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Open Source Earth Build Technology Science

Catch Oil Polluters With Open Source Tools Using the Homebrew Oil Testing Kit 52

First time accepted submitter jywarren writes Ever wish you could investigate pollution yourself? Public Lab's recently announced open source kit aims to make it possible for anyone to become a "pollution detective" by comparing samples of oil contamination. Under the hood, the kit is pretty interesting. It uses the ultraviolet fluorescence caused by a Blu-Ray laser pen in oil samples, and includes a "papercraft" spectrometer to scan and classify oil types. The group's Kickstarter campaign is also seeking 50 early-access beta testers to help test and refine the kit before release.
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Catch Oil Polluters With Open Source Tools Using the Homebrew Oil Testing Kit

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Looks like they're trying to replicate a LIDAR system from the '80's. interesting.
    http://publiclab.org/notes/mathew/09-23-2014/graded-oils-using-uv-fluorescence

  • Is this a joke? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tacokill ( 531275 ) on Thursday September 25, 2014 @03:16PM (#47997175)
    Time to grow up. Homebrew oil testing for big bad oil when you don't even understand the chemistry is a bad idea. This kickstarter looks like it was written up by a 2nd grader.

    I bet these guys [spectrasensors.com] know a lot more about this than a dinky little kickstarter project. I hope the kickstarter team realizes that they've been identifying, measuring, and studying hydrocarbons for over a century so there's a pretty significant body of work already. Use it.
    • by cdrudge ( 68377 )

      I'm going to bet that "those guys" won't even send you a printed catalog for the same $100 that the kickstarter campaign is looking for. So the cost for detection is going to be orders of magnitude different. But you're going to have orders of magnitude more accurate results too.

      That being said, you're right although I probably go with a 3rd grader. The kit diagram wasn't draw in crayon but it does look like the pencil was traced. It really looks like a primary school science fair project.

    • Sure looks like similar tech, laser absorption/fluorescence.

      Shoot a laser through a sample & see what the response is.

      http://www.spectrasensors.com/... [spectrasensors.com]

      Just a *slight* difference in price.

    • Re: Is this a joke? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Mathew_publiclab ( 3854979 ) on Thursday September 25, 2014 @03:42PM (#47997477)
      Public lab staff here- Its not a joke. We're replicating a well-researched and straightforward methodology for grading oil based on the relative "blueness" or "redness" of the spectrum. Its very simple to perform. During an oil spill there is a lot of public interest in identifying oils. People collect samples and send them to researchers, and they never get tested. Because testing has a low return--he sample could be anything, and the experts dont have the time. There are tons of coastal oil slicks, many of them naturally occuring from decaying organic matter. Why would it be bad to help people figure out if they're looking at petroleum or not?
      • by OzPeter ( 195038 )

        There are tons of coastal oil slicks, many of them naturally occuring from decaying organic matter.

          Why would it be bad to help people figure out if they're looking at petroleum or not?

        Then what? What do you expect to be done with the results?

        • Re: Is this a joke? (Score:4, Informative)

          by Mathew_publiclab ( 3854979 ) on Thursday September 25, 2014 @03:52PM (#47997563)
          We'll release it public domain and use our existing relationships with universities, state DEQs and the EPA to assist in accurately mapping the disaster and recovery. The data would be really useful for figuring out where to deploy more expensive equipment, or to pre-scan for which sites to go back and sample.
          • by OzPeter ( 195038 )

            to assist in accurately mapping the disaster and recovery.

            To me that implies that you think that the relevant agencies aren't capable of or do not accurately map spill locations.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              After the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the ERMA SCAT database--the official database-- was built by QUALITATIVE assessements of oil thickness on a 1-4 scale. A civic response with quantitative data collection tools could do better than "well, I think that looks like a 4." So yes. The responsible agencies are rarely capable of deploying enough trained people to actually cover the whole area with the types of expert methods people are mentioning in this thread, so more often than not they rely on estimates an
              • by s.petry ( 762400 )

                I don't really have anything against this, but will re-ask the question above. "What do you expect to happen with the data?" Agencies can't or won't deal with what they have today, so the benefactor and beneficiary's of this data is who?

                Maybe it will begin to instill cynicism at a much younger age, as kids will see that when they submit the findings nothing happens. No clean up occurs, companies continue to receive more tax money for "clean up", and politicians continue to smile and laugh as their next r

          • And then you get sued by the polluter for libel.

      • well-researched and straightforward methodology for grading oil
        What methodology are you using? Normally API [api.org] is used to "grade" oil but that's for API gravity [wikipedia.org]. You could be measuring viscosity. Or density. Or who knows what else. But that's the point.....:"Grading oil with a homebrew test kit" is not a viable project until it is better defined.
        • We can't get as accurate as API grades, and aren't tring to because that would be too involved for quick field assessments by people without chemistry training. try searching for the keywords "Laser induced Fluorescence" or LIF, and look for older stuff. all the new research is on fluorescence decay, which we can't meaasure with a consumer camera. a lot of the research we're building on is paywalled but look at this, it gives a good history of our method too: http://mobile.www.eproceedings... [eproceedings.org]
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Time to grow up. Homebrew oil testing for big bad oil when you don't even understand the chemistry is a bad idea. This kickstarter looks like it was written up by a 2nd grader.

      Posting AC to avoid burning moderation points.

      Do you actually think that the court system is going to go on the say so of your "second graders?" NO - the system would alert the authorities, and then they come in with the real toys.

      On a related issue, although not at all contentious, there are a lot of people with personal weather stations that are tied into NOAA via the web. I'll bet some of those folks are first grade level, and they don't have NIST current certifications on their equipment. But some

      • So you find an oil slick and do more than just report that there is an oil slick. How big of a window are you opening up for the entity responsible to claim the evidence was planted by you or whomever with the kit and how much of a window for liability do you think is there when your low budget kit points to one entity who is innocent but suffers huge costs because of it?

        They sell amateur detective kits relatively cheap too. Go to a murder scene and start investigating before the cops show up and you could

    • If you don't get it, you don't watch Southpark.

    • Nice job throwing up a googled link to spit FUD when you don't know what you're talking about, tacokill. Spectrasensors.com sell laser absorbance spectroscopy systems operating in the mid-IR range, and don't sell UV fluorescence gear. I see somone before you left a comment detailing our real research [LIDAR, above], which you didn't look at, or you'd notice that we're building on 40 years research into laser fluorescence for field identification of oil. What we're doing was cutting-edge in the early '80'
    • by mspohr ( 589790 )

      I know that you didn't read the k/s page but it really does help:

      "We’ve based much of our work on the large amount of scientific literature available on fluorescence spectroscopy for oil identification. A selection of articles have been collected and summarized on this page -- and we welcome contributions to the list. "
      http://publiclab.org/wiki/oil-... [publiclab.org]

    • If you live near fracking wells, using this kit is a much better way to determine if your water is safe than the alternative- holding a lit match under your faucet..
      • What, these kits also detect methane?

        • The methane itself is relatively harmless- but usually indicates the 999 other chemicals in fracking fluid are there too, and when the methane catches fire it creates even more toxins. If the kit can detect 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol without igniting it, it's a better option.
  • Sounds like a great idea for a school science project or demonstration / lecture.
  • Remember the Exxon Valdez? There's justice for the likes of you (yes, you! [do prisons have connectivity btw.?]) and there's justice for Exxon and the like.

    • Exxon were initially fined $5B in damage - but this was reduce after appeal to only $500M. The spill was eventually attributed to a series of errors which could at best be described as gross incompetence and easily constitute criminal negligence, including operating the ship with a non-functional radar. Despite this no criminal charges were ever brought. It took ten years just go get the compensation from Exxon, as they appealed every decision made by the courts, including the unfavorable appeals.

      You are qu

  • I gotta bad feeling about this. The proposed equipment (which does look like existing technology) may work just fine, but then the new practitioners will make every possible mistake and invalidate the measurement and have useless data. Here are some hypotheticals:
    • Wearing sunscreen while collecting a sample.
    • Not washing the sample container.
    • Not cleaning the container/laser.
    • Improper reference comparison.
    • Blatant misrepresentation trying to cash in on bad publicity and getting on the news.

    Then there will be

    • Hussman32 is right, proper methodology is critical, but its important to remember that the same criticisms apply to ALL field data. That is why we are running our beta test as a verification/replication trial. we want to know how accurate non-expert volunteer data will be, in the aggregate. Between now and next summer we'll hopefully find out.

If I'd known computer science was going to be like this, I'd never have given up being a rock 'n' roll star. -- G. Hirst

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