Archive for the ‘Citizen Science’ Category
Winter is here! Check out more winter weather themed citizen science projects at Scistarter.
You know what the atmosphere is. But have you heard of the cryosphere? No, it’s not a giant frozen ice-cream sphere, if that’s what you’re thinking. (That’s not what you were thinking? Never mind then!) The cryosphere, as Wikipedia most sagely teaches us, is the portion of the earth’s surface where water is in solid form (snow, ice, etc). Now, if you’re planning to drive home the day before Christmas, you will probably check out how much snow there is on the road on the weather channel or weather.com. These outlets get their snow depth data from government sources such as the NOAA’s National Weather Service or the Canadian Meteorological Centre (CMC). Apart from the safety of your road trip, there are many more uses to knowing what the snow cover will be such as predicting how much water rivers will receive from snowmelt. However, because the data comes from simulated models which use a combination of ground and satellite based snow measurements, their accuracy needs to be tested.
That is what the cryosphere research team at the University of Waterloo is trying to do with SnowTweets. And they want you to help them. Using just a ruler, a Twitter account and a few minutes of your time, you can contribute to cryosphere research. By crowdsourcing tweets about snow depths at various locations, the team hopes to collect frequent and high resolution data and match it with the meteorological data from NOAA & CMC. So how do you get started? Simple!
- Get a twitter account if you don’t already have one.
- Get a ruler or make your own (like the snowman themed one pictured on the right). Put on your winter gear!
- Step out and find one or more patches of undisturbed snow. If you can find a place away from buildings like a nearby park your measurement is more likely to be accurate. But if you can’t don’t worry. Your backyard will do just fine!
- Take a few depth measurements to see how it varies in different regions. Then, take the most representative measurement. For example if you measured 3”, 4”, 8”, 4”, 5”and 3” the most representative reading is probably 4” (The 8” would be an outlier). Remember that no snow measurements (i.e. 0 inches) are important to tweet out too!
- Tweet the measurement using the #snowtweets along with your zip code or latitude and longitude like this
#snowtweets <snow depth in cm, in or ft> at <zip code or latitude, longitude>
For example #snowtweets 5.0 in. at 20500 or #snowtweets 8.3 cm at 41.500, -120.750
If you’re outside North America, be sure to throw in your country name as well along with the zip code (e.g. #snowtweets 2 cm at 102-8166 Japan). Here’s my snowtweet
- Tweet many times a day as you want. Even better, if you’re going on a winter road trip, take a ruler, measure and tweet wherever you stop! Remember, more data = better!
- Give it a few minutes. The data will be processed by their automated system and will show up on Snowbird, the special visualization tool that the team has created for this project.
From early stage analyses of snowtweets data, the team has found that it matches pretty well with the data from simulations. Interestingly, the more tweets they get which are in regions close by to each other, the better the data matches. So the more you tweet, the more accurate their analyses will be! You can visit their website for more details on how to measure snow accurately and the SnowTweets team. Now get out there and write some #snowtweets! Image credits: NASA, www.makingfriends.com
Arvind Sureh is a graduate student in Cell Biology and Molecular Physiology at the University of Pittsburgh. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biotechnology from PSG College of Technology, India. For his thesis, he has been studying the molecular mechanisms behind uterine contraction during pregnancy. He is also an information addict, gobbling up everything he can find on and off the internet. He enjoys reading, teaching, talking and writing science, and following that interest led him to SciStarter. Outside the lab and the classroom, he can be found behind the viewfinder of his camera. www.suresharvind.com
Winter is here! Check out more winter weather themed citizen science projects at Scistarter.
Here in the northern hemisphere, by this time of year, the signs of winter are nearly fully developed. Pea coats to defend us from the cold, denuded forests, grasses in gowns of morning white, and, of course, symptoms of the flu (otherwise known as influenza) around our daily interactions. Be it a cough, a runny nose, or untimely sweats, being surrounded by these unpleasant yet familiar symptoms make it seem like the dreaded flu is around every corner.
As it happens, where the flu is and who has it makes a big difference in how we understand the spread of influenza and who might be vulnerable or at risk. FluSurvey UK is one of a few citizen science projects in the world that tracks the movement and abundance of influenza-like illnesses, which is any kind of sickness that looks like the flu but can’t be confirmed without lab work asserting the presence of the virus. FluSurvey participants, however, also add background information from occupation, commute patterns, and socioeconomic status to dietary habits, average contact with old and young people, and whether or not they’ve been vaccinated, painting a vivid picture of the population.
This helps Dr. Alma Adler, who heads FluSurvey and a fellow at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine “uniquely… get information on risk factors for influenza-like illnesses.” The data provided by FluSurvey participants showed, for instance, that train ride actually does not increase your risk of contracting flu-like illnesses since participants who used public transportation actually reported less flu symptoms than those who used private transportation. This was a bit of a surprising find, since influenza tends to be communicated through droplets expelled into the air by infected people, and then sucked in somehow by healthy people. On the other hand, we all also know that children, cute as they can be, are excellent disease vectors as well. FluSurvey showed that people who come into regular contact with children were at a higher risk for influenza-like illnesses and that flu cases rise more rapidly when schools are open than when they are closed. This is good news, considering the kids will soon be on winter break, and people can venture into a cleaner world.
In the past, this kind of analysis would have been impossible. Flu surveillance once had to rely on reports from general medical practitioners and hospitals, which left epidemiologists fumbling for an accurate cross-section of the population. The trouble being that only a subsection of sick people will go to the doctor. Unlike FluSurvey, Dr. Adler says, “Doctors’ reports are not linked to any kind of background information.” And while the data from FluSurvey is only a proxy for the actual presence of influenza, it seems to be robust. Dr. Adler says they “compare [FluSurvey’s] influenza-like-illness peaks to when we know there are peaks in laboratory confirmed flu cases. Generally, our data match up fairly well,” showing that people are reporting flu in the survey when there is honest-to-god flu flying around.
While FluSurvey UK is only available to our British friends, it’s a part of the European Influenzanet which has surveys in ten different countries. For those of us in the U.S.A., we have to rely on a similar health map called Flu Near You, which asks people to report flu-like symptoms and monitors influenza but doesn’t collect any other data. This might change in the future, as crowd-sourcing data collection and citizen science is becoming more and more popular in epidemiology. Citizen science could, in theory, provide a study population limited only by the number of people with a computer and access to internet for the same or even a smaller cost.
Data from FluSurvey has recently informed a new UK immunization scheme that targets vaccinations at children (since they’re a major risk factor). It has also partnered with the British Science Association to get more children involved with the project. The CDC has similar flu monitoring systems available.
If you’re in the UK or elsewhere in Europe, you can join FluSurvey UK or find your country’s FluSurvey at Influenzanet. If you’re in the States, Flu Near You is always happy to hear about your illness too. And if you haven’t yet, remember to get a flu vaccination if you can since, as Dr. Adler says, “That is the only real risk factor you can do something about.”
Image: DOD, FluNearYou.org
Angus R. Chen is a research assistant at Princeton University, where he does geochronology research using uranium and lead isotopes from zircon crystals. Previously, he was a research intern at the Harvard Forest, studying the impacts of climate change on soil. He recently graduated from Oberlin College with a double major in environmental science and creative writing. When he’s not in the lab admiring rocks and then pulverizing them, he writes poetry, fiction, science articles, and makes cool videos.
This is a webinar opportunity from our friends at CitSci.org. Details below!
Greetings from CitSci.org! We are pleased to announce our December “Feature Friday” webinar where you, as members of the growing CitSci.org community, are invited to offer your ideas and thoughts about improvements to CitSci.org. The first Friday of each month these webinars will focus on a specific topic / feature of CitSci.org. We will demonstrate how to use the website feature and take feedback. The December webinar will focus on “Building Datasheets.” Together, we hope to guide the future of this exciting platform in support of your collaborative citizen science / community based monitoring efforts.
CitSci.org December “Feature Friday” webinar
December 6, 2013 (12:00 noon PST; 1:00 PM MST; 2:00 PM CST; 3:00 PM EST)
Date: December 6, 2013
Feature: Building Datasheets
Time: 1:00-2:00p (MST)
Dial (267) 507-0003
Access Code: 613-600-397
Audio PIN: Shown after joining the meeting
Meeting ID: 613-600-397
Please see this page for more details.
We are very excited to share the very first teaser segment for WHYY’s The Pulse with you, which aired last night at 6PM ET! Listen here: http://bit.ly/1bgaPTS The producer Kimberly Haas talks about PhillyTreeMap, Azavea, and the local Plant One Million Campaign.
The Pulse is WHYY’s upcoming weekly one-hour radio program focused on health, science and innovation in the Philadelphia region. The show will explore the personal stories of illness and recovery, discovery, health and science trends and much more. Working with SciStarter’s founder, Darlene Cavalier, the show will also take a close look at citizen science initiatives in the PA, NJ, DE region and report out on which projects are gaining the most traction and yielding effective results. WHYY’s Behavioral Health Reporter, Maiken Scott, will host the program every Friday at 9 a.m. with a rebroadcast on Sunday mornings. Here’s where to listen:
WHYY’s Friday morning schedule (come Dec. 6th):
6-9 a.m. – Morning Edition
9-10 a.m. – The Pulse
10 a.m. to 12 p.m. – Radio Times
Here’s where you can help. If you’re a citizen science researcher, project manager, or participant in the PA, NJ, or DE areas, we want to hear from you! If you have an interesting story to share about a citizen science project or experience, let us know. Send your stories for consideration to Lily@SciStarter.com.
This is a guest post by Dr. Tom Keeble, who was born and raised in Melbourne, Australia, and completed a science degree with honours at The University of Melbourne. He then completed a Ph.D, studying Developmental Neurobiology, at The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne, and the Queensland Brain Institute. He did a postdoc in Singapore and has now moved into Science Communication. Because he couldn’t see himself staying in the active research scene but hated the thought of leaving science entirely, becoming the Neuroscience Communicator at The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health has been the perfect fit.
Most people reading this blog will be familiar with the idea crowdfunding – so I won’t explain the concept in much more detail other than to state its definition as “asking heaps of people to chip in to do something epic.”
Pozible is the Australian equivalent of Kickstarter.com, and is the third largest crowdfunding platform in the world. It works on the “all-or-none” model of funding projects, so if you don’t reach your target, you don’t receive any of the funds (you can’t buy ¾ of a PCR machine…). Fifty-five percent of Pozible projects are successful, and they have raised over $11 million since 2010. What’s more, they have an entire section of their site dedicated to crowdfunding research projects.
The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health performs some pretty epic neuroscience – we’re 4th in the world in terms of cumulative publication citations since 2002, and we study the brain from conception right through to the end of life. Major disease focuses include stroke, epilepsy, autism, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s Diseases.
In the Australian context, the pool of funds available for Medical Research via our National Health and Medical Research Council has remained static at $800 million, while funding success rates have fallen to an all-time low of 17%, with even more dismal early career researcher success rates.
Against this background, crowdfunding can provide the resources to generate pilot data that forms the basis of a larger grant application, particularly for a high-risk high-reward project where proof of principle is crucial, and for younger researchers still establishing that vital “track record.”
Pledgers at every level get to be more hands-on with the research, becoming part of the daily life of the labs that are raising the money, through online engagement and in the case of higher pledgers, visits to the Institute. The campaign is also a valuable tool in educating scientists about their role in public engagement – increasingly being seen as non-negotiable when receiving public dollars.
Traditional engagement tools at The Florey Institute include direct mail, e-newsletters, on-site public lectures and school outreach programs. These are very successful, but in the next decade this model is going to need updating – and online engagement through crowdfunding is great training for scientists; engage or perish!
Now, to the projects themselves!
The Florey Institute has 7 projects up on Pozible, the most successful ones being run by those with extensive online and offline networks to draw upon. Our standout performers have been, in no particular order:
- A project run by Dr David Hawkes gives pledgers the chance to either suggest names for 4 viral vectors he’s creating, with the most popular names getting the honour, or you can skip the popularity contest and ‘buy’ a name for the vector yourself – which will then literally go viral as it spreads to his collaborators around the globe.
- Dr. Wah Chin Boon has leveraged her extensive international connections to great success for her project examining DNA changes in response to environmental chemicals possibly leading to Autism.
- Everyone’s looking for ways to reduce the pharmacopeia associated with modern day life. Animal studies have shown that light levels play an important role in increasing or decreasing the number of brain cells that produce dopamine, an important “feel-good” neurochemical. Dr Tim Aumann is looking to see whether this holds true for humans as well, by examining brains from people who lived (well, died) during periods of long days and short nights, or vice versa, opening the door to drug-free brain treatments.
- And finally, in what might be a world-first, Faith Lamont is looking to crowdfund her Ph.D stipend! Due to citizenship restrictions, Faith as a New Zealander is ineligible for funding from the Australian Government, so she’s looking for funding from the people! Her project aims to use humanized mouse assays – ipads for mice - to better assess learning and memory in mice in the context of Schizophrenia and Autism. Faith’s even made a little game where you can test your cognitive skills against those of a mouse.
So head over to Pozible and check out the projects – one of the added beauties of crowdfunding is that the project doesn’t even have to be in your own backyard, the benefits of science are global – and epic.