-cost spectrometer design survived.

There are now three spectrometers made by Public Lab: a USB kit, a smartphone spectrometer, and a foldable mini spectrometer. All of them can be used to identify oil pollution in soil and water. They are all also open source, so anyone can build them. For example, if you wanted to see if a property you intended to buy had oil contamination, you could build your own smartphone spectrometer in 20 minutes. All you have to do is install black paper liners to the base of the spectrometer device, followed by a precision printed collimating slit and diffraction grating. Then, the pieces are fit and screwed together to make the spectrometer. Finally, one can attach the completed device to a phone using glue dots and calibrate it using a compact fluorescent bulb.

Part II: Here is an example of how the Sparkfun Vernier Sensor could be used in a civic capacity. Home security is a huge industry and many homeowners choose to have some type of home security. However, these security systems can be expensive. A person, if inspired to try and protect his home on his or her own, could use the sensor to detect intruders into his home, or even anyone who walks in or out — regardless of being an intruder.

A hypothetical situation where I could use such a sensor in my future career as a journalist could involve a wild animal invasion late at night in a town in the market I cover. The sensor could be placed in a strategic place where many of the complaints are stemming from to measure the volume of wild animals in that area. If the results are staggering, it could prompt animal control authorities to act.

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