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A Victory for Clean Water: Citizen Science Data Leads to Change by Andy Hrycyna

by gilbert | over 3 years ago | 2 | 1

A Victory for Clean Water: Citizen Science Data Leads to Change

June 1, 2017

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For years, the Mystic River Watershed Association (MyRWA) and its volunteers have helped to document water pollution problems in the Town of Belmont. This week, that hard work paid off.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued an Administrative Order on Consent with the Town of Belmont over years of water quality damages. Over the next five years the town has agreed to make a significant investment in repairs to its storm water system, which is discharging pollutants, including human sewage, into waters of the Mystic River watershed. We congratulate Belmont on their commitment to improve water quality to tributaries to Alewife Brook.

This is a success story for citizen science and for non-profit environmental collaboration with government agencies. Data acquired by MyRWA volunteers and shared with EPA was key to making progress. This has been a group effort---from the dozens of volunteer monitors who go out each month to collect samples, to the tireless work of others like Roger Frymire, who spent countless hours finding sources of pollution in the Alewife Brook area.

Since 2000, volunteers through the MyRWA's Baseline Monitoring Program have generated water quality data that is shared with state and federal agencies. Each year the EPA in conjunction with MyRWA issues a water quality report card for the Mystic River watershed.

The 2015 water quality report card for the Belmont area tells the story: Alewife Brook earned a D grade with 50% compliance with boating and swimming standards for bacteria; Little River a D- grade at 44% compliance; and Winn's Brook an F grade at 33% compliance.

One powerful aspect of the Baseline Monitoring Program is that it is poised to document success as well as problems. As infrastructure repairs are made in Belmont, we fully expect these grades to improve. We look forward to documenting and celebrating water quality improvements to Alewife Brook, Little River, Winn's Brook, Wellington Brook---and the Mystic River itself---over the next five years!

Congratulations and thanks to everyone who continues to work with us for protecting clean water.

EPA Water Quality Grades 2014-2016


2014 2015 2016

Mystic River B+ A- A-

Alewife Brook D D D+

Little River D- D- D

Winn's Brook F F D-

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Economist Article: "Do-it-yourself science is taking off"

by stevie | over 3 years ago | 0 | 2

Public Lab and some DIY science friends (Hey @maxliboiron, @eymund, @shannon and @warren !) were recently featured in a piece in The Economist. Check out the article entitled "Do-it-yourself science is taking off."

Happy New Year to all, and a special welcome to everyone who has found Public Lab and DIY science projects through The Economist piece!

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Introducing a Lego Spectrometer

by warren | over 3 years ago | 0 | 2

We've been making and distributing Do-It-Yourself spectrometers since 2011, and have been through 4 major kit versions and hundreds of different community contributed modifications, new versions, changes, and more. As a community we've gotten really good at helping people build a spectrometer, but we need to do a huge amount more to support more advanced work, more rigorous and consistent experiments, and more consistent and better data collection.

For the numbers, we've shipped thousands of spectrometry kits, and over 12,000 people have uploaded spectra to our open source online database, Spectral Workbench. That database now includes over 100,000 spectra:

Now we're ready to take this to the next level with a better design that incorporates a vast amount of input and ideas from this huge contributor community.

The new 4.0 Desktop Spectrometry Kit is made of... Legos! We're calling it the Lego Spectrometer.

Read more about it here

You can pre-order it for $50 now in the Public Lab Store, or see the plans at the bottom of this page, in several formats.

Pre-order a kit See assembly instructions

We'll also be posting build instructions shortly -- and like all Public Lab kits, it's open source hardware -- CERN OHL 1.2.

Design goals

Over the years, we've identified a few really critical improvements that have been tough to solve:

Our mission is to make it easier, cheaper, and more accessible to do environmental monitoring, and to do that as an open source, collaborative community. And of course part of that is cost -- while people build upon our kits with more expensive options and upgrades, we want the basic kit to be extremely affordable.

So, this design tries to address each of these challenges with ideas and input from the community:

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A stable, rigid device is pretty critical for consistent measurements, but many of the ways we tried to solve this were cost prohibitive at the price point we wanted in our kit -- wood frames, lasercutting, 3d printing. There have been some fantastic designs that are rock solid, but Legos allowed us to make a kit that's extremely precise and robust enough to throw in a backpack and not worry that it'll go out of calibration.


Past kits have been wonderfully cheap and easy to modify, but they incorporated die cutting and printing with white ink on black paper -- not easy to replicate in the home. This Lego design has almost identical dimensions to our foldable papercraft spectrometers, but you can affordably order parts for just one kit from, or print it on a 3D printer from the models below, and know that the dimensions will be exactly the same. See the assembly instructions for a list of the exact parts and where to source them.

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It can be tough in an open source community to get people to work together on a single design, to agree to shared conventions -- everyone wants to try something new and exciting! But if we could get people to modularize and separate out their spectrometers, their sample holders, their light sources and cameras, we could mix and match, and people could make improvements to one piece without breaking compatibility with the rest.

Today we're proposing a standard Lego-based interface, which will ensure rigid connections between each part, starting with the connection between the spectrometer body and the sample holder and light source.

Below you'll find open source 3D models for the key components, so you can 3D print these connections, but if you already have a device or a sample apparatus, just add these pieces to make it compatible with other Lego Spectrometers. And post your designs! We'd love to hear from you in the comments below.

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Raspbery Pi Camera

The revolution kicked off by the Raspberry Pi project has made high quality imaging incredibly easy. The Raspberry Pi camera modules are perfect for a DIY spectrometer, with low noise, high sensitivity and small size.

But there are still problems to solve there, not least an easy way to connect the whole system to our browser-based uploader at Spectral Workbench! Pitch in and let's iron out some of these issues.


We're really hoping people will build on these designs, using the Lego 3-pin interface described above, and add things like:

  • different lighting sources
  • different sample container attachments
  • adaptors for things like telescopes & bigger cameras

But most of all, we're looking for well-documented guides on how to do different tests with these devices. Let's put them to work!

Try solving some of these challenges, or add your own!

Title Author Updated Likes Comments
How do I... @akhila 5 months ago 17
Can the spectrometer or turbocharger be used for lal testing? @Ag8n about 3 years ago 3
How can we detect contaminants in water samples with a DIY spectrometer using reagents? @warren over 3 years ago 1
Can a DIY spectrometer be used to measure water turbidity? @warren over 3 years ago 8
What's an easy way to compare two liquid samples with a spectrometer? @warren over 3 years ago 8
How do I collect a sample for laboratory analysis? @warren over 3 years ago 3
Desktop Spectrometry Kit to arduino? @jjoll almost 4 years ago 5
Can a Spectrometer be used to detect material type? @jjoll almost 4 years ago 3
What are good containers to use for spectrometry samples? @warren over 4 years ago 1
Can I upgrade a DIY spectrometer with a Raspberry Pi camera? @warren over 4 years ago 10
Question: Can DIY-spectrometer be used for analysis of soil @interestedperson_ha almost 5 years ago 7
Getting the spectrometer to work with a Raspberry Pi? @anjohn12 about 5 years ago 6
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Ask a question  or help answer future questions on this topic

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Net Neutrality: resources for action

by gretchengehrke | over 3 years ago | 2 | 2

Image obtained from:

Hi Folks,

The FCC will likely be voting to repeal Net Neutrality on December 14th. The two main modes of civic engagement to protect Net Neutrality are to (1) contact Congress (who oversees the FCC) to remove or delay the scheduled vote, and (2) contact the FCC and tell them to NOT repeal Net Neutrality. There are also protests scheduled outside of Verizon stores (since the head of the FCC used to be a top lawyer for Verizon).

Some resources for civic engagement are:

  1. Contact Congress:

  2. Contact FCC:

  3. Find a local protest:

There are some great informational resources available about what Net Neutrality is, why it is important, the regulatory context of it, and political and social analyses of the current proposal:

  1. For clear and concise information about Net Neutrality and its importance, please see:

  2. For more discussion of its importance and some regulatory context about Net Neutrality, please see:

  3. For a brief analysis from a centrist news source, please see:

Please make your voice heard, and share information widely!

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Local Perspectives at Barnraising 2017

by a1ahna | over 3 years ago | 2 | 6

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View of the marsh in the morning, as seen from my dormitory window. An egret basks in the sunlight.

As a 90's child in Houma, Louisiana, we would visit LUMCON on school field trips. I remember being charmed by the facility at a young age, a strange and seemingly out of place cement fortress at the end of the world, surrounded by wooden homes raised on stilts to protect them from rising waters. LUMCON has been the site of five Public Lab Barnraisings, in part because it exists at the very fringe of land and water off of the Louisiana coast, at the front lines of climate change in the United States. It's been about two decades since my first visit to LUMCON and the change in landscape is visceral and painful for me to acknowledge. It's been five years since the first Barnraising in Cocodrie, and the importance of Public Lab's work is made emminent when overlooking the receding marsh land and discussing the challenges we still face as advocates for a healthy natural environment.

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LUMCON as seen on Google Maps. The amount of land loss is striking, as is the very linear canal across the bottom of the image which bisects the meandering natural waterways.

This year's barnraising brought together a diverse collection of knowledge - experts in their fields ranging from the Gulf coast to the Eastern seaboard, with representatives from the United Kingdom and China present to discuss the ways that we can continue to work collaboratively in order to better understand the environment and make scientific knowledge more accessible. Although everyone had their own specific question, or method for studying the environment, there was a common goal of creating an interdisciplinary, international network of citizen scientists and activists.

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The weekend's agenda was built based on negotiating time and space for everyone's questions to be heard.

The ethos of the Barnraising is to address what knowledge is available within the Public Lab community, and how this information can best be disseminated to a multifaceted audience using a variety of organizing techniques. While a large amount of Public Lab's work is rooted in technology and development, there is an equally important foundation built on participatory science, community organizing, networking and power building. By taking an interdisciplinary approach to science and education, Public Lab promotes the capacity of each and every participant as a unique and invaluable asset towards furthering the goals of Public Lab as a community. On our first day at the Barnraising, Liz introduced a few mantras that encapsulated this sentiment perfectly, one of which being "EVERYONE HERE IS THE RIGHT PERSON."

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Scott Eustis and a team of volunteers launch a Public Lab balloon mapping kit in order to create imagery of a nearby pond.

My prior involvement with Public Lab is minimal: I am trained as an archaeologist and a digital cartographer, with ancestral ties to the landscape of coastal Louisiana and an ingrained sense of stewardship for the cultural ecology that I was raised in. However, it was made apparent from the initial introductions and reading of the Code of Conduct that all sources of knowledge, ancestral or academic, were integral towards building an interconnected body of information and toolkit for studying the environment. The discussion frameworks endorsed by Public Lab incorporated the ecological, historical, social, and cultural backgrounds of all participants, and examinend the points wherever these bodies of knowledge and experience intersected.

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The team deflating and repackaging the balloon, while confirming that the data collected covered the study area.

The Barnraising this year focused upon many issues that have increasingly impacted the quality of life for citizens across the globe for the past year. Some issues examined the natural environment, such as coastal land loss, lead and hydrogen sulfide poisoning, and the increasing number of oil spills and hurricanes, while other issues were anthropocentric, working to build strength through community organizing, raising support / funds, and democratization of data collection and tools for analysis. As a prerequisite for many sessions, the group would tackle major issues by unpacking issues down to their core, redefining common terms, and designing solutions based on publicly available resources. What is science, and why does the word have negative connotations? What is a community, and how do they define themselves?

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Take-aways from the session, "How do we influence climate change deniers? / How do we make science cool?"

In each of session, regardless if it was discussion based or more tactical, the goal was to identify a problem, and then develop methods that will generate a better understanding of the issue. These discoveries should be recorded as data, so that others who share a similar curiosity can build off of an existing idea, set of code, or game design. Communicating data and results in an accessible manner, regardless of the audience's experience or background, was the central focus of every session that I attended.

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@Rockets taking selfies of the group during a Barnraiser editing session using his DJI Spark drone.

In every interaction, there was a genuine feeling of admiration and respect for each other. The community established after spending three days exploring, building, kayaking, and sharing with others in a research center at the end of the world is a testament to what can be created when people come together around a common interest. In three short days, a group of 30 strangers gathered together to build a digital microscope and a weather-hacking antenna, while simultaneously solving the issues of climate change denial and lead contaminated soil in historic cities, forming friendships and connecting information.

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Weather satellite antenna team, with sample hacked imagery behind them. From left to right: Gabi, Chase, Lyssa, Shan, and Tony.

I am inspired by the dedication and hard work exhibited by the Barnraising attendees towards each of their individual projects, and their willingness to contribute mental energy and emotional labor towards the disappearing landscape of coastal Louisiana. The struggle felt in the Mississippi delta is a result of an exceptional, uniquely self-sabotaging relationship between the land, water, and energy infrastructure that depends on depleting our resources for profit, however, our exploitative model of resource extraction has inspired others and spread. The gulf coast has felt the imminent crisis of climate change, rising sea levels, increasing subsidence, and more frequent hurricanes approaching for decades, and adaptation strategies are already being implemented in some of the most vulnerable communities. Our struggle is echoed in the environmental justice fights happening around the globe, and it is crucial that other cities learn from the successes and mistakes that have already occurred in Louisiana.

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View from the tower of the surrounding marshland. One team of kayakers is just setting out on their journey, while another group walks towards an outdoors discussion.

The landscape of coastal Louisiana is historically volatile, and the people have adapted to the abundantly harsh ecosystem by forming a culture of resiliency and self sufficiency. I believe that these cultural values are reflected in the work of Public Lab, which operates in order to return authority and power to the groups of people who come together to build it. It is my hope that Louisiana will soon become a place for radical experimental development in coastal monitoring and restoration technology, so that lessons learned here can be utilized in other locales which are less prepared for life in a rapidly changing landscape. Public Lab provides an excellent framework for individuals from all walks of life to engage with the world around them using science, math, code, visual art, language, and storytelling as tools of inquiry. These open source, accessible tools are necessary in order to rapidly and thoroughly document a vulnerable landscape. Governmental organizations simply do not have the most important resource to complete the tasks at hand: they lack the sense of purpose, the ability to create place, and the inherent power residing in a group of people united.

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What questions will you bring to the Barnraising? (Part II)

by warren | over 3 years ago | 0 | 3

The Barnraising starts tomorrow morning! We're all super excited.

At the past two Barnraisings, in Morgantown, West Virginia ( #west-virginia ) and in Cocodrie in November 2016, I was able to interview and video folks who came, and ask them what questions they brought with them. This post is a continuation of my last, featuring Barnraising attendees -- and we're about to start this year's Annual Barnraising in Cocodrie!

Last time, I mentioned why I like this format:

I like asking this question because many people come with a specific need in mind, hoping to find someone from the diverse Public Lab community that may be able to help, and some come with knowledge, skills, and capacity -- and I'd wager that most people come with both of these! But finding ways to exchange knowledge, and support one another, is one of the keys to making an event like this work.

We've been sharing these with the tag #barnraisingQuestion on Twitter and Instagram. Please reach out with your own questions as you arrivein Louisiana today!

Leslie Birch

Hey, I'm Leslie Birch, I came from Philadelphia, and I was really excited to come to this particular regional barnraising because I'm interested in the problem of fracking that's going on because it obviously affects Pennsylvania as well as West Virginia. My big question is: is it true that they're using radioactive isotopes as tracers in the process of fracking? I'm still waiting to get that answer, but I'm excited about discovering it. I'm also wanting to figure out how I can use art and my knowledge technology and hardware to better communicate the problems that are going on in these ( @zengirl2 )

Matej Vakula

Hey, I'm Matej Vakula and I came here from Brooklyn -- I'm originally from Slovakia. I came here with a question of how to build infrastructures for sharing knowledge, and for knowledge production -- how to produce knowledge. ( @matej )


Ryan Covington

I'm Ryan Covington, from Washington DC. And the one thing I wanted to get out of the barnraising was to figure out how myself and the organization I work for, Skytruth, a small technology and conservation organization in West Virginia, can more broadly distribute our expertise, and satellite imagery and digital mapping to Appalachian communities and advocates that need it.


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