Physics 8: Extra Credit

Build a Worthy Spectrometer

This assignment consists of building a spectrometer using the grating loaned to you in class (come see me if you didn't get one). You will need a paper towel tube, tape, and some stiff paper or thin cardboard. For the latter, you can use a cut-up cereal box, poster board (darker is better), or anything else you can get your hands on. Once you have built the spectrometer, you will use it to do the tasks/experiments enumerated below—each worth some extra credit. If you do all portions, it will be worth 2.5% of your grade. That's hot. But you have to show me your spectrometer to get credit: I need to see that you actually made it and that it works.

Allow several days to do this work, because you'll need access to both night and daylight conditions.

Here's how to build the spectrometer:


  1. Before taping on the eyepiece, hold the eyepiece to your eye and orient it so that the dispersion is left-right (look at a bright light and see that the associated rainbow is to the left and right of the central image). Now hold the tube (with slit attached) pressed up to the eyepiece, so that you are looking through the slit at the far end of the tube. Point the spectrometer at a fluorescent light so that you can see bright spectra to the left (or right) of the slit— along the inside of the tube. Rotate the tube along its axis while holding the eyepiece fixed. Record what you see/notice. Which way should the slit be oriented if you want to see the spectral details (i.e., distinct spectral lines) of the source?
  2. Before affixing the eyepiece, go out at night and look at a street light (an orange or bluish kind) just through the eyepiece. You'll see several "images" of the light in different, distinct colors, but some may overlap. You want to be close enough to recognize the shape of the light, but not so close that the images totally overlap and become confusing. After gaining more experience using the spectrometer with a slit, come back to this and describe why we want to use a slit at all.
  3. In the daytime, look at the sky through a screen or other fine mesh. What is different about the view (compared to without the screen), and how do you interpret what's going on? To guide your thinking, you may also hold a paper clip (or any thin stick) in front of the slit and see if you can figure out how it affects things. If you don't have access to a screen, use the paper clip and describe what you think you'd see if looking through a screen.
  4. Look at a fluorescent light through the spectrometer. If you change the width of the slit, how does it affect the appearance of the lines? If you want the best resolution you can get, what must you do to the slit?
  5. Now look at different light sources and graph what you see in the form of a spectral plot (running from about 400 nm to 700 nm, which is all you'll be able to see). Just be approximate, mostly noting where you see spectral lines: less emphasis on strength of lines, which is hard to judge. The plots should include:
    1. an incandescent light source
    2. a fluorescent light source
    3. an orange-colored street light
    4. the sky (in whatever state of weather)
    5. a neon sign
  6. Look the daylight sky and you'll notice narrow, dark absorption lines (vertical if rainbow spectrum is left-right. These arise from elements in the sun's atmosphere. Perhaps the easiest to see are the green and blue-green lines from iron and hydrogen, respectively. Do these disappear when you look at things on the ground (note, spectrum gets way dimmer, but look carefully for the lines)? At clouds? Buildings? Glints off cars?
  7. You are bound to notice something interesting, unexpected, or inexplicable during your exploration. Here is a place for you to relate this. It could simply be the coolest thing you saw using your spectrometer. Or it could relate to the construction, visual effects, revelations, etc.

Now for another 0.5% extra credit (total of 3% available), write down the sequence of 1's and 0's that emanate from your H-ITT transmitter when you press the E button. Only write out the first burst, and leave out the 01 delimiters: only write down the 36 data bits. If your checksum ends up with more than 8 digits, ignore all but the last 8: just leave the others out. You will need to use your own transmitter ID number—and not just the last three digits (the number is found under the battery). If you don't have a transmitter, use the last 6 digits of your student ID number. The credit will break down like: 20% for getting the button code right; 40% for getting the transmitter ID right; 40% for getting the checksum right. Write down the ID number you are using in addition to the resulting binary stream. It will be easier for me to grade if you also e-mail these two numbers to me in the same form. Be careful: every bit counts!

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