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Spectrograph Image Build Your Own Spectrograph

Summary of Activity:
Students build a working spectrograph to study the nature of light. The curriculum includes study guides for various grade groups, PowerPoints to explain concepts, a comic describing spectroscopy, age-appropriate hands-on activities, and 3 videos. Class sets of spectrograph and gratings are available to accompany the lessons.

Instructions for assembly come with the spectrographs. A different version is also available: Spectrograph Assembly and Simple Lesson Plan

Curriculum Resources associated with this activity:

Duration of Activity:
60 minutes to build the spectrograph. 1 class period for each of the activities chosen.

Student Prerequisites:

  1. Have some prior exposure to the nature and topic of light.
  2. Have sufficient small motor skills to handle cutting and taping.


  • 1 poster and grating for each student (Available from the Stanford SOLAR Center).
  • Student work sheets from Study Guide
  • The movie "Colors of the Sun", produced by Stanford SOLAR Center (optional)
  • Access to various light sources such as incandescent and flourescent bulbs
  • The Study Guide (see below) gives additional materials needed for the various activities.

Teacher Preparation:
Initially build one of the spectrographs to learn how to construct and use it.

View Completed Spectrograph

Study Guide and Work Sheets:

Students will:
  1. Build and learn how to use their own working spectrograph.
  2. Observe how white light can be refracted to form a color spectrum that gives distinctive information about its source.
  3. Learn what spectroscopic data can specifically tell astronomers about the Sun, planets, stars, and other objects far away.
  4. Observe that the visible spectrum is only a part of what our Sun, a star, emits within the electromagnetic spectrum.
  5. Determine that the distance of an object from an observer affects the apparent size of the object
  6. Understand how technological design can help scientists to better understand our Earth, our Sun, our solar system, and the universe around us.

Grade Level:
Grades 2-4, 5-12

Relationship to National Standards:

The study guide details steps for each activity. The activities are:

  1. Sizing up the Stars: Students observe that two objects of equal size can appear to be different sizes when placed at a greater or lesser distance from the observer. (Grades 2-8)
  2. A Rainbow Connection: Students observe how white light can be refracted to form a visible color sectrum that has a pattern. (Grades 2-4)
  3. From a Distance: Students utilize their abilities for technological design to perform science inquiry by proposing methods for obtaining information about a faraway object with being able to handle or get close to is. (Grades 5-8)
  4. Wavelength and Energy: A graphic demonstration of the relationship between energy and wavelength. Designed to initiate a discussion about the electromagnetic spectrum. (Grades 5-8)
  5. Resonance Rings: Introduces students to the concept of resonance and the absorption of energy by atoms or molecules when electromagnetic radiation enters the Earth's atmosphere. (Grades 5-8)
  6. Spectroscopic Observations: Students construct their own spectrograph, observe common light sources, record their spectra, and compare their findings with fellow classroom scientisits. (Grades 5-14)

Assessment information is included in the Study Guide.

A glossary is included in the Study Guide.

Let Us Know: How did this lesson work in your classroom?

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