Changing Currents, a project originating in Toronto, Canada, familiarizes middle- and high-school students with local watersheds and teaches them how to conduct water quality analyses.
This is a great way for students to become environmental scientists for a day! After heading out to a local stream and donning hip waders, students collect water samples and analyze their data. Through this program, students get out in nature for a while and learn about the importance of healthy aquatic ecosystems.
Urban watersheds can be adversely affected by many problems, including urban run-off and storm water, agriculture, and pesticide use. It is imperative to keep watersheds clean, not only for us humans (who depend on natural sources for our drinking water!) but also for the animals and plants in the larger ecosystems that these waterways support.
In addition to learning a bit about science and nature, students also contribute their data to a larger study of Toronto-area watersheds and are encouraged to take action if they find problems in their local streams and rivers. Want to see what it’s like? Check out their fun video!
The Changing Currents group created a thorough, well-organized field manual for teachers to help organize scholarly stream outings. Take a look inside and learn how to conduct a survey and identify aquatic critters!
To get involved, first register with the group and then attend a training session or host a Student Stream Assessment Workshop. Students can learn more about water quality and biomonitoring in the Student Area of the website.
We think you’d look great in hip waders, so take a look and get out there! Read the rest of this entry »
Don’t look now, but there are researchers hoping you’ll hop in shark-infested waters in the name of science!
Members of ECOCEAN want your help photographing whale sharks on your next ocean outing. Your pictures will be uploaded to the ECOCEAN Whale Shark Photo-identification Library, a photographic database of whale shark (Rhincodon typus) sightings.
Marine biologists will use your photographs to identify whale sharks and keep a record of interactions with individual sharks. Similar to how images of fingerprints can identify specific humans, photographs of whale sharks’ skin patterning, gills, and scars, combined with state-of-the-art pattern-recognition algorithms, allow scientists recognize specific sharks across multiple encounters.
If you’re keen to help out, hop off the boat this summer and submit whale shark photos and sighting information. You will be helping scientists and assisting in the conservation of a threatened species. Not a bad way to spend a summer vacation! Read the rest of this entry »
Some of you may have fond memories of summers spent kneeling by nearby streams, peering intently for crayfish to play with (or cook up for dinner!). These tiny, lobster-like creatures are a staple of freshwater ecosystems, southern menus, and even neuroscience classes. (No kidding — I learned about action potentials from a wonderful college professor who studies crayfish!)
Not all crayfish are alike — some native species of crawdad are being outcompeted by invasive, non-native species. Indeed, nearly half of the North American crayfish varieties are considered to be threatened.
To combat the non-native invasion, Craywatch.org is enlisting citizen scientists to monitor the spread of invasive crayfish in North America. To participate, all you need is a smartphone with a camera and a GPS tag! Find a crayfish, snap a couple of close-ups, and upload to the group’s Flickr account. Presto — you’re a citizen scientist!
Up north, in Washington State’s tranquil San Juan Islands, members of the Kwiáht marine research team are hard at work keeping an eye on local sea life and terrestrial critters. Kwiaht, a word in the Coast Salish dialect, refers to a place that is physically healthy and spiritually clean.
The group hopes to ensure the continued health of the San Juan Island ecosystem by allowing local citizen scientists to participate in ecological research.
Want to volunteer? Contact Kwiaht’s program director to find out how you can become involved as well!
In addition to research and outreach, Kwiaht also aims to help restore terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems by working with public land managers to develop conservation strategies.
As a child growing up in New Hampshire, I remember going with my mother to collect Monarch chrysalises for my science classes. We’d park off a nearby roadway, spy a patch of milkweed, and poke around until we found a chrysalis or two. During the next week or so, my classmates and I watched spellbound at the transformation from chrysalis to butterfly. Science truly came alive!
Well, it’s that time of year again. After spending the winter sunning in Mexico or southern California, adult Monarch butterflies migrate north (as far as Canada!) during the spring to lay their eggs.
Researchers with the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project need your help keeping an eye on these critters during all stages of development from now through September!
Since Monarch larvae feed only on milkweed, accessible, abundant milkweed is critically important for the survival of this butterfly species. The Monarch Larva Monitoring Project needs your help to keep an eye on local patches of milkweed, and to count monarch eggs and larvae, and assess milkweed density. Whether you have time to send in observations once a week, or anecdotally as you come across Monarchs, they want your data! Sign up online, and send in your sightings today!
For science teachers who would like to incorporate ecology into their classroom, check out the Monarchs in the Classroom summer workshops.
As spring revs up to full gear, I enjoy taking runs around my neighborhood to enjoy the colorful bursts of flower and bits of cheerful birdsong. If you too have a soft-spot for feathered creatures, consider becoming a citizen science observer for one of these three great projects!
If you live in a city or town, the first project is for you! The Cornell Lab of Ornithology runs a year-round celebration of urban birds. Right now there’s a contest on to see who can spot the craziest nesting place for birds. The funky nests in funky places challenge asks contestants to peer into and over anything they can think of to spot a nesting spot. Any nests on top of a telephone pole nearby? What about in that old woodpile out back? A previous contestant found a nest inside an old tractor!
Sneak up to the funky nest and take a picture (without disturbing the nesting occupants!) then email your story and photo to email@example.com before June 1st to be considered.
For birders in the city or country, sign up with eBird, a world-wide, online bird-monitoring program gearing up to collect tons of bird-related data in 2011. Consider contributing your time (or funds) to their amazing effort to catalogue bird ranges throughout the western hemisphere (and beyond!). Over the past few years, the number of observations submitted by citizen scientists like you has grown by leaps and bounds. In 2010 alone, they report that over 1.3 million hours were spent by birders gathering data for eBird checklists!
The bands were put on by scientists to help us better understand the migration patterns and habitat of these birds to aid conservation efforts. The color of the bling tells you in what state(s) the bird has been banded.
To report a sighting, fill out this online form.
A few weeks back, I had an opportunity to speak with faculty at Bard College about the school’s new Citizen Science program. This week, I’ve got the inside scoop from the freshmen who took part in the intensive three-week course.
Four students in Dr. Kate Seip’s section of the course were kind enough to share some of their experiences via email. These students cited the professors’ emphasis on practical, real-world application of science knowledge, and their ability to foster in-class discussion as being instrumental for helping them understand the importance of these issues.
Cindy, a budding psychology/neuroscience major, said that Seip and the Citizen Science course have solidified her interest in neuroscience. Though she initially had reservations about spending three more weeks at Bard College during the winter, Cindy maintained an open mind. Indeed, the lack of specific course credit (or grades) seemed to “foster students’ independent quest for knowledge regarding infectious disease and science as a whole.” Her favorite aspect of the course was the laboratory rotation in which students extracted DNA, collected and grew bacteria, and learned about bacteria resistance. Getting up at 8:30am wasn’t even so bad (icy pathways and skin-cracking wind notwithstanding!).
Johannah, a psychology major and cognitive science minor, particularly enjoyed hearing about Seip’s background and why she chose to pursue scientific study. Along with other students, Johannah participated in outreach efforts in local elementary schools as part of the civic engagement portion of the course. In one outreach event, she and others made oobleck with the students.
James, a biology major, thought that the Citizen Science program included “an appropriate balance of lab work, computer modeling, and lectures/information sessions.” He felt that he “lucked out” by being assigned to Seip’s class, as she was “dedicated to the subject material and the program, while being relatively laid back.”
Though James felt that the Citizen Science course could have challenged the students a bit more, he found the lab work was particularly exiting because it was “the most interactive and hands-on part of the program, and it was just an all around fun experience.”
“[Dr. Seip] was dedicated to and passionate about her field, [which] inspired the rest of us to dedicate ourselves to the program. None of the material we studied was dry or boring, and it was easy to see the real-world significance in what we read,” James said.
As we mentioned in an earlier post, Bard College recently created an intensive three-week program in citizen science to be taken by all freshmen each January. I was able to discuss the tremendously successful inaugural session with one of the program’s instructors, Dr. Kate Seip.
Seip, a postdoctoral researcher at The Rockefeller University, had participated in other science outreach initiatives during graduate school, and jumped at the opportunity to teach freshmen at Bard. Seip was excited to share her love of science with students from varied majors, in large part because “science is inherently interesting – it taps into a curiosity that I think we all have about why the natural world works in the ways that it does.”
Several instructors taught the group of approximately 450 incoming freshman during the three week course. Seip thoroughly enjoyed the experience of teaching in an “incredibly rich environment of like-minded scientists who prioritized rigorous undergraduate education, enjoyed mentorship and one-on-one interactions with students, and valued science literacy.”
The theme of this year’s Citizen Science program was infectious disease. Each topic of the course required students to learn a few science basics, and then house those ideas in the context of a complex society and world. Seip herself was responsible for teaching one section of 20 freshmen students who hailed from diverse majors from photography to physics. She spent 4-6 hours per day with her group, doing everything from wet-lab bench work to computer modeling to analyzing case studies and discussing biomedical ethics.
Ever spotted an amazing critter and wanted to tell your nature-loving friends where it was located? Ever wondered where you could view a white-tailed jackrabbit? WildObs is the app for you!
Short for “wildlife observations,” the WildObs website and suite of iPhone and Android apps allow nature enthusiasts to record wildlife observations and then share photos, stories, and locations of these sightings with other interested people. In short, WildObs is working to connect people, places, and wildlife.
Want to know where to find a Bohemian Waxwing? Looks like one was recently sighted near Manchester, NH! Hoping to spot a baboon? Well, another fellow had luck seeing one in Amboseli National Park in Kenya!
Members post sightings and also list their hopes for sightings-to-come. The most wished-for observation these days is the reclusive cougar.
The WildObs iPhone collection, including Naturalist, Observer, Lookout, and Lookup allows spotters to record their viewing events in near real-time and to figure out what species they are looking at. The app uses GPS to tag the wherebouts of your own sightings, and will also let you see what animals fellow WildObs members have spotted near your current location. To learn how to use WildObs, check out their “how to” videos.
What class of molecules dominated the primordial stages of evolution, and seems to function as an exquisite operating system for our cells? RNA — the single-stranded cousin of DNA. Scientists suspect that a better understanding of RNAs will allow us to more deeply understand healthy cells, and to design better treatments for those infected by disease. (See below for more RNA info.)
Now EteRNA, a collaborative online game, allows ordinary citizens to help biologists take a crack at solving a challenging RNA mystery, namely: what are the rules governing its folding? Players who assemble the best RNA designs online will see their creations synthesized in a Stanford biochemistry lab!
Drs. Adrien Treuille (Asst. Prof. of Computer Science at CMU) and Rhiju Das (Asst. Prof. of Biochemistry at Stanford) met while completing their postdoctoral research at the University of Washington, and collaborated on another online venture — FoldIt — aimed at understanding protein folding. Hoping that a similar approach could be used to crack the mysteries of RNA folding, they teamed up with doctoral student Jeehyung Lee to create a multi-player RNA-folding game. In an added twist, the RNA that players design is then synthesized in a Stanford biochemistry lab, to see if the folding pattern was indeed correct.
What’s so hard about RNA folding?
“Our computational models are not yet sophisticated enough to correctly predict when a particular RNA design will fold correctly in practice,” Treuille said in an email interview. “It is easy to create RNA designs which computers predict will fold properly, but which will not when synthesized. … We hope that the EteRNA community will be able to put forth a more complete set of hypotheses about when RNAs fold properly, and use these hypotheses to design a set of new RNA designs that fold into exotic, and ultimately medically useful shapes.”