Archive for the ‘Citizen Science’ Category

Urban Citizen Science

By July 27th, 2016 at 7:16 pm | Comment

A recent article in the New York Times highlights the way urban environments are affecting evolution in a variety of species. From European blackbirds with high-pitched calls to beat the sound of traffic to spiders adapted to build their webs closer to light poles, the dynamic and harsh urban environment is changing our biodiversity. Citizen scientists are crucial to understanding and documenting these changes. Below we highlight 5 citizen science projects that can be done in urban areas so you can help researchers across the world! You can find 1500 more projects and events on the SciStarter project finder.


Lauren Nichols


Urban Buzz

Collect cicadas and send them to scientists to learn how this insect is changing with climate change and habitat loss. Get started here.





Victor Loewen  



Celebrate Urban Birds

Observe birds in your area to help scientists learn how habitat improvement affects birds in urban environments. Get started here.




Urban Nature Research Center ProjectsNature_map

The UNCR out of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles runs several urban biodiversity studies on everything from squirrels to snails. Learn more about SLIME, RASCALS, the Southern California Squirrel Survey, and get started now!




Trees Please Trees Please

You can help improve Hamilton Ontario’s urban forests and air quality with Trees Please! You can collect data for an interactive database of urban tree health that will ultimately be compared with air quality data. Get started here.





DarkSkyMeter_-_Logo_-_Mockup_-_Web_-_3 (1)

Dark Sky Meter

Help measure light pollution in your area with the Dark Sky Meter app. You’ll help create a global map of nighttime light pollution. Get started here.


Want more citizen science? Check out SciStarter’s Project Finder! With 1100+ citizen science projects spanning every field of research, task and age group, there’s something for everyone!

An Unlikely Journey Into Citizen Science

By July 26th, 2016 at 5:57 pm | Comment

I thought I’d share the introduction of The Rightful Place of Science: Citizen Science with you in case you wondered how I ever got linked up with science or citizen science. My story may strike some readers as extremely unlikely. For others, I bet it bears some resemblance to your own journey. Regardless of your path here, I’m glad we’re all connected to this field that enables us to shape the future, together.

In celebration of each person’s journey, SciStarter is joining Caren Cooper (@CoopSciScoop) on Twitter at @IamCitSci where one guest a week will take over the account to spark conversations and share first-person insights. I’ll be sharing parts of my journey during the week of August 8 and I hope you’ll chime in to share your own journey into citizen science!

Here’s that introduction I mentioned…

An Unlikely Journey Into Citizen Science

By Darlene Cavalier

The American shad is Philadelphia’s fish. Like the far more celebrated salmon, shad live their adult lives in cold, salty ocean waters and swim back to freshwater rivers and streams only to spawn. They’re tasty like salmon, too, if bonier and less fleshy (the fish’s Latin species name, Alosa sapidissima, means “most delicious fish”). Unlike salmon, though, shad can undertake their freshwater return migration several times in their lives — they are a most determined little fish. Shad were once so plentiful in the Philadelphia region that the Lenape Indians could hunt the fish in the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers with bows and arrows, and the shad industry provided the name for Fishtown, one of Philadelphia’s archetypal neighborhoods. Philadelphians like me take pride in the shad’s hardiness and history—they fed our country’s Founding Fathers, after all, and were a dietary staple of city residents for generations.

By the mid-20th century, however, the people who lived along Philadelphia’s rivers — many of whom depended on shad for their livelihoods — noticed that the shad were not migrating upriver as they had before. They were being hampered by twin human-produced barriers, one chemical and the other physical. The industrialization that powered the city’s prosperity had created a river system that was one of the most polluted in the country. Reportedly, the stink was so bad that military pilots were told to ignore the smell as they flew thousands of feet overhead. Meanwhile, as pollutants like phosphorous depleted oxygen levels in the rivers, a series of dams blocked migration routes; they established walls through which the shad couldn’t pass and couldn’t leap in their desperate attempts to reach their spawning grounds upstream. Fishermen and other locals did not know all the details at the time, but they observed declining fish numbers with great concern, knowing that the disappearance of the shad would affect their own economic and cultural survival.

Those citizens used what they did know about their environment, however, to guide their observations and inform their collection of data about local shad populations. With their findings, they were able to form hypotheses about the causes of the shad decline and communicate them to policymakers to encourage action in cleaning up the rivers. It was a process that sounds an awful lot like science and science-based policymaking.

I am inordinately fond of the shad, and perhaps I identify with the fish a little too closely. But how could I not? They are stubborn, persistent, maniacally focused creatures, and a legacy of a city I have called home for decades. It took a long, long time before the efforts of all those concerned citizens began to reverse the shad’s fortunes — and only in very recent years has there been some real ground for optimism. Yet the shad’s story provides a shining (albeit at times smelly) example of what can happen when non-professionals become involved in a scientific problem near and dear to their hearts. In some ways, their story mirrors that of my own journey and that of the field to which I have become dedicated: citizen science.

This book is intended to demonstrate the value and vitality of citizen science, and its terrific potential for involving many more everyday people in a dynamic and responsive scientific enterprise. This book is also addressed to people like me: those who, as young students, were not especially interested in dissecting frogs or working out physics problems, and had little desire to become professional researchers or engineers — but who, as adults, find themselves drawn to science, and more than a little curious as to how it shapes the world we live in. In some people, maybe, that interest shows itself as an itch to read about theories on the origins of the universe, or the search for unknown worlds or undiscovered species. Maybe it’s a hunger to know more about what lies behind the ever-rising tide of technological wonders. Maybe the urge is for all things environmental: to know more about climate change or biodiversity or simply what kinds of birds are nesting in the backyard. Or perhaps it’s a quest for greater clarity about the billions of federal tax dollars being spent on scientific research. There are a great number of us with such interests, and citizen science opens up a way for us all to become more involved in following our passions into the realms of research and policymaking.

In the diversity of projects described throughout this volume, the term “citizen science” encompasses a range of activities and involvement on the part of the public, a range large enough to include amateurs searching for hidden galaxies and middle school students documenting microbes culled from their belly buttons. Citizen scientists are often driven by an unending passion, whether to protect a species they care about, to speak up for people suffering from diseases or toxic exposures, or to watch over an ecosystem nearby. As Caren Cooper and Bruce Lewenstein illustrate in Chapter 2, citizen science encompasses at least two main pursuits. One involves citizens voluntarily contributing observations  and data to scientists, who then use this information in research. The other encompasses democratic participation in science and science policy, to ensure that it meets the needs and concerns of citizens. These are not mutually exclusive pursuits; indeed, one naturally engenders the other.

Because of this, citizen scientists can serve in a wide range of roles. Sometimes they are an educated volunteer researcher, collecting data, recording observations, and performing basic analyses. These roles can be especially useful on projects that are difficult to automate, where the human eye can make rapid work of complex problems. While these kinds of involvement have historically often been in one-time or context-specific roles, citizen scientists today can be involved in dozens of projects around the world. Sometimes, for instance, citizens are more active in designing and developing projects from the outset. For others, citizen science may mean a lifetime of government lobbying with science based data. On other occasions, they’re involved in research that would have been impossible a decade ago — like launching cube satellites into orbit.

All these components of citizen science increasingly overlap — that is, engaged citizens participating in scientific research desire a greater voice in how that research is conducted and what goals that research seeks to achieve. My own journey to citizen science certainly bears this out. Read the rest of this entry »

Categories: Citizen Science

National Moth Week is Back!

By July 24th, 2016 at 9:54 am | Comment

Hummingbird Moth (Photo Credit: Larry Lamsa CC BY SA 2.0 Wikimedia Commons)

Hummingbird Moth (Photo Credit: Larry Lamsa CC BY SA 2.0 Wikimedia Commons)

by Nohra Murad

It’s that exciting time of year again: it’s National Moth Week!

But not just any National Moth Week. NMW 2016 marks the fifth year that the Friends of the East Brunswick Environmental Commission has run National Moth Week (NMW), a time for citizen scientists to go out moth-ing in their community. This year’s NMW will be run from July 23 to 31.

David Moskowitz and Liti Haramaty of the commission have been running Moth Nights in their local community since 2005. Since then, Moth Night has turned into an entire week for everyone from the seasoned biologist to the curious toddler to celebrate nature’s diversity together.

What’s so interesting about moths? They’re too often overlooked, but that’s usually because of their incredible ability to blend in with our environment. With wings camouflaged to look like tree bark or dark leaves, they aren’t noticeable, but once they’re flying, their real beauty goes on display.

Moths are also most active during the night, making for great citizen scientist events that can be anything from a grand “moth-ball” to a calm night on your own porch. All that you’ll need is a camera and a nice, strong light to photograph your findings and contribute to the ever-growing database of moth types.

Like any critter, moths will look a little different from place to place, but it’s not until moths of all different sizes and patterns are gathered in one place that you can see how diverse they really are. The same idea works with humans! Anyone can explore the secret night life of moths.

Check out NMW’s map of official events happening near you. There’s lots of exciting ways to get moth-ing!

If you won’t be here for NMW, no worries: the Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA) has an online database year-round for citizen scientists to submit their pictures of moths, butterflies, and caterpillars. You can read about the opportunity here on SciStarter’s website and join in anytime.

Want more citizen science? Check out SciStarter’s Project Finder! With 1100+ citizen science projects spanning every field of research, task and age group, there’s something for everyone!

PocketLab + SciStarter = a [citizen] science lab that fits in your pocket.

By July 23rd, 2016 at 12:06 am | Comment

Screen shot 2016-07-22 at 11.10.08 PM

PocketLab connects with a single button to a smart phone, tablet, Chromebook, or computer and instantly streams data that you can see and record. PocketLab measures motion, acceleration, angular velocity, magnetic field, pressure, altitude, and temperature. Using the PocketLab app, you can easily analyze your data, create graphs, and integrate your data with other software. PocketLab has the same features as lab equipment that costs thousands of dollars but is low cost and intuitive to use.

use coupon code SCISTARTER and save $20 per order!

Use coupon code SCISTARTER and save $20 per order!

SciStarter and PocketLab have teamed up to make it easier for citizen scientists to access PocketLab.

Click here to purchase a PocketLab and be sure to type SCISTARTER as your “coupon code” to receive a discount on your purchase. AND…PocketLab will donate a portion of all sales to SciStarter! A win/win for citizen science!

Soon, we’ll help hundreds of PocketLab owners find awesome citizen science projects in need of their experiments and data!

Here’s more information on PocketLab. If you purchase one, we’d love to hear what you think of it and how you used it!

Poké Around With Citizen Science

By July 22nd, 2016 at 1:39 am | Comment

It's taking the world by storm. How can citizen science benefit? (Credit: Eduardo Woo/(CC BY-SA 2.0)

It’s taking the world by storm. How can citizen science benefit? (Credit: Eduardo Woo/(CC BY-SA 2.0)

by Jennifer Cutraro

By now, you’ve surely seen, heard about, or even joined the hordes of people wandering about outdoors,  phones held right in front of their faces. In the two weeks since Pokémon Go’s release, there’s been much ado about the game: how it gets people outdoors, how it promotes physical activity, how it’s already sparked a robust community of haters, and the risks of playing the game without paying attention to your surroundings.

Risks aside, I’m not the first to be jumping-up-and-down excited about the educational and research opportunities this presents. Within days of Pokémon Go’s launch, entomologist Morgan Jackson created the hashtag #PokeBlitz — a clever mashup of Pokémon and BioBlitz, a type of time-limited biodiversity scavenger hunt. He and a community of scientists and educators are using it on Twitter to help other gamers identify the IRL — in real life — plants and animals they encounter while on their Pokémon adventures. It’s a great way to learn about the plants and animals that share your neighborhood.

Pokémon Go also presents a great opportunity for citizen science — if you’re already out looking for charmeleon and poliwrath, you can contribute to one of many projects around the country looking for information about the (actual)  plants, animals, and even stars you see right in your neighborhood. Here are some projects to help you get started:

If you have no idea what kind of tree, bird, or mushroom you’ve found, that’s  no problem. After you share a photo on Twitter with the #PokeBlitz hashtag, send it along to iNaturalist, where a team of amateur naturalists can also help identify the species you found. iNaturalist has a free app that makes it easy for you to share photos with their community, including a “Help Me ID This Species” button. Every photograph you share with iNaturalist contributes valuable data to scientists monitoring species occurrences around the world. Browse their site to check out photos of plants and animals others in your local community have shared with iNaturalist — a simple and easy way to learn more about nature right in your neighborhood.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Celebrate Urban Birds program is a good starting point for both learning to identify common birds across the country and contributing information about your local species to this important citizen science program. If birds aren’t your thing, take time to smell the flowers, then share the flower’s location and life cycle stage with Project BudBurst, a nationwide phenology monitoring program with a robust collection of curriculum and other materials for educators and families. You can also help scientists learn more about seasonal migration by sending information about songbirds, butterflies, and other species you stumble upon at your PokéStop to Journey North.

If you’re out in the evening, count the number of stars you see for GLOBE at Night, a campaign measuring light pollution around the world. You also can use your phone’s camera to record light pollution levels in your area, data the folks at the Dark Sky Meter project would really like to have. And if you’re lucky enough to see fireflies when you’re outdoors, please share that information with our friends over at Firefly Watch.

To be fair, there’s no shortage of opinion about Pokémon Go — what it means for meaningful outdoor experience, the place of technology in the outdoors, whether it just provides another way to disengage from the world around us. In a thoughtful piece in the New York Times, Richard Louv, author of Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-RIch Life, shares his nuanced perspective on how we might consider Pokémon Go’s potential to encourage people to explore nature. He offers us all a simple frame of reference:  

“Here’s a litmus test: how long does it take a person to look up from the screen and actually experience the natural world?”

To me, that’s a helpful and practical lens through which to view any piece of technology or media. Whether it’s watching TV, playing a game, hanging out on social media or, yes, playing Pokémon Go, we all need to look away from the screen from time to time. You might be more likely to do just that if you also turn your Pokémon Go adventure into an opportunity to get to know your actual neighborhood, learn a little about nature, and contribute to science research along the way.

Want more citizen science? Check out SciStarter’s Project Finder! With 1100+ citizen science projects spanning every field of research, task and age group, there’s something for everyone!