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My library at the University of Southern Mississippi recently had a science café about the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science (Public Lab) which is a community — supported by a 501(c)3 non-profit — which develops and applies open-source tools to environmental exploration and investigation. By democratizing inexpensive and accessible Do-It-Yourself techniques, Public Lab creates a collaborative network of practitioners who actively re-imagine the human relationship with the environment.

The core Public Lab program is focused on “civic science” in which they research open source hardware and software tools and methods to generate knowledge and share data about community environmental health. Our goal is to increase the ability of underserved communities to identify, redress, remediate, and create awareness and accountability around environmental concerns. Public Lab achieves this by providing online and offline training, education and support, and by focusing on locally-relevant outcomes that emphasize human capacity and understanding.

At our science café, Stevie Lewis, Public Lab Outreach Manger, talked to a general audience about DIY environmental monitoring tools. One example of a Public Lab tool is the balloon mapping kit. This is an easy-to-use system for taking aerial photographs which has been utilized by environmentalists and citizens in Louisiana to monitor the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The technology entails rigging up a small digital camera to a kite or weather balloon and then flying it over the site that you wish to photograph. Online, open-source software is available from Public Lab to stitch the photographs into an aerial map. Other tools include DIY spectrometers, infrared photography, and water quality sensors. You can find out more about Public Lab at http://publiclab.org/