SciStarter Hackfest Coming to CitSci2015!

By Arvind Suresh (Editor) November 14th, 2014 at 1:41 pm | Comment

A hackfest to make citizen science easier for project managers and participants. Join us in San Jose!

A hackfest to make citizen science easier for project managers and participants. Join us in San Jose!

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on the CitSci2015 blog at the Citizen Science Association

What: A hands-on meet-up where everyone participates in dreaming up AND building creative tools to improve the field of citizen science!
Where: Citizen Science 2015 Conference, San Jose, CA
Who: The SciStarter team and YOU!
Why: To capitalize on the collective wisdom (and desire to act!) at the Citizen Science Association Conference

The inaugural conference of the Citizen Science Association will take place February 11-12 in San Jose, California and the SciStarter team is looking forward to soaking up new information during the scheduled sessions and talks!

We’ll also contribute to these conversations through a few presentations and a VERY interactive, “roll-up-your-sleeves!” hackfest designed for anyone interested in building connections and interoperability between projects and communities!

Will you join us?

Citizen Science participants and project owners face barriers – multiple types of logins for projects, coupled with an inability to track contributions and understand  motivations, retention, and learning outcomes across silo-ed projects/platforms, are some examples. We know that people do-and want to-participate in more than one project. Let’s make it easier!

In the process, we may help improve efforts to recruit and retain volunteers. At the very least, we believe a single login, smarter GIS tools, consistent project taxonomies, and a personal “dashboard” will most certainly provide much-needed support for those awesome citizen scientists.

With the incredible growth in the number and types of projects, we believe these barriers need to be addressed now…and in collaboration with you! Consider this your formal invitation to join our hackfest as a citizen scientist, practitioner, researcher, designer, programmer, student, educator, cheerleader, concerned citizen…you name it. You are invited!

During this hackfest, we will build upon what we learned at our workshop in February 2014 at the Citizen Cyber Science conference in London (organized by SciStarter, and NYU with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation) and a follow-up workshop in April 2014 at Drexel University (also funded by Sloan). We’ll also share preliminary plans for a new match-making prototype we are sketching out to help connect the people who have data/information to the researchers and reporters looking for that data/information (this work is supported by the Knight Foundation Prototype Fund).
At CitSci2015, we want to work with you to bring these things together.

The hackfest also provides space for new ideas to emerge. Perhaps you’d like to explore ways projects can share data, volunteers, tools and other resources to rise the tide of citizen science and enable better cross-platform analytics for project leaders while improving the experience for participants. This is your chance to bring your ideas to the table and connect with people who can help you advance your idea, too!

Where do I sign up?

First, make sure you have registered for the Citizen Science 2015 Conference

Then, fill out this form to let us know you’re coming so we know how many people to expect.

Bring your creativity, enthusiasm and talents and we’ll make sure you’ll have fun!

–Arvind Suresh a science communicator and the Social Media Editor at SciStarter. He has an MS in Cell Biology and Molecular Physiology from the University of Pittsburgh. Before that, he received his and a BS in Biotechnology from PSG College of Technology, India. Follow Arvind on Twitter @suresh_arvind

Categories: Citizen Science

Help Us Support This Blog And Citizen Science Stories With Beacon

By Angus Chen November 13th, 2014 at 11:00 am | Comment

Citizen science runs on the sweat of volunteers — that’s one of the things that makes it so incredible. And for a long time, so has the SciStarter blog network. This has been great for us, and we would love to keep doing that. But if we’re going to expand and bring you more stories, deeper stories, we need to be able to really let our contributors focus on creating. So, we’re hoping to change raise funds with this new campaign from Beacon Reader, and we’re asking you to help make that a reality.

Like every editor and contributor at the SciStarter blog network, which includes the Discover magazine “Citizen Science Salon” and Public Library of Science Cit Sci blog, I have another job. I’m a freelance reporter, editor, and radio producer. Some of our contributors are scientists and experts, and some of them are, like myself, professional journalists and writers.

One of the greatest pleasures in my professional life is getting to write and edit for these blogs.That’s why we’re still here. The stories we can find and create with citizen science are some of the best, and we’re about to make this blog even better. Not that it isn’t already pretty awesome, but with your contributions, we’re going to be able to tell citizen science stories that are more in depth, better reported, and have a wider reach of topics and ideas.

I believe that information is precious, that stories about science are a perfect complement to citizen science, and that they help us learn something that we would otherwise never have learned. I believe that our people have told great stories which I’ve loved, and I believe you have too. All the money will go directly to our contributors and our editors for the blog only, letting us dedicate more of our time to covering these stories.

That’s why we’re asking you to join us and the hundreds of other talented storytellers on Beacon. You’ll improve the quality and depth of the stories we create on this blog. You’ll get a subscription to every story by every writer on Beacon Reader, on science, politics, art, and more. And if you support us at $80, we’ll send you an awesome robot t-shirt in the mail. But most importantly, you’ll be supporting something that matters to you and to thousands of other people.

With my sincere thanks,

Angus Chen

Managing Editor SciStarter Blog Network

Discover Magazine “Citizen Science Salon”, PLoS “Cit Sci”

Categories: Citizen Science

5 Citizen Science Projects to Keep You Healthy!

By Arvind Suresh (Editor) November 10th, 2014 at 12:27 pm | Comment

These projects are sure to go viral!  

Flu activity is expected to increase in the coming weeks. What can you do about it? For starters, get your flu vaccine (the CDC recommends an annual flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older). Then, get involved in our editors’ list of citizen science projects designed to study viruses and bacteria, including a couple that track sickness in wild animals and plants.

Sign up for a Do-It-Yourself saliva collection system to use at home when you feel sick. Samples will be analyzed at a central laboratory that checks for 20 different viral infections. Log on to see your own lab results and those of people near you. Get started!

Help scientists monitor the flu as it spreads across the UK and nine other European countries. Report your flu-like symptoms on a weekly basis, online. Get started!

The Wildlife Health Event Reporter

Report sightings of sick or dead wildlife to help prevent wildlife disease outbreaks that may pose a health risk to people, too. These researchers hope to harness the power of the many eyes of the public to better detect wildlife disease phenomenon.  Get started!


Plants get sick, too! Help scientists identify plant cells that “clump” together by looking at these online images. Clumping usually means there’s a bacterial infection which can be devastating for plants and seriously compromise crops.  Get started!



Malaria is a prevalent and killer disease in poorer countries. Scientists are trying to discover new drugs to target new proteins in the parasite. This project aims to find these new targets.Donate your computer power to aid in antimalarial drug research. Get started!


Project Image Credits (In order): GoViral, DOD, Wildlife Data Integration Network, Clumpy, Wikimedia Commons

Groundbreaking Air Quality Study Demonstrates the Power of Citizen Science

By Arvind Suresh (Editor) November 6th, 2014 at 12:38 pm | Comment 1

Air Sampling in Progress (Courtesy: Global Community Monitor)

Air Sampling in Progress (Courtesy: Global Community Monitor)


Editors Note: This is a guest post by Gwen Ottinger, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Center for Science, Technology, and Society at Drexel University.  She has done extensive research on community-based air monitoring and community-industry relations around oil refineries.  She is author of Refining Expertise: How Responsible Engineers Subvert Environmental Justice Challenges (NYU Press 2013).


A study released last week in the journal Environmental Health breaks new ground in our understanding of the environmental effects of fracking—and shows the power that citizen science can have in advancing scientific research and promoting political action.

Unconventional oil and gas (UOG) production, including hydraulic fracturing (fracking), can affect water and air quality.  Researchers, including citizen scientists, have studied its impacts on water extensively.  But we don’t know a lot about how air quality is affected, especially in nearby residential areas, according to the study, “Air concentrations of volatile compounds near oil and gas production.” Part of the problem is where most academic researchers take samples.  Too often, they choose monitoring locations based on the requirements of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, which look for regional, not local, effects of pollution.  When looking at air quality around UOG production operations, they may select sites opportunistically, based on where they can gain access or where they can find electricity for their monitoring equipment. This approach, however, may not produce data that is representative of the actual impact of fracking on air quality.

The recently released study pioneers a new approach to choosing sites for air quality monitoring: it mobilizes citizens to identify the areas where sampling was most likely to show the continuous impact of fracking emissions. Citizens chose places in their communities where they noticed a high degree of industrial activity, visible emissions, or health symptoms that could be caused by breathing toxic chemicals.  They took samples themselves, following rigorous protocols developed by non-profit groups working in conjunction with regulatory agencies and academic researchers.

The result – we now have a lot more evidence to show that UOG production can have a big impact on local air quality.  And, as a result of citizens’ involvement in selecting sampling sites, scientists and regulators now have a better idea of where to look to start studying those impacts systematically.

The study demonstrates once again the power of citizen science to improve scientific research. But it also shows the political power of citizen science.  In a companion report released by the non-profit Coming Clean, the study’s citizen-authors use their finding that air quality is significantly affected by UOG to argue that governments need to be cautious when issuing permits, and to call for more extensive monitoring that includes citizen scientists.

Next week, several of the study’s authors—and many other citizen scientists—will convene in New Orleans to cultivate the scientific and political power of citizen science.  At the Community-based Science for Action Conference, November 15-17, citizens dedicated to protecting their community’s environment and health will have the chance to try out new technologies for environmental monitoring, share best practices for successful collaboration between scientists and citizens, and learn about the legal and political issues where their science can make a difference.

Want to get involved?  Registration is still open at the conference’s website. Can’t attend but want to support your fellow citizen scientists? Consider making a donation to help send someone else to New Orleans.

Tracking Rogue Earthworms With Citizen Science

By Carolyn Graybeal November 5th, 2014 at 4:00 pm | Comment

Can’t get enough creepy crawlies? Check out our Halloween themed citizen science projects handpicked from SciStarter’s project database!

The invasive Asian 'jumping' earthworm. (Image Credit: Modified from Tom Potterfield / Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The invasive Asian ‘jumping’ earthworm. (Image Credit: Modified from Tom Potterfield / Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The humble earthworm. Familiar and easy to forget, except perhaps after a rainy day, these benign wriggly creatures are undeniable environmental do-gooders, gently tilling the soil beneath our feet. They are the crux to a health ecosystem. That is the popular notion anyway. Unfortunately, some members of class Oligochaeta are tarnishing that good reputation.

In their native habitats, earthworms play a crucial role as decomposers and are an important food source for other animals. Unfortunately, researchers at the University of Minnesota have found that  earthworms in the Great Lakes Forest are quite the vandals.

Earthworms are newcomers to the Great Lakes region. They were inadvertently brought over in the soil carried on European ships.  Prior to European settlement, earthworms had not been present in the area since the last ice age, approximately 14,000 years ago. In this time, the region developed an ecosystem dependent on fungi and bacteria for decomposition. With their arrival, earthworms have changed the structure of the native ecosystem. They churn through organic litter faster than fungi and bacteria, destroying a critical habitat for native Great Lake plant and animal species. Ryan Hueffmeier a junior scientist at the University of Minnesota and program coordinator of the Great Lakes Worm Watch, a citizen science project tracking earthworm populations, says the effects are in plain sight. “Earthworms are removing the nutrient dense ‘duff layer’ of fallen organic matter. We are seeing areas that are just black dirt with very little plant diversity or density. As earthworms alter the nutrient cycle and soil structure, there are cascading effects through the Great Lakes Forest.”

Animals that nest and forage in the healthy understory (left) are being threatened by habitat loss after earthworm invasion (right). Image credit: Great Lakes Worm Watch.

Animals that nest and forage in the healthy understory (left) are being threatened by habitat loss after earthworm invasion (right). Image credit: Great Lakes Worm Watch.

To help preserve the Great Lakes Forest, researchers need to identify the species, behavior and population growth of these foreign earthworms. “Knowing where and what species are present, and perhaps more importantly not present, across the landscape can aid in efforts to slow their spread into currently earthworm-free regions,” says Hueffmeier. “Of particular [importance] in the past five years is the spread of the Asian species Amynthas, also known as the ‘Alabama jumper’ or ‘crazy worm’. Our work helps track their movement and as we all know the best way to handle invasive species is to avoid their introduction in the first place.”

Citizen scientists can make important contribution to the research by helping scientists conduct landscape surveys. Individuals can choose from three different studies depending on their experience and commitment level. The simplest is the ‘Document and Occurrence’ study. Participants count the number of earthworms present in a specific area and report back to the Great Lakes Worm Watch researchers. The remaining two studies require participants to collect and mail in preserved earthworm samples so the researchers can identify the species. Protocol sheets, equipment, web tutorials and additional information are all available on their website.

“Citizen scientists help track earthworm movement at a scale otherwise impossible with our current resources. Plus it is a chance for citizens to learn more about forest, soil, and earthworm ecology that has the possibility to increase ecological and environmental literacy,” says Hueffmeier. “And of course it is fun.”

There is a lot of work to be done. If you are interested in helping or learning more, visit SciStarter’s link to the Great Lakes Worm Watch.

Categories: Citizen Science