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written by Alan Schwabacher
published by the American Museum of Natural History
This is a detailed instruction guide for building a spectroscope out of inexpensive materials.  A spectrometer or spectroscope is an optical device that separates visible light into its component colors.  In this classroom experiment, students will use low-cost diffraction gratings (readily available from scientific supply stores), a shoebox, tape, and index cards to construct a spectroscope.  As students look through the slit at one end of the shoebox, they will see the light "sorted" by frequency into a spectrum of colors.
Subjects Levels Resource Types
- Color
- Diffraction
- Geometrical Optics
= Optical Instruments
- Middle School
- Informal Education
- High School
- Instructional Material
= Activity
Appropriate Courses Categories Ratings
- Physical Science
- Physics First
- Conceptual Physics
- Activity
- New teachers
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© 2002 Alan Schwabacher
color spectrum, diffraction grating, hands-on lab, high school lab, light spectra, middle school lab, prism, project
Record Creator:
Metadata instance created June 23, 2006 by Ann Deml
Record Updated:
August 20, 2020 by Lyle Barbato
Last Update
when Cataloged:
January 1, 2002
Other Collections:

This resource is part of a Physics Front Topical Unit.

Topic: Nature and Behavior of Light
Unit Title: Visible Light and Color

Using a spectroscope, students can see that a single color of light is really comprised of a combination of colors, called a spectrum.  This fun activity by the Exploratorium Museum shows them how to build a spectroscope out of a shoebox and other low-cost materials.  The key "ingredient" of the spectroscope is a diffraction grating, a device with multiple evenly-spaced parallel slits to let light through.  Don't worry...the diffraction grating material can be cheaply obtained.

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Record Link
AIP Format
A. Schwabacher, (American Museum of Natural History , New York, 2002), WWW Document, (https://www.amnh.org/content/download/45894/703630/file/du_u03_spectroscope.pdf).
A. Schwabacher, Building a Spectroscope (American Museum of Natural History , New York, 2002), <https://www.amnh.org/content/download/45894/703630/file/du_u03_spectroscope.pdf>.
APA Format
Schwabacher, A. (2002, January 1). Building a Spectroscope. Retrieved April 17, 2024, from American Museum of Natural History : https://www.amnh.org/content/download/45894/703630/file/du_u03_spectroscope.pdf
Chicago Format
Schwabacher, Alan. Building a Spectroscope. New York: American Museum of Natural History , January 1, 2002. https://www.amnh.org/content/download/45894/703630/file/du_u03_spectroscope.pdf (accessed 17 April 2024).
MLA Format
Schwabacher, Alan. Building a Spectroscope. New York: American Museum of Natural History , 2002. 1 Jan. 2002. 17 Apr. 2024 <https://www.amnh.org/content/download/45894/703630/file/du_u03_spectroscope.pdf>.
BibTeX Export Format
@misc{ Author = "Alan Schwabacher", Title = {Building a Spectroscope}, Publisher = {American Museum of Natural History }, Volume = {2024}, Number = {17 April 2024}, Month = {January 1, 2002}, Year = {2002} }
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%A Alan Schwabacher %T Building a Spectroscope %D January 1, 2002 %I American Museum of Natural History %C New York %U https://www.amnh.org/content/download/45894/703630/file/du_u03_spectroscope.pdf %O text/html

EndNote Export Format

%0 Electronic Source %A Schwabacher, Alan %D January 1, 2002 %T Building a Spectroscope %I American Museum of Natural History %V 2024 %N 17 April 2024 %8 January 1, 2002 %9 text/html %U https://www.amnh.org/content/download/45894/703630/file/du_u03_spectroscope.pdf

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Building a Spectroscope:

Is Part Of Exploratorium: Snacks About Light

A link to the full index of more than 40 activities developed by the Exploratorium on the topic of light.

relation by Caroline Hall

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