Archive for the ‘Academic studies on citizen science’ Category

Hash Out Citizen Science in Twitter Chat Sessions

By January 19th, 2015 at 10:12 am | Comment


Starting this month, you can tune in and take part in monthly discussion sessions about citizen science. The discussions take place on Twitter and anyone is welcome to join with questions, answers, comments, and ideas. You can follow the discussion at the hashtag #CitSciChat.

The monthly #CitSciChat are sponsored by SciStarter and The Counter Culture, which is my new research lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. These Twitter chats are designed to bring citizen scientists, project managers, students, and scientists together to share ideas, knowledge, and resources. We’ll discuss news, policies, discoveries, papers, and projects. The chats are opportunities for people around the world to meet and share their experiences with citizen science.

Whether you are experienced with Twitter or not, I hope you will find it easy to take part. Here’s how it works. I’m the moderator (@CoopSciScoop) and for each session I will invite a few guests with varied expertise and who enjoy lively discussions. I’ll pose question (Q1, Q2, etc.) and guest panelists and others will answer (prefaced with A1, A2, etc). Others can answer too, and pose related questions (label them, e.g., Q1a, Q1b, etc). There are no expectations that everyone will agree, but there are expectations that everyone will be courteous, polite, and respectful. Know that it’s okay to simply follow along, but I hope you will join the conversation. If you do, be sure to remember to include the hashtag #CitSciChat so that others in the conversation don’t miss your Tweets. I will Storify each session and post the recap on this blog.

The #CitSciChat follows in the footsteps of many other Twitter chats. For example, there are Twitter journal clubs, such as #microtwjc for discussions of microbiology papers (initiated by @_zoonotica_). There are chat sessions like #StuSciChat that connects high school students and scientists (moderated by Adam Taylor @2footgiraffe) and #STEMchat that connects parents, educators, and STEM professionals (moderated by Kim Moldofsky @MakerMom).  A very popular #Edchat, founded by Shelly Sanchez Terrell (@ShellTerrell), hosts conversations among educators.

Citizen science chats take place on Twitter at #CitSciChat the last Wednesday (Thursday in Australia) of every month, unless otherwise noted. The first will be January 28 (29th in Australia). We’ll increase in their frequency if interest levels are high. To involve people across the globe, chats take place 7-8pm GMT, which is 2-3pm ET in USA and Thursday 6-7am ET in Australia. Each session will focus on a different theme. To suggest a project or theme for an upcoming chat, send me a tweet @CoopSciScoop!

January theme:

Building A Community of Practice: Organizing the Organizers in Citizen Science

I’ve invited guests among the leadership of the Citizen Science Association, the European Citizen Science Association, and Citizen Science Network Australia. These panelists will discuss how these organizations are helping coordinate practitioners across the many disciplines that engage the public in research.

Panelists to follow:

From US:

  • Darlene Cavalier @Scicheer – CSA
  • Mary Ford @maryeford – CSA
  • Jennifer Shirk @ShirkSci – CSA (tentative)
  • Martin Storksdieck @Storksdieck – CSA

From Europe:

  • Muki Haklay @mhaklay – CSA & ESCA
  • Fermin Serrano @Ibercivis – ECSA
  • Joseph Perello @OpenSystemsUB – ECSA

From Australia:

  • @CitSciOz – CSNA
  • Michelle Neil @Michelle_Neil – CSNA

Groundbreaking Air Quality Study Demonstrates the Power of Citizen Science

By 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.

Cyber Citizen – New Citizen Science Apps for Your Phone

By December 7th, 2013 at 1:17 pm | Comment

Screen shot 2013-12-07 at 1.12.48 PM

Here are several new citizen science apps to snazzy up your smartphone. These apps are products of Cyber Citizen, a National Science Foundation-funded research project at Michigan Tech. Cyber Citizen focuses on developing mobile and web-based tools to facilitate citizen participation in scientist-led environmental and social research projects, explains Dr. Robert Pastel assistant professor of computer science and co-leader of the project. These apps are developed by Michigan Tech computer science undergraduate students. So not only does the project encourage citizen science but it gives students a unique opportunity to “harness their skills to solve real-world scientific problems.”

Though it only started in 2011, Cyber Citizen already has four apps in or near completion, and there are several more in the pipeline. Ethnographer is an app enabling ethnographers researching the history of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to connect with Upper Peninsula residents. Citizens can use the app to join in on ongoing discussions on various topics or add to the project’s collection of historical accounts, personal interviews and photographs. Anyone interested is welcome to join.

Another app is called Beach Health Monitor. This app allows beach goers to collect data that helps determine whether beach conditions might pose a human health risk. Modeled after the EPA’s Virtual Beach software (, the app collects information like bacteria concentrations and uploads to the data to the web where the information is publicly available.

The remaining apps Lichen AQ (air quality) and Mushroom Mapper focus on environmental data collection. Lichens are unique composite organisms especially sensitive to air pollution making them valuable biomarkers. Lichen AQ uses this trait to help land managers to monitor air pollution. Mushroom Mapper examines the various habitats of different mushroom species. This app is expected to be completed in the coming months.

Cyber Citizen is part of the National Science Foundation’s Cyberinfrastructure Training, Education, Advancement, and Mentoring for Our 21st Century Workforce (CI-TEAM) initiative. This initiative supports projects that integrate science and engineering research and educational activities which promote cyberinfrastructure systems. To learn more about Cyber Citizen or get their apps, visit their website.

Additional reference:


Dr. Carolyn Graybeal holds a PhD in neuroscience from Brown University. She is a former National Academies of Science Christine Mirzayan Science & Technology Policy Fellow during which time she worked with the Marian Koshland Science Museum. In addition the intricacies of the human brain, she is interested in the influence of education and mass media in society’s understanding of science.

Photosynq: Plugging into Photosynthesis

By October 21st, 2013 at 11:37 am | Comment

Recently researchers at Michigan State University have been turning their attention to how we study plant photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the biological process by which plants and algae convert light into storable energy for growth and survival. Quantifying photosynthesis levels can reveal a lot about plant health. For example how efficient is the plant in capturing light energy. How resilient is it in the face of environmental stressors such as drought.

Scientists already have tools to measure photosynthesis. Unfortunately, these tools can be prohibitively expensive or require testing be done in a lab. To address this obstacle, researchers at Michigan University launched Photosynq, an open access project aimed at creating a low-cost hand-held device which would allow anyone and anywhere to measure photosynthesis.

Scientists still have much to learn about plant photosynthesis and crowd sourcing the research can be really helpful. “The way we currently study plants is limited,” explains project manager Greg Austic. “We take one plant, grow it in the lab and examine what happens to that one plant in very controlled conditions. But there are thousands of plant species, and they are growing and surviving outside in their real environment. Creating a device that enables anybody to contribute to this research could really expand our understanding.”

The creators have developed a device small enough to hook up to a cellphone, which comes preloaded with a bank of measurements and protocols for the user to select from. After collecting their data, users can upload their results to an open database. The beauty of the project is that anyone with a phone and an internet connection could use it, meaning its use would not be limited to academic research. The Photosynq team envisions educators using it as a teaching implement to help students learn about plant biology. Or farmers using it to modify planting strategies. And as more people use it, the larger the database grows giving everyone more data to use.

Mining that data could result in some pretty interesting outcomes. For example, researchers might identify a plant with unusually high photosynthesis efficiency. A private citizen might stumble upon a plant that is particularly effective at carbon capture. These potential discoveries could be used to develop new, possibility greener, technologies.

The device and project materials are still in beta and the Photosynq team is interested in getting more input about their project. The developers encourage individuals to sign up to be device beta testers. They are also interested in pre-production input. If there is a measurement or tool that you think would be useful or interesting to have, visit their Google discussion board and let them know. The more feedback they can get, the better the device will meet people’s needs.

At the heart of the project is the philosophy of making science and scientific inquiry more open. “What I think is so great about this project,” Austic explains, “is its mission to create an ecosystem where anyone [be it a senior scientist or a curious seven year old] can ask a science question and engage anyone to answer it.”

Learn more about their project, why it is important, and how you can get involved by visiting.

Dr. Carolyn Graybeal holds a PhD in neuroscience from Brown University. She is a former National Academies of Science Christine Mirzayan Science & Technology Policy Fellow during which time she worked with the Marian Koshland Science Museum. In addition the intricacies of the human brain, she is interested in the influence of education and mass media in society’s understanding of science.

Final Four citizen science projects!

By April 5th, 2013 at 9:17 am | Comment 1

This post originally appeared on the PLOS Blog Network.
We’re down to the Final Four in this year’s NCAA tournament, and chances are your bracket isn’t looking too good. Welcome to the club. Worry not! We’ve got four citizen science projects that will help you make the most of Final Four weekend.


Roadkill Survey

If your team gets pummeled this weekend, you’ll make a great Roadkill Observer or Splatter Spotter. Roadkill Survey for Road Bikers need your help to find out where wildlife live and how they move in relation to roads. Project Splatter collects UK wildlife road casualty data via Twitter and Facebook. Both projects hope to identify roadkill ‘hotspots’ for future mitigation projects and help preserve wildlife.


Cicada Tracker

You’re in the perfect spot to help track the cicadas that emerge once every 17 years across New Jersey, New York and the whole Northeast by planting a homemade temperature sensor in the ground and reporting your findings. Your observations will be put on a map and shared with the entire community. Everyone’s a winner…unless your team loses, of course.



If you’re too exhausted after the game to harvest wheat in nearby fields, you can still help plants by participating in Clumpy. Simply classify plant cell images by their “clumpiness”, and you can provide researchers with new insights into the progression of bacterial infection in plant cells.


Project Nighthawk

If your team doesn’t live up to the hype, you can always hide your shame in New Hampshire and help scientists study a bird of a different feather. The Ashuelot Valley Environmental Observatory is coordinating volunteer nighthawk surveys on warm evenings in Keene. Submit your observations of booming, peenting, or nighthawks diving.

And for fans of teams that didn’t make it this far…

Planet Four

Check out Planet Four, a citizen science project in which volunteers help planetary scientists identify and measure features on the surface of Mars. By tracking ‘fans’ and ‘blotches’ on the Martian surface, you can help planetary scientists better understand Mars’ climate.