Archive for the ‘Citizen Science’ tag
Scientific research aims to answer questions, progress disciplinary knowledge, and ultimately better society by providing new applications of technology and ideas toward common problems. But, over time, the products of our countless research projects, while potentially still useful, go unutilized, and can be forgotten in the basements of University libraries or the dusty archives of journal collections.
This perhaps all too common problem is exactly the motivation behind an new exciting project called Marblar.
The premise: Marblar provides you with the overlooked technologies and ideas, and you – the citizen scientist – provide the applications. Non-traditional, yes, but it’s challenging, engaging, and a fun game where citizen scientists can compete with other across the globe.
I recently spoke with co-founder Dan Antonio Perez to find out his hopes for the project and what he thought of Marblar’s role in citizen science.
“Collaboration is the focus,” Dan said.
The Marblar team spends a lot of time identifying the most interesting technology that can inspire Marblars and generate the most useful applications. Current technologies include a a microchip that can harness the power of motion, ‘Super Foams’ made from emulsions, and a brand new desalination device.
Marblars are given three weeks to post their ideas, discuss with other players, and even collaborate with the inventors to arrive at a final solution. While there are some small cash rewards and other small prizes for top entries, the real reward, Dan says, is that users have a chance to participate in meaningful science and help create ideas with potential.
Through the amazingly easy-to-use Marblar interface, I was also able to speak with several of the top Marblars who have been involved in this process.
Dave, a Biochemistry Ph.D. student studying at The University of Oxford, claimed that the prizes were not important to him. Rather, he was excited to collaborate with people from diverse scientific backgrounds.
After years out of the lab, a top Marblar user, Maria, was excited to get back into the thrill of scientific discussion.
Juan Carlos, a University researcher, was most interested in the fact that in discussing ideas, he was able to get feedback from users outside of his discipline.
This type of broad, multi-discipline collaboration is what makes Marblar such a unique citizen science activity. There is really something for everyone who is interested in science. And they are only getting started. Dan sees Marblar as having great potential for engaging the public and offering a fun way for citizens to engage with some really great minds in science.
It’s science. I’ts a game. And it’s fun. Marblar has some lofty goals, but from my first impressions, they have already achieved quite a bit. I can’t wait to see what’s next.
Pilot Joe Kittinger once said, “You can’t get any real fun things unless you volunteer.” At the time, he was referring to things like voluntarily jumping out of planes at extremely high (and low-oxygen level) altitudes to help NASA conduct research on zero-gravity environments. Maybe it was his unbridled enthusiasm for precarious work. Or maybe it was just the 1960s. Either way, Kittinger’s volunteerism was instrumental to NASA during its pre-Apollo days. Whether or not he knew it, Kittinger was a citizen scientist.
The Changing Face of Science
A citizen scientist is an individual who, more often than not, voluntarily contributes his or her time, effort, and/or resources to formal or informal scientific research without necessarily having a formal science background.
It used to be that a citizen scientist referred to a bird watcher or an amateur astronomer, but today, citizen scientists come from all walks of life. This includes current and former NFL and NBA cheerleaders who are tuning non-traditional audiences into citizen science; online gamers who lend their skills to specially designed programs to analyze folding protein structures; and students who want a more hands-on experience outside the classroom. Retirees, community organizations, and even prison inmates are getting in on the action.
Formalizing the field
“Amateur science,” “crowdsourced science,” and “public participation in scientific research” are some common aliases for citizen science. Though the monikers suggest an element of novice, the fields that citizen science advances are diverse: ecology, astronomy, medicine, computer science, statistics, engineering and many more.
“There’s a need to get beyond unique terminology and jargon,” says Meg Domroese, coordinator of the Public Participation in Scientific Research conference. “We want to talk about how to formalize as a field so that people can share it, can enter it.”
The Public Participation in Scientific Research Conference was the first of its kind. Science researchers, project leaders, educators, technology specialists, evaluators, and more sat down together to engage in dialogue and exchange ideas. The cross-disciplinary event unveiled the publication of the first journal issue exclusively devoted to citizen science.
With today’s increasingly connected world, we can share collected data for research as instantaneously as we tell our Twitter followers what we had for lunch. Many citizen science projects enable mobile technology to connect with volunteers, collect data, and share results. The opportunities to participate in citizen science are no longer limited by access to tools. Mobile technology makes it possible to help the USGS measure and record earthquake tremors, join NASA’s effort in counting passing meteors, or even help monitor noise and light pollution in our communities. Citizen scientists can help solve the mystery of ZomBees (bees that have possibly been infected by the larvae of parasitic flies), help astronomers classify galaxies, and discover moon craters. Projects like SciSpy and iNaturalist provide a mobile app with which participants can share photos and observations of wildlife in their backyards, cities, and towns.
The idea behind these diverse projects is that anyone, anywhere can participate in meaningful scientific research. For some projects, volunteers literally don’t have to go farther than their own backyards to contribute!
It’s time to bridge more gaps by harnessing the power of people who are motivated by a desire to advance research, a connection with nature, and a goal to improve human health and communities. It’s not difficult to imagine how an informed public can, in turn inform policymakers. In fact, there are national and international groups pushing for this right now.
Citizen science also brings together a range of disciplines. From chemistry to biology to data science to astronomy to archiving sheet music, the spectrum of projects is diverse and manifold.
We may not all be as stoked as pilot Joe Kittinger was to jump out of a plane for the sake of science, but there are thousands of opportunities for us to nurture our curious, scientific minds with our feet firmly on terra firma.
To learn more about citizen science, check out the following sites, articles, and blogs.
Citizen science definition on Wikipedia
Searchable list of 500+ citizen science projects
Cornell Citizen Science Toolkit
Citizen Science | Scientific American
Citizen Scientists League
Lily Bui is a senior contributor at SciStarter.com, a website that connect regular people to real science they can do. Although she holds dual nonscience bachelors’ degrees, served in AmeriCorps, worked on Capitol Hill, and is a touring musician, she has long harbored a proclivity for the sciences. She now works in public radio. In her spare time, she thinks of cheesy science puns.
This blog post was originally published on CitizenSci, a PLOS blog about the projects, people, and perspectives fueling new frontiers for citizen science.
Each year at SciStarter, we analyze our glorious website metrics to identify the most popular projects of the year. Below, I’ve listed the year’s 12 most visited projects in our Project Finder, a growing collection of more than 500 new and existing citizen science opportunities.
Happy New Year, and keep experimenting!
The Mastodon Matrix Project is a chance to make science history! Volunteers analyze actual samples of matrix (the dirt) from a 14,000 year old mastodon excavated in New York. Shells, bones, hair and other discoveries are then sent back to the Paleontological Research Institution to be further analyzed by paleontologists.
EteRNA is a collaborative online game in which volunteers help biologists solve a challenging mystery: what are the rules governing RNA folding? Players who assemble the best RNA designs online will see their creations synthesized in a biochemistry lab.
Project Squirrel calls on volunteers to count the number of squirrels in their neighborhoods and report their findings. The goal is to understand urban squirrel biology, including everything from squirrels to migratory birds, nocturnal mammals, and secretive reptiles and amphibians.
The Royal Society put together a playlist of different laughs and asked people to determine if those laughs were real and fake. The results, which will be posted on the project blog soon, will help researchers at the University College of London learn how people react to different sounds. THIS science will make you LOL!
Bat Detective enlists citizen scientists to screen sound recordings of bats to classify their distinct calls. These classifications will be used to create a new algorithm to help researchers easily extract information from sound recordings and more closely monitor threatened bat populations.
Read the rest of this entry »
We couldn’t have asked for a better citizen science project to start off October, a month often associated with Halloween and all things spooky.
Introducing Bat Detective, a project that enlists citizen scientists to screen sound recordings of bats to classify their distinct calls. Bats are nocturnal, making them very difficult to spot with the naked eye, so a growing number of bat surveys are being done acoustically instead. Bat calls “leak” information into the environment each night through echolocation, which bats use to sonically navigate, socialize, and locate prey in the dark.
Citizen scientists from all over the world have already recorded about 3,000 hours of acoustic surveys. Bat Detective has split the surveys in 4-second snapshots, so there are actually millions of files to be sorted. With only a few scientists, it would be an incredibly tedious, perhaps even impossible task. However, with the help of citizen scientists like you, the job will get done much more quickly!
These classifications will be used to create a new algorithm to help researchers easily extract information from their sound recordings and more closely monitor threatened bat populations. Bats are an integral part of their local ecosystems, but one in every five species of bat will face extinction over the next 50 years.
“Bats carry out lots of ‘ecosystem services’ like pollination and seed dispersal,” said Kate Jones, Professor of Ecology and Biodiversity at University College London and Zoological Society of London. “They also eat masses of insects. Losing bats means that all those services are degraded,” added Jones, whose Bat Detective project was made possible through Zooniverse , a popular online citizen science platform.
“The idea of Bat Detective really caught the imagination of the Zooniverse team, and when we heard the bat calls we were sold,” said Chris Lintott, director of Zooniverse. “The rapid sequence of calls that make up a feeding call, and which means the bat has found its prey, is once heard and never forgotten.”
Bats are also incredibly vulnerable to climate change, since their hibernation and migration patterns depend largely on weather patterns, so the success or failure of their local populations often serve as a early warning sign of the failing health of the local ecosystem as a whole. Need we say more?
Be sure to sign up for this sonically exciting and scintillating citizen science scheme! While you’re at it, check out our other bat-related citizen science projects in our Project Finder. You can help the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources with acoustic bat monitoring or identify Indian flying fox bats with the South Asian Bat Monitoring Program.
Coming soon: a collection of Halloween-themed citizen science projects. Keep your eyes (and ears) peeled!
When you wake up in the morning and start your daily routine—take a shower, brush your teeth, cook breakfast—do you ever stop to wonder where all that water you’re using comes from? It’s availability (or lack thereof) is certainly not a common worry in the United States, where as of 2005 (the latest assessment of national water use conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey) about 86 percent of the population relies on public water supplies for household use. Turn a faucet handle, and water, the world’s most precious, life-giving resource, is simply there, ready to cool us or clean us or quench us of our thirst, wherever we need it, whenever we want it.
But for how much longer? Climate change, pollution and unprecedented global demand are already threatening the world’s water supply according to a United Nations World Water Development Report released earlier this year. (SciStarter partnered with Discover Magazine, the National Science Foundation and NBC Learn to explore the Future of Water as part of our Changing Planet series.)
In response to these challenges, two international nonprofit organizations, the Water Environment Federation (WEF) and the International Water Association (IWA), partnered up to launch a challenge of their own.
Today, September 18, is World Water Monitoring Day, a key component of the broader World Water Monitoring Challenge that runs from March 22 to December 31. Thousands of people from around the world will use low cost monitoring kits to test their local water bodies for the basic indicators of watershed health–temperature, acidity, turbidity, and dissolved oxygen—and enter their results into a shared online database. It’s not too late to get involved. The program’s administrators hope that participants will not only learn which rivers, lakes, streams and reservoirs supply their communities but also become aware of the unique combination of environmental challenges each one faces.
“These are issues the next generation will have to cope with,” said Lorien Walsh of the Water Environment Federation. “The water we drink today is the same water people have been drinking for thousands of years. It is a finite resource, and we can’t use it if it’s not clean.”
In 2011, over 300,000 people from nearly 80 countries participated in the World Water Monitoring Challenge. Taking clean water for granted might be common in the United States, but it is a luxury people can ill afford in the developing world, where three million people, most of them women and children, die from water-borne illnesses like cholera every year.
“Kids in Kansas can see the data they collected and compare it to the data collected by kids in the Congo,” said Walsh. “There’s a stark difference.”
It happens every year, and you’re right: it’s just not fair. After nearly three months of uninterrupted fun, gone are the barbeques, ball games and pool parties that dominated the summer schedule just as Labor Day signals the sudden arrival of the shorter, colder, and more structured days of the school year. But before you cast yourself into the depths of the autumn blues, rest assured that we are working hard to make this year’s science lessons a little different and—especially if you like nature and the outdoors—a little more fun!
Below is our third annual “Back-to-School” list of projects recommended to get teachers and students thinking about how to incorporate citizen science in the classroom. Check out our previous installments (2011, 2010) for additional ideas.
Participate in Project BudBurst: The National Ecological Observatory Network invites student citizen scientists to submit their observations of the phenophases (leafing, flowering, fruit ripening) of local grasses, shrubs and trees. This data will be compiled and compared to historical figures to help scientists learn more about the responsiveness of specific plant species to climate change. Their teachers, meanwhile, might consider enrolling in the BudBurst Academy, an online course for K-12 educators providing all the necessary information for implementing Project Budburst and engaging in citizen science in your classroom.
Plan your own BioBlitz: Even (or perhaps especially) if you missed the 2012 BioBlitz co-hosted by the National Park Service and the National Geographic Society, consider planning your own in your own neighborhood or schoolyard. These biodiversity snapshots provide valuable data for analysis of local species and their habitats.
Count some bugs: Don’t let those math skills go to waste! SciStarter features several opportunities to count stuff, particularly insects and other creepy crawlies. Just pick your favorite: dragonflies, butterflies, bumble bees, spiders, ants, and worms.
Heads up: So bugs aren’t you’re thing. No problem. How about some astronomy? You can grow tomatoes to assess the feasibility of long-term space travel; search for the compound that stores solar power and thus solves the world’s energy crisis; craft a story about your favorite astronomical bodies; or help astronomers search for and identify new planets and stars!
Be a mapmaker: The U.S. Geological Survey is considering the restoration of The National Map Corps, its volunteer mapping initiative, launching a pilot program in the state of Colorado. Anyone with an Internet connection can update the national map, adding the important man-made structures throughout the community such as hospitals, fire stations, and schools. The USGS could expand the program into other areas in the future if its initial efforts are successful. Come on Colorado!
The Community Collaborative Rain, Hall and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) collects precipitation data from volunteers across the country for inclusion in an interactive map used by the National Weather Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (among others) to monitor local weather trends. SKYWARN is a national network of volunteer weather spotters trained by local National Weather Service Forecast Office to recognize and report the signs of severe storms; these first-hand accounts of the storm’s impact are as valuable to forecasters as hard data as they send out public statements, warnings, and advisories to concerned citizens. And for kids, the National Science Foundation funded Tracking Climate in Your Backyard, to engage youth in the collection of meaningful data.
Also, here are some important resources that help you stay safe by answering some important questions about how Hurricane Isaac is impacting your community. How fast is the nearest stream rising? How can I monitor the storm surge? How fast is the wind blowing? What’s the situation offshore? What does Hurricane Isaac look like? Show it to me from space!
Attention all backyard explorers and rosebush whackers: this is the opportunity you’ve been waiting for. Your days of leading patient parents on perilous neighborhood expeditions are over. Put down that “machete.” Stop mushing the dog. Grab your merit badges. Adventure is calling!
This Friday, August 24, the National Park Service and the National Geographic Society will host their annual BioBlitz species count at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Hundreds of students and thousands of local citizens will join about 200 scientists, naturalists, and explorers from around the country to collect and analyze wildlife data, transforming the forest into a massive outdoor classroom alive with curiosity and discovery.
“I am always moved by the commitment of the National Parks Service to protecting our country’s ecological diversity and sharing it with the general public,” said Daniel Edelson, Vice President for Education at National Geographic. “The BioBlitzes are…explicit strategies for preparing young people to care for their world.”
National Geographic has been “inspiring people to care about the planet” through its magazine since 1888, but it is relatively new to the business of “preparing” them to do so. With the rapid proliferation of digital media, the society saw an opportunity to provide teachers and students with the resources to learn (curricula, films, games) and the tools to take action through a more robust educational initiative, thus engaging with their audience in ways never thought possible. Can’t make it to Colorado to catch bugs, spot birds, and count elk on Friday? You can take part in the action via their Google Hangout starting at 3 PM (EST), or even plan your own BioBlitz by following their instructions.
“It’s exciting to see that other people are embracing the concept and using the resources we developed to conduct their own biodiversity research in their own parks in their own communities,” said Sean O’Connor, a BioBlitz project manager.
This year’s BioBlitz, the sixth in a series of ten leading up to the National Park Service’s Centennial in 2016, comes amidst the strain of another round of federal budget cuts and continued lack of funding for the program. As the National Park Service prepares to face the challenges ahead—political, economic, environmental, or otherwise—National Geographic aims to show its next generation of stewards why its 397 parks encompassing ver 84 million acres of land are worth preserving.
“We believe [the most important lesson] we can teach young people is how interconnected our world is,” said Edelson. “Even in our most pristine National Parks, you can’t escape the impact of human activities on the natural environment. A BioBlitz is a chance for young people to see those impacts and learn about the connections between their own actions and the health of ecosystems.”
If you see a landslide, a swirling mass of unmoored dirt and rock and debris tumbling downhill at speeds of several tens of meters per second, run away as fast as you can. If it doesn’t bring you down, grab your computer and report it to the U.S. Geological Survey’s Landslide Hazards Program through their recently launched Did You See It? website.
The USGS will use your information to build a crowd sourced, national landslide database, a valuable resource for both scientists and citizens. The data will not only help researchers identify the areas of the country where landslides are most prevalent and better understand the conditions that most often lead to their occurrence, but also serve as a way for people to learn about risks to their persons or property.
“In the United States, more people have a chance of experiencing a landslide than any other natural disaster,” said Peter Lyttle, coordinator of the Landslide Hazards Program and a 36-year veteran of the USGS. “It’s kind of a stealth hazard.”
Thousands of landslides occur every year, claiming upwards of 25 lives and resulting in billions of dollars in damages and lost productivity, but unlike, say, earthquakes, there are relatively few scientists (perhaps 50, according to Lyttle) tracking and studying them in the United States. Lyttle hopes that Did You See It?, an homage to the enormously successful Did You Feel It? earthquake survey, will provide researchers with the vast amount of data his small staff could never collect on their own.
“The science is still in its very early days,” said Lyttle. “We’re still using a very broad brush.”
Knowing the exact location and time of a landslide will help the USGS pinpoint the areas at risk when other hazards–heavy rainfall in the East, sweeping wildfires in the West–threaten to undermine the underground. The need for awareness grows with us, as our population swells and communities demand development into vulnerable hillside areas.
“We’re putting ourselves at risk by expanding into these areas,” said Lyttle. “It takes a lot of manpower to make predictions and give early warning. We’re not capable of doing that for the whole country, so we want people to educate themselves if they’re in danger and learn what they can do to protect their homes.”
The Carolina Wren nest in David Gessner’s writing shack. Read about how they left the nest in his blog.
When, this spring, writer David Gessner found that a nest of Carolina Wrens had taken up residence in the backyard shack where he writes about all things nature, he started posting status updates about the birds on Facebook and describing their progress on his blog. When did the eggs hatch? What do the chicks look like? There are so many questions to be answered.
I asked him if, in addition to being an on-the-ground bird reporter, he was also citizen scientist. He could contribute his observations of the nest to NestWatch, I suggested, a project that gets people all over the country to spy on the nesting birds in their backyards and report their observations. One person’s wren stories are another person’s wren data. It’s a different lens on nature. And many citizen science projects are relying on the observations of individuals to help us understand the seasonal timing of birds, plants, insects, and other creatures.
Gessner’s response was that he was more of a citizen amateur naturalist than a citizen scientist. Perhaps this was self-deprecation. Perhaps it was a way of telling me that he has quite enough on his plate. But it also made me wonder how people think about nature and how they think about science – how they envision a naturalist and how they envision a scientist.
Imagine someone who is exploring nature. Are they wearing a backpack and hiking boots? Are they roaming the great outdoors? Now imagine someone exploring science. Are they wearing a lab coat and glasses? Are they in a chemistry lab or a room full of computers? Have they been indoors so long that their eyes squint at the light of day? These are stereotypes. Sometimes they fit. Often they don’t.
Fall Birds Series, Flying Birds, by Warner Varno
Yet scientists look at nature. Nature and science are one and the same for scientists who study natural things like the atmosphere, ocean, geology, and living things. The journal Nature is about the science, for example. At NCAR, scientists make models of the planet – simulations of nature on supercomputers that help us understand how nature works. These simulations help us better understand how it might be affected by changes in climate, drought, or other events. Using the model they create to simulate nature, we can answer questions about the planet that begin “What would happen if…” That’s one way of looking at nature.
Artists have other ways of looking at nature. From realistic scientific illustrations to abstract sculptures, nature is a theme of art from all times periods and cultures. Warner Varno, an artist friend of mine, is organizing an exhibit of bird paintings this spring in Denver. I told Warner that I would bring binoculars and my Audubon field guide to the opening so that I could be a birdwatcher in the art gallery, playing the role of scientist and/or naturalist in the realm of art. I was joking, of course, but I do wonder if anyone in an art gallery filled with birds will be seeing science within the art.
So let’s review:
- David is blogging about spring birds,
- NestWatch is studying the science of spring birds,
- Warner is exhibiting art about spring birds,
- And I am planning to birdwatch in an art gallery.
We are all exploring nature, just in different ways.
Japan Birds, Sentinel, by Warner Varno
Warner liked the idea of binoculars. They allow people to see things differently. And it seems that we always look at nature through different lenses, making the study of nature intrinsically interdisciplinary. Uniting how nature is involved with science, art, storytelling and other ways of seeing brings in more perspectives and engages more people.
At Spark: UCAR Science Education we are working with EcoArts Connections to bring art together with weather and climate science. Stay tuned for interesting new Spark projects in the coming year that connect science and art and nature. Until then, enjoy the spring birds and take a look at nature through a lens that is not your usual.
This post was origionally published on the SparkBlog by Lisa Gardiner.