Spring has sprung! Citizen scientists like you can now shed your winter layers and say hello again to the great outdoors. Here are ten projects that can help your appetites for citizen science blossom along with the flowers this season.
Track, report, and follow the spring hummingbird migration to understand how hummingbirds are impacted by climate change. The Audubon Society needs citizen scientists to follow the spring hummingbird migration in real time. A free mobile app makes it easy to report sightings, share photos and learn more about these remarkable birds. You can participate at any level – from reporting a single sighting to documenting hummingbird activity in your community throughout the life of the project!
Although it spans three countries and has been documented since the 1880s, North American dragonfly migration is still poorly understood, and much remains to be learned about migratory cues, flight pathways, and the southern limits of overwintering grounds. Become part of an international network of citizen scientists and help monitor the spring and fall movements of the 5 main migratory species in North America, or report on these species throughout the year at a pond or wetland of your choice.
Collect microbes from stadiums, cell phones and shoes! Project MERCCURI is an investigation of how microbes found in buildings on Earth (in public buildings, stadiums, etc) compare to those on board the biggest building ever built in space – the International Space Station (ISS). Your samples will be mailed to the University of California Davis where they will be sequenced and analyzed. Results will be shared on SciStarter so you can compare your samples to those from other locations, including the International Space Station! In addition, up to 40 samples will be selected to fly on the International Space Station where their growth rates will be compared to their counterparts in the UCDavis lab! Wouldn’t it be cool if your sample is sent to the International Space Station!?
WNYC Radio invites families, armchair scientists and lovers of nature to join in a bit of mass science: track the cicadas that emerge once every 17 years across New Jersey, New York and the whole Northeast by building homemade sensors and reporting your observations. Magicicada Brood II will make its 17-year appearance when the ground 8″ down is a steady 64° F. Help predict the arrival by planting a homemade temperature sensor in the ground and reporting your findings back to to WNYC. Your observations will be put on a map and shared with the entire community.
Help researchers better understand relationship between dogs and owners! The Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab in NYC is investigating the different ways people and dogs play together, and we need your help (well, you and your dog’s help). We are cataloguing all the ways people play with their dogs and asking dog owners to submit short videos of their own dog-human play. By participating in Project: Play with Your Dog, citizen scientists are providing valuable information into the nuances and intricacies of our relationships with dogs.
Help scientists understand changing climates in your area by making regular observations of your plants! Project BudBurst, a NEON citizen science program, is a network of people across the United States monitoring plants as the seasons change. We are a national field campaign designed to engage the public in the collection of important ecological data based on the timing of leafing, flowering, and fruiting of plants (plantphenophases). Project BudBurst participants make careful observations of these phenophases. We are interested in observations from five plant groups – deciduous trees and shrubs; wildflowers and herbs; evergreens; conifers; and grasses. To participate, you simply need access to a plant.
By just taking photos and observing spiders, you can help the Explorit Science Center learn about which climates certain spiders live in and track the distribution of spiders over time. Join the Explorit’s Community Science Project by finding and recording spiders in your home or neighborhood (as many as you can!). Use your camera or smart phone to take a photo of the spider and submit it online to add to our geographical database.
Spy on nature, and contribute to science. Share photos and observations through SciSpy and you’re contributing to research initiatives that rely on amateur participation. Created by Science Channel (Discovery), SciSpy enlists paticipants to document the natural world of their backyards, parks, cities, and towns. Photos and observation data are tagged and stamped with date, time and location information and will hopefully provide helpful information to track migrations, changes in the natural environment, seasonal trends and more.
Help scientists study tree species distribution by identifying and locating tree species on your iPhone or iPad! Leafsnap is an exciting new mobile app that is designed to help citizen scientists identify and locate tree species from photographs and ultimately help the scientific world develop a better understanding of biodiversity. Developed by Columbia University, the University of Maryland, and the Smithsonian Institution, Leafsnap contains a unique visual recognition software that helps users identify species from the photographs taken straight from your iphone or ipad.
The National Severe Storms Laboratory needs YOUR help with a research project! If you live in the area shown on the map, the Precipitation Identification Near the Ground project (PING) wants YOU to watch and report on precipitation type. Why? Because the radars cannot see close to the ground, we need YOU to tell us what is happening. Scientists will compare your report with what the radar has detected, and develop new radar technologies and techniques to determine what kind of precipitation—such as snow, soft hail, hard hail, or rain—is falling where.
Whether you’re cicada tracking outside or swabbing microbes indoors, we wish you all the best with your experiments this season. Be sure to come back and tell us about it in the comments!
Still got some spring in your step? Check out even more citizen science projects in our Project Finder!
“Never judge an ant at first glance,” warns Dr. Eleanor Spicer Rice, myrmecologist and head of the School of Ants project.
Meet Forelius pruinosus. At first glance, it may seem a little unimpressive, even underwhelming. However, the more you learn about Forelius, the more you realize there’s more to it than meets the antennae. For one, they’re masters of climate and can survive just as well in the arid desert as it can in your kitchen or bathroom. Surprisingly, they also smell good. These ants secrete an odorous alarm pheromone that attracts their nestmates, a trait that comes in handy when they’re in danger. Forelius are known to be light on their feet as well. When faced with conflict or danger, they shake their bodies and communicate with others by dancing.
Believe it or not, Forelius has yet to acquire a common name, as common as it is in the household and beyond. That’s why Your Wild Life is holding a competition to name it! They’ve taken submissions from all over (museums, science events, online) and received a plethora of creative suggestions–from “Fancy Ant” to “Lady Gaga” and everything in between!
Here are the top four contenders for Forelius‘ common name. Visit the special voting page to pick your favorite! Hurry, the deadline is April 30, 2013!
1. Barricade Ant – Forelius pruinosus use chemical defenses and elaborate teamwork to barricade the colony openings of ants four times larger than themselves during foraging.
2. Blockade Ant – F. pruinosus does not allow other ants to leave their nests if they’ve found something delicious nearby; they surround their competitors’ nest and shoot chemicals out of their butts!
3. High-Noon Ant – F. pruinosus have been described as thermophilic, or heat-loving, and are typically the only ants actively foraging at noon when the sun is at its highest. This is one of the best ways for ant scientists to collect them – go out at the hottest part of the day and you’ll even be likely to find a F. pruinosus!
4. Highway Ant – F. pruinosus forms thick trails as they forage during the day, they form wide ant highways as they travel from a food source back to their nest.
You can view a compilation of all the creative suggestions on the text map below. Click for the interactive version!
You might wonder, why bother with picking a common name at all? “Who would want to talk about Forelius when they could talk about ants that had way more interesting common names like carpenter ants, thief ants or big-headed ants?” emphasizes Holly Menninger, who manages the naming competition for Your Wild Life. What she means is that when something has a common name, it becomes more accessible to people. Sometimes science can be a bit esoteric, even intimidating. However, Your Wild Life has made finding a name for Forelius a democratic process, open to any and all who want to participate: “I think people like to be heard, to have their opinions and ideas make a difference – I think that’s why lots of folks are attracted to voting contests.”
(In this post on the PLOS blog, Caren Cooper also expounds on the importance of common nomenclature, with a nod toward Your Wild Life’s naming contest.)
So far, the contest has attracted a spectrum of participants–from kids at the kindergarten level to retired seniors. Menninger says, “Our big goal at Your Wild Life is to engage the public in the study and appreciation of the biodiversity in their daily lives. Specifically with respect to ants, we want folks to learn a little bit about their tiny 6-legged neighbors, the ants who wander about their backyards and playgrounds.”
This project is a testament to how citizen scientists can make a lasting impact on scientific research–whether the impact originates from a source as large as a whale or tiny as an ant.
Want even more critter-friendly citizen science projects? Check out these exciting projects from our Project Finder!
Photos: SchoolofAnts.org, YourWildLife.org
Imagine something more mysterious than the trenches of the deep sea, more convoluted than the intricacies of the human genetic code, possibly even more infinite than the vastness of outer space. Meet the human brain.
Memories, mental disorders, language capability, motor skills, and so much more are encoded in this singular organ. Yet, neuroscientists don’t even know precisely how many different types of cells are in the brain. It is truly a modern mystery. (See all the currently unsolved questions in neuroscience.) There are numerous plausible theories about how the brain works, but solid evidence is sorely lacking.
“The brain is probably the most complex biological structure on the planet,” says Joy Hirsch, professor of functional neuroradiology, neuropsychology, and psychology at Columbia University. Hirsch’s research includes the development of brain mapping procedures for neurosurgical planning. “A complete understanding of the brain and its function is an ambitious goal that requires our best combined technologies, computational facilities, and neuroscientists.”
The Obama administration announced a decade-long scientific effort to examine the human brain and build a map of its activity, a project that seeks “to do for the brain what the Human Genome Project (begun in 1990) did for genetics.” This $3 million undertaking comes from the Brain Activity Map (BAM) project spearheaded by the Kavli Foundation. As science journalist John Rennie shares here, some in the neuroscience community harbor doubts about whether the time is right for a high-profile, inevitably politicized project like this one. Science takes time, and data analysis on this scale would certainly not happen overnight. Some say that the Human Genome Project left us realizing there is still so much more to learn. Will the Brain Activity Map and projects like it encounter the same challenges upon completion, whenever that may be?
The Challenges of Brain Mapping
The tricky part is that scientists have yet to find a way to record the activity of more than a small number of neurons simultaneously without invasive physical probes. New technology enables us to provide the right kinds of images to “map” the brain, but the volume of images that come through would be so overwhelming that it would take an insurmountable amount of time to process the data. Even today’s leading technology, from neuro-nanotech to optobiology to synthetic biology sensors, is limited when it comes to such a large undertaking.
Here’s where projects like EyeWire come in.
EyeWire is an online community of “citizen neuroscientists” who map the retinal connectome (neurons in the retina) by playing an online game. Because the feat of mapping the human brain solo (or even as a small team) would be infinitely large, EyeWire has made use of crowdsourcing strategies to collect data.
“Researchers have calculated that with today’s technology it would take one person 100,000 years to map one cubic millimeter of the brain without the aid of artificial intelligence,” says Amy Robinson, who works on the EyeWire team. (Just to give you a scale, an entire human brain is roughly 1,000,000 cubic millimeters.) “It takes a researcher at our lab…upwards of 50 hours to map an entire cell, depending on its size…and there are over 80 billion neurons in the brain.”
Rules of the Game
For EyeWire, over a time span of seven days, teams on Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, Google+, and a formidable-sounding Team X (veterans) competed in the games. Each day, the EyeWire team gives updates on the project’s progress via their blog. “Players” who participate in the game trace neurons based on images of the retina acquired at the Max Planck Institute of Medical Research in Heidelberg, Germany (see below). The data directly contribute to neuroscience research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
It’s competitive, accessible to the masses, and even–for lack of a better word–fun. No game would be complete without a prize, however, so EyeWire has that covered too. The team that maps the most 3D neuron volume in this time frame receives neuron naming rights.
The genius of this project is in the gamification of the scientific process. By tacking on a time limit, assigning teams, and offering a prize, EyeWire spurs competition in potential “players.” Not only are players contributing to scientific research in the long run, but they can also see their contributions directly in front of them in the game in more-or-less tangible form. The gaming aspect of this citizen science project is what sets it apart from many others like it. Projects like the Human Connectome and Blue Brain have similar objectives but very different plans for execution. “When gamified, crowdsourced science is more than expediting data collection and analysis–it helps communicate science with the world,” states Robinson.
The EyeWire team comprises of members hailing from notably impressive backgrounds–game design, software development, community outreach, artificial intelligence, data structures, in addition to neuroscience. This notable cross-disciplinary approach has resulted in a project that brings the best of these worlds to the citizen science constituency.
Benefits of Crowdsourcing
Robinson goes on to explain why crowdsourcing is an ideal strategy for the future of scientific research: “Labs can no longer continue to work in academic isolation. If we hope to expedite our progress, we need to find ways to invite the world to help make discoveries…Not to mention crowdsourcing brings citizens into the heart of the scientific process.”
If nascent neuro-mapping projects like EyeWire fare well in the long run, it could mean that crowdsourcing will play an even more significant role in larger scientific research projects. Joy Hirsch adds, “We need to think outside the box. Outsourcing part of the task to individuals who may not be card-carrying scientists, but [who are] capable and willing to do some parts of the project, could become a major component of the success of [projects like this].”
Amy Robinson humbly quotes Sebastian Seung, the creator and director of EyeWire: “To understand how our knowledge machine works is more than just meta–it’s epic.” The EyeWire Games are simply a precursor to larger crowdsourced scientific research projects to come. If the greater scientific community chooses to participate, the odds just may be in our favor.
Sebastian Seung’s TEDTalk:
Lily Bui is a senior contributor at SciStarter. Although she holds dual bachelors’ degrees in International Studies and Spanish from the University of California Irvine, Lily has long harbored a proclivity for the sciences. Lily has worked on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.; served a year in AmeriCorps in Montgomery County, Maryland; worked for a New York Times bestselling ghostwriter in California; and performed across the U.S. as a touring musician. She currently works in public media at WGBH Boston and the Public Radio Exchange (PRX). In her spare time, she thinks of cheesy science puns (mostly to entertain herself). Tweets @dangerbui.
You’re familiar with this scene: a dog and its owner walk side by side down the street, and you can’t help but smirk that the dog is dressed up just like its owner. It’s undeniable–people often view their dogs as extensions of themselves. The marked bond between people and their dogs is one that often surpasses that with other domesticated animals. You can look at dogs as providers of companionship for humans.
On the other hand, this same bond has given dogs a special kind of social intelligence that is truly unique in the animal kingdom. Enter Dognition, a new citizen science project that aims to contribute to research that furthers the study of dog cognition—the way your dog’s mind processes the world around it.
Although only in its beta phase, Dognition has gained an enthusiastic following in over 38 countries. (Dog lovers, unite!) The project involves engaging your dog in science-based experiments that assess its cognition based on independent problem solving and social problem solving.
Here’s an example of a simple Dognition experiment you can perform with your dog:
Keep in mind—these experiments don’t measure your dog’s IQ. Rather, they assess how your dog navigates the world around it. The data that you collect from these experiments helps deepen the empathy that you share with your dog just as much as it helps researchers understand all dogs as a whole. At the end of your experiments, Dognition provides a platform that allows you to profile your dog based on its results. Is your dog an Einstein? A stargazer? A Renaissance dog? Participants have the potential to gain valuable insight on their dog’s personality through this project.
Dognition is the brainchild of Dr. Brian Hare, who co-authored the book counterpart to this project with his wife. The Genius of Dogs – How Dogs Are Smarter Than You Think hit the shelves on February 5, 2013. The book delves into these as well as some other curious topics. (I’m excited for my copy to arrive! It’s the perfect supplement to this already fascinating citizen science project.)
•How we came to know that dogs can retain hundreds, even thousands of words and gestures;
•How “survival of the friendliest” led dogs to domesticate themselves;
•The truth about dogs and physics (and how they’re lousy at it).
Caveat emptor, though. This nifty service comes with a price tag. With a base fee of $60, participants can get started. “Owners tell us that Dognition is helping them understand their dogs better,” says Dr. Hare. “This is a wonderful–and very distinctive–offering. Making it possible has required bringing to the table years of research and expertise, one-of-a-kind technology, plus service and support. This service allows us to make these things available.”
Dedicated to all dogs, Dognition is an ideal project for owners who treasure a deeper relationship with their dogs and are excited about gaining an intimate understanding of dog behavior–perhaps unearthing what exactly it is that makes dogs man’s (and woman’s) best friend.
Dr. Brian Hare himself sat down with SciStarter for a brief Q&A session. He tells us firsthand what inspired his research, what the study hopes to learn about dogs, how he assembled his team, and more.
1. How and when did you discover that dogs can read human gestures?
I was a 19 year old undergraduate at Emory University and I was working with an amazing Psychology Professor Mike Tomasello. Mike was one of the first to realize that human infants develop powerful social skills as early as nine months. This is when infants begin to understand what adults are trying to communicate when they point. Infants also begin pointing out things to other people. Whether an infant watches you point to a bird or the infant points to their favorite toy, they are beginning to build core communication skills. By paying attention to the reactions and gestures of other people, as well as to what other people are paying attention to, infants are beginning to read other people’s intentions.
Mike knew that our closest living relatives, the great apes, could not use human gestures, so he thought that perhaps this ability was unique to humans.
But like many dog owners, I’d spent countless hours playing fetch with my childhood dog, Oreo. If he lost a ball, I’d help him find it by pointing in the right direction. When Mike told me that a chimpanzee couldn’t follow a human point to find food, I blurted out ‘my dog can do that!’ and it all began from there.
2. Apart from helping people learn more about their dogs through science-based games/exercises, what do you hope to learn about dogs as a whole from the collected data?
There are so many fascinating questions people have about dogs that, at the moment, we can’t answer with science – we just don’t have enough time or enough dogs. For example, to answer which breed is the best communicator or the most empathetic, I’d need at least 30 dogs from each breed. If you took the AKC breeds or all breeds worldwide, you would need between 6,000 -12,000 puppies, decades of work, millions of dollars, and about a thousand graduate students. It is no wonder no one has done it. But with Dognition.com, we could do exactly this and more. Questions that we could only dream of answering are now becoming a distinct possibility.
3. Your team seems to come from various backgrounds. How did you assemble the team, and how does it function for this project? How is it managed from different locations?
I was kicking around the idea around the Business school at Duke of a company where people could use science to find out the unique genius of their dog. One of the students of entrepreneurial law said to me, ‘You’ve got to meet Kip Frey’. Besides being a Professor at the Law School, Kip is also an incredibly successful entrepreneur and venture capitalist. We had coffee one day and that’s how it started.
From there, we hand-picked a team to do two things: build a company that would serve the needs of dogs and their owners. And, just as exciting, contribute to the greater good of dogs, through discoveries that could not otherwise be pursued.
We built an advisory board that includes world-leading experts in canine cognition, as well as veterans in the media and technology space — Mark Benerofe, founder and advisor to successful startups including Sony Online Entertainment and Match.com; Web innovator Thede Loder, who was part of the original technology team that created Match.com; Marshall Brain, a leading entrepreneur and founder of HowStuffWorks.com — plus nationally renowned advertising agency, McKinney. They have helped create a rich consumer-facing experience and provided market research, brand development and marketing.
Additionally, we’ve enlisted a panel of highly respected thought leaders from a broad spectrum of dog-oriented disciplines, for the purpose of sharing ideas and providing feedback on Dognition’s mission, products and practices. They contribute their expertise in areas like canine health and well-being, training, service, and behavior. This includes world renowned dog trainer and best-selling author, Victoria Stilwell, and Paul Mundell, National Director of Canine Programs for CCI, Canines Companions for Independence. This unique assembly of experts will help inform our programming and services to meet our over-arching goal of servicing the greater good of all dogs, even while we help individual owners understand and nurture their own dogs in new ways.
4. What inspired you to create a citizen science counterpart to your book?
The whole point of the book, as the title suggests, is to uncover the genius of all dogs. The point of Dognition.com, is to allow people to uncover the genius of their dog, and in doing so, help us better understand all dogs.
Interested in other dog behavior citizen science projects? Worry not—we’ve got others for you too! Check out Play With Your Dog from the Horowitz Lab.
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 post was originally published on CitizenSci, a PLOS blog about the projects, people, and perspectives fueling new frontiers for citizen science.
Hear ye, hear ye! This is an open call to artists, engineers, filmmakers, scientists, hobbyists, lobbyists, foodies, gamers, musicians, photogs, techies, adults, kids, dreamers, schemers, hackers, slackers, athletes, and everyone in between. This is a call to all—SciStarter needs you (yes, you)!
In case you haven’t heard yet, SciStarter has partnered with Instructables and Discover Magazine to help researchers find solutions to real problems that they encounter in their projects. The Citizen Science Contest is your opportunity to help contribute to scientific discovery. (Prizes include a Celestron telescope, DISCOVER subscriptions, and time-lapse cameras!)
We’ve interviewed four citizen science project organizers and asked them to identify the greatest challenges in their work—challenges that you can help them overcome. Perhaps you’re a seasoned gardener and have tips for The Great Sunflower Project on how to prevent critters from eating plants before they flower. Have some ideas about how to use odds and ends around the household to construct inexpensive hail pads? The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network (CoCoRaHs) could use your help! Think your tech savvy is up to par? Maybe you can come up with suggestions for Project Budburst and Wildlife of Our Homes, both of which are looking for ways to improve the way their volunteers record and submit collected data.
The Instructables DIY community spans an unimaginably vast spectrum of disciplines. We’re hoping that this contest will help these citizen science project managers find creative, interdisciplinary solutions that come from outside of the box. We can’t do it alone, though. You can help make their experiences better by submitting a new citizen science project you’ve developed, present a tool that may be used for current/future citizen science projects, or help spark questions they might not have thought of by participating in discussion.
Here’s the thing, though. The contest ends this upcoming Monday, January 21st! If you have some ideas, navigate to the contest page to take a look. The clock is ticking!
This blog post was originally published on CitizenSci, a PLOS blog about the projects, people, and perspectives fueling new frontiers for citizen science.
‘Tis the season for citizen science! (Then again, it’s always the season for citizen science.) This December, SciStarter wraps up 12 different citizen science projects especially for you.
On the 1st day of Christmas, Audubon gave to me:
A partridge, a blue jay, and a sparrow? The Christmas Bird Count season is December 14 through January 5 each year! The count is the world’s longest running citizen science project. The “Count Circles” focus on specific geographical areas.
On the 2nd day of Christmas, the British Trust for Ornithology gave to me:
The Nest Record Scheme, a citizen science project to monitor the turtle dove, the United Kingdom’s most most threatened farmland bird, and many others.
On the 3rd day of Christmas, Iowa gave to me:
The Greater Prairie Chicken Project to ensure these hens remain in Iowa. Greater Prairie chickens were once abundant in Central and Eastern United States. Their numbers have dwindled since the 1800s. All you have to do is submit your sightings!
On the 4th day of Christmas, the University College of London gave to me:
Bat calls aplenty to listen to and identify. Bat Detective is an online citizen science project which allows participants to take part in wildlife conservation by listening out for bat calls in recordings collected all over the world.
On the 5th day of Christmas, FoldIt gave to me:
A bunch of protein rings! Foldit is a revolutionary new computer game enabling you to contribute to important scientific research. They’re collecting data to find out human pattern-recognition and puzzle-solving abilities make us more efficient than existing computer programs at pattern-folding tasks. If this turns out to be true, we can then teach human strategies to computers and fold proteins faster than ever!
On the 6th of Christmas, Seattle Audubon Society gave to me:
A chance to help seabird researchers create a snapshot of geese density on more than three square miles of near-shore saltwater habitat.
On the 7th day of Christmas, the Swan Society of the University of Melbourne gave to me:
The MySwan project to report sightings of tagged black swans around the world. After you submit your sighting, you’ll get an instant report about the swan, with interesting information about its history and recent movements.
On the 8th day of Christmas, Zooniverse gave to me:
The Milky Way Project, a chance to help scientists study our galaxy, as well as the Milky Way advent calendar and even Milky Way tree ornaments!
On the 9th day of Christmas, the Science Cheerleaders gave to me:
1300 young ladies dancing (and cheering) for citizen science as they set a new Guinness World Record last year for the World’s Largest Cheer!
On the 10th day of Christmas, the Bodleian Libraries gave to me:
A leap into a music archive containing over four thousand digitized scores, mostly piano music from the nineteenth century. What’s the Score allows you to help facilitate research about music in this time period.
On the 11th day of Christmas, Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology gave to me:
Science Pipes, a free service that lets you connect to real biodiversity data, use simple tools to create visualizations and feeds, and embed results on your own web site or blog.
On the 12th day of Christmas, New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation gave to me:
The Ruffed Grouse Drumming Survey to help hunters survey the population of ruffed grouse during breeding season.
If you’re fortunate to experience a white Christmas, consider sending your snow depth measurements to cryosphere researchers at the University of Waterloo’s Snow Tweets project. They want to use your real-time measurements to help calibrate the accuracy of satellite instruments currently measuring snow precipitation.
Happy holidays from the SciStarter team!
Photo: John Ohab
See that partridge in a pear tree?
Make sure you count it for Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count, one of the largest and longest running citizen science projects in existence today. It’s a 112 year tradition, with upwards of 60,000 person-days of effort and more than 60 million birds counted each year.
“Each of the citizen scientists who annually braves snow, wind, or rain, to take part in the Christmas Bird Count makes an enormous contribution to conservation. Audubon and other organizations use data collected in this longest-running wildlife census to assess the health of bird populations – and to help guide conservation action.” –CBC Blog
From December 14 through January 5 each year, tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the Americas take part in this adventure. Volunteers follow specific routes within a 15-mile diameter circle, counting birds that are seen or heard. It’s not just a species tally—all birds are counted all day, giving an indication of the total number of birds in the circle that day. If you’re curious about the data and research from last year’s count, that’s available on the website too! The results of the bird count will be published in various scientific publications, most notably American Birds.
This is an ideal project to participate in with friends and family during the holiday season. Join thousands of others participating nationwide this year! Find a count happening near you.
Photo: State of Nebraska
Calling all music enthusiasts–the Bodleian Libraries are enlisting the help of the public in order to improve access to their music collections. About sixty-four boxes filled with unbound, uncatalogued sheet music from the mid-Victorian period has been digitized for public access. Although this particular genre of music was considered to have little academic value in the past, it has recently come into new light as a window of insight into amateur music making as well as social practices during the Victorian era.
For instance, the “Cleopatra Galop,” written by dance-master Charles d’Albert, was advertised as “new dance music” in New Zealand’s Hawke’s Bay Herald in September 1878. Archival gems like these are not uncommon in the Bodleian collection. What’s even more fascinating is that the Bodleian team has partnered with the University of Oxford to make recordings of some of these works available so that users can aurally experience the pieces that they’re helping to describe. Listen to the “Cleopatra Galop” in the extensive recordings collection.
In order to help with the project, participants simply submit descriptions of the music scores by transcribing the information they see. There’s no pre-requisite of being able to read sheet music to take part, and the Library provides a superb step-by-step guide on how to do it.
The metadata collected from this project will eventually feed into a database, making the music collection ultimately more searchable online once it’s made available. By participating in this project, you’ll gain access to tons (all right, maybe pounds or kilos) of sheet music that has never been released to the public. Not only that, but the artful covers are worthy of a study in themselves.
Most importantly, the Bodleian Library has partnered with Zooniverse, a world leader in crowdsourced technology and a platform for various citizen science projects like Galaxy Zoo, Planet Hunters, and Bat Detective (many of which are searchable in SciStarter’s Project Finder).
Music enthusiasts, history buffs, archive divers, or those simply curious are all invited to take part in this sonically stimulating citizen science project. Help the Bodleian keep score!
Image: Musical Notes, NSF
Image: Bodleian tutorial, whats-the-score.org
Have you ever thought of yourself as the sum of your actions? What about the sum of years you’ve been alive, the number of hairs on your head, or how many times a day you brush your teeth? Think about the text messages you send each day, the places you check in on Foursquare, your Google search history, or your Facebook wall posts.
Our lives can be broken down into endless categories of quantifiable data. With these tiny, incremental details, what could an outside observer piece together to learn about the big picture that is your life?
On Wednesday, November 14, TedxYouth is launching a brand new project called Data Detectives: The Human Face of Big Data. This project is aimed toward teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18 to teach them about the applications of Big Data. Former TED speaker Rick Smolan is the man behind the mission to make Big Data both accessible and fun.
By answering a 20-question online survey, you’ll be helping to build a data set that will allow teens to compare themselves to other teens all over the world. Some sample questions from the survey: “Are you more like your mother or father?”, “How do your parents discipline you for bad behavior?”, and “How do you get to school: by bus, public transportation, limo, donkey, or skateboard?” –TED blog, 10/25/12
As more people participate in the survey over time, the data will be compiled in an increasingly larger set. Participants can check in and see how the information grows. Jennifer Chapin, one of the project organizers, predicts participants “will see the world in which the collection, analysis, and visualization of data is empowering the human race across geographic, economic, and cultural barriers.”
What’s amazing about this project is that modern technology makes data accessible in ways that simply didn’t exist 10 to 15 years ago. We can broadcast, conduct, and answer surveys from the comfort and safety of our own computer chairs as opposed to approaching strangers on the street or organizing focus groups.
By studying crowdsourced data on a large scale, participants will be able to observe significant trends within the data collected as well as determine what different sets mean in relation to each other. Gathering information is one thing, but analyzing it and deciding what to do with it is another. The latter is perhaps the most exciting part and leaves plenty of room for creativity.
The vast amount of data that we’re able to collect in real-time by satellites, mobile phones, RFID tags, GPS-enabled cameras, and computers from around the world allow us, Chapin posits, “to sense, measure, understand and affect aspects of our existence in ways our ancestors could never have imagined in their wildest dreams.”
The site officially launches on November 14th, and the project will be presented at TEDxYouth in New York on November 17th, where 400 local high school students will gather for speaker sessions featuring 20 scientists, designers, technologists, explorers, artists, and performers that will share short lessons on what they do best. More than 100 parallel independently organized TEDxYouthDay events will take place in 42 countries around the world. TEDxYouthDay’s are planned by TEDx organizers worldwide, with the idea to inspire and engage youth.
Be sure to stop by our Project Finder to sift through a database of over 500 citizen science projects!
Statistics and Data: TEDxYouth