Archive for the ‘Do-It-Yourself’ Category
Public Lab has launched Spectral Challenge, a two-part crowd funded project to improve the use of open source spectrometers. A spectrometer is a common research tool which uses light to identify an unknown substance’s chemical composition.
Last year, members of the PLOTS community successfully developed a versatile and user friendly $40 spectrometer. While more accessible, the difficulty is making such open source technology reliable. That is where this new project comes in.
Spectral Challenge Stage 1 “Collaboration” ask participants to develop methodology which will improve and standardize the use of open-source spectrometers. Techniques need to be documented and submitted by May 31. The winning team will receive $1000 from the crowd funded prize pool.
Stage 2 “Real World Use” applies these improved methods for research on environmental pollutants such as petroleum or toxic heavy metals. Stage 2 starts June 5 and more details of the competition will follow. Winners will receive 80% of the prize pool money and the remaining 20% will be used to promote future open source technology through the Public Lab nonprofit.
Public Lab emerged from a collaboration between the Grassroots Mapping Community and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade following the 2010 BP oil spill. Its mission is to foster civic science by developing various open-source tools to further environmental research. These tools could be used by formal researchers and citizen scientists alike. Back in September 2012, SciStarter joined with Public Lab to help promote their tools as they related to citizen science projects in the SciStarter Project Finder.
Scientific research aims to answer questions, progress disciplinary knowledge, and ultimately better society by providing new applications of technology and ideas toward common problems. But, over time, the products of our countless research projects, while potentially still useful, go unutilized, and can be forgotten in the basements of University libraries or the dusty archives of journal collections.
This perhaps all too common problem is exactly the motivation behind an new exciting project called Marblar.
The premise: Marblar provides you with the overlooked technologies and ideas, and you – the citizen scientist – provide the applications. Non-traditional, yes, but it’s challenging, engaging, and a fun game where citizen scientists can compete with other across the globe.
I recently spoke with co-founder Dan Antonio Perez to find out his hopes for the project and what he thought of Marblar’s role in citizen science.
“Collaboration is the focus,” Dan said.
The Marblar team spends a lot of time identifying the most interesting technology that can inspire Marblars and generate the most useful applications. Current technologies include a a microchip that can harness the power of motion, ‘Super Foams’ made from emulsions, and a brand new desalination device.
Marblars are given three weeks to post their ideas, discuss with other players, and even collaborate with the inventors to arrive at a final solution. While there are some small cash rewards and other small prizes for top entries, the real reward, Dan says, is that users have a chance to participate in meaningful science and help create ideas with potential.
Through the amazingly easy-to-use Marblar interface, I was also able to speak with several of the top Marblars who have been involved in this process.
Dave, a Biochemistry Ph.D. student studying at The University of Oxford, claimed that the prizes were not important to him. Rather, he was excited to collaborate with people from diverse scientific backgrounds.
After years out of the lab, a top Marblar user, Maria, was excited to get back into the thrill of scientific discussion.
Juan Carlos, a University researcher, was most interested in the fact that in discussing ideas, he was able to get feedback from users outside of his discipline.
This type of broad, multi-discipline collaboration is what makes Marblar such a unique citizen science activity. There is really something for everyone who is interested in science. And they are only getting started. Dan sees Marblar as having great potential for engaging the public and offering a fun way for citizens to engage with some really great minds in science.
It’s science. I’ts a game. And it’s fun. Marblar has some lofty goals, but from my first impressions, they have already achieved quite a bit. I can’t wait to see what’s next.
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!
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
When you wake up in the morning and start your daily routine—take a shower, brush your teeth, cook breakfast—do you ever stop to wonder where all that water you’re using comes from? It’s availability (or lack thereof) is certainly not a common worry in the United States, where as of 2005 (the latest assessment of national water use conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey) about 86 percent of the population relies on public water supplies for household use. Turn a faucet handle, and water, the world’s most precious, life-giving resource, is simply there, ready to cool us or clean us or quench us of our thirst, wherever we need it, whenever we want it.
But for how much longer? Climate change, pollution and unprecedented global demand are already threatening the world’s water supply according to a United Nations World Water Development Report released earlier this year. (SciStarter partnered with Discover Magazine, the National Science Foundation and NBC Learn to explore the Future of Water as part of our Changing Planet series.)
In response to these challenges, two international nonprofit organizations, the Water Environment Federation (WEF) and the International Water Association (IWA), partnered up to launch a challenge of their own.
Today, September 18, is World Water Monitoring Day, a key component of the broader World Water Monitoring Challenge that runs from March 22 to December 31. Thousands of people from around the world will use low cost monitoring kits to test their local water bodies for the basic indicators of watershed health–temperature, acidity, turbidity, and dissolved oxygen—and enter their results into a shared online database. It’s not too late to get involved. The program’s administrators hope that participants will not only learn which rivers, lakes, streams and reservoirs supply their communities but also become aware of the unique combination of environmental challenges each one faces.
“These are issues the next generation will have to cope with,” said Lorien Walsh of the Water Environment Federation. “The water we drink today is the same water people have been drinking for thousands of years. It is a finite resource, and we can’t use it if it’s not clean.”
In 2011, over 300,000 people from nearly 80 countries participated in the World Water Monitoring Challenge. Taking clean water for granted might be common in the United States, but it is a luxury people can ill afford in the developing world, where three million people, most of them women and children, die from water-borne illnesses like cholera every year.
“Kids in Kansas can see the data they collected and compare it to the data collected by kids in the Congo,” said Walsh. “There’s a stark difference.”
It happens every year, and you’re right: it’s just not fair. After nearly three months of uninterrupted fun, gone are the barbeques, ball games and pool parties that dominated the summer schedule just as Labor Day signals the sudden arrival of the shorter, colder, and more structured days of the school year. But before you cast yourself into the depths of the autumn blues, rest assured that we are working hard to make this year’s science lessons a little different and—especially if you like nature and the outdoors—a little more fun!
Below is our third annual “Back-to-School” list of projects recommended to get teachers and students thinking about how to incorporate citizen science in the classroom. Check out our previous installments (2011, 2010) for additional ideas.
Participate in Project BudBurst: The National Ecological Observatory Network invites student citizen scientists to submit their observations of the phenophases (leafing, flowering, fruit ripening) of local grasses, shrubs and trees. This data will be compiled and compared to historical figures to help scientists learn more about the responsiveness of specific plant species to climate change. Their teachers, meanwhile, might consider enrolling in the BudBurst Academy, an online course for K-12 educators providing all the necessary information for implementing Project Budburst and engaging in citizen science in your classroom.
Plan your own BioBlitz: Even (or perhaps especially) if you missed the 2012 BioBlitz co-hosted by the National Park Service and the National Geographic Society, consider planning your own in your own neighborhood or schoolyard. These biodiversity snapshots provide valuable data for analysis of local species and their habitats.
Count some bugs: Don’t let those math skills go to waste! SciStarter features several opportunities to count stuff, particularly insects and other creepy crawlies. Just pick your favorite: dragonflies, butterflies, bumble bees, spiders, ants, and worms.
Heads up: So bugs aren’t you’re thing. No problem. How about some astronomy? You can grow tomatoes to assess the feasibility of long-term space travel; search for the compound that stores solar power and thus solves the world’s energy crisis; craft a story about your favorite astronomical bodies; or help astronomers search for and identify new planets and stars!
Be a mapmaker: The U.S. Geological Survey is considering the restoration of The National Map Corps, its volunteer mapping initiative, launching a pilot program in the state of Colorado. Anyone with an Internet connection can update the national map, adding the important man-made structures throughout the community such as hospitals, fire stations, and schools. The USGS could expand the program into other areas in the future if its initial efforts are successful. Come on Colorado!
Enter on the side of the building. Look carefully, or else you’ll miss the sign. Walk down the stairs and turn right. Never mind the lack of windows, dim lighting, and pungent smell of coffee grinds. You have now entered FreeGeek, an underground lair of a nonprofit that harnesses the power of local volunteers to recycle, rebuild, and re-sell used computers. Welcome.
I recently volunteered at the Chicago chapter of FreeGeek, a national movement that began in Portland, Oregon, as a simple idea. The organization aims to recycle computer technology and provide low-and no-cost computing to the economically disadvantaged as well as not-for-profit social change organizations.
Not only that – FreeGeek’s most unique asset is that they are entirely run by volunteers (even some staff members are volunteers)! Each week, they provide comprehensive training to educate anyone and everyone about computers: how to strip them down, build them, recycle them, etc. You can show up with zero knowledge of computers and end the day knowing exactly what PCI, RAM, and BIOS stand for (and walk away with a slew of other tech acronyms under your belt to boot!).
What may come as a comfort to those of you with no formal background in science is the fact that some of the most devoted volunteers of FreeGeek Chicago come from professional paths such as museum curation, social sciences, and business administration. These are individuals who just happen to be knowledgeable and passionate about educating the public about computer technology.
There’s something in FreeGeek for everyone interested in contributing to the citizen science movement. Volunteers run the show, so anyone can join in. FreeGeek provides all the necessary training. The end product benefits the economically disadvantaged. If you ask me, it’s a win-win-win situation.
Whether you are passionate about technology, curious about computers, need to log community service hours, or all of the above, FreeGeek’s lair doors are open to anyone and everyone. Check to see if there is a chapter near you!
SciStarter also has plenty of other computer- and technology-related projects you can browse!
What would you do if you had one week to control a research satellite?
That probably depends on who you are. Amateur photographers might want to take time-lapse photos of the moon to frame in series in their living room. University researchers might want to measure levels of ozone variation on earth across earth’s latitudes. A high school teacher might want to set up the ultimate class project to challenge their students to be real scientists. There might even be someone brave enough to beam down a cosmic marriage proposal!
The great news is that all of these possibilities can become realities with the ArduSat Project.
When I first heard of the ambitious nature of the project I was admittedly a little weary. But, after seeing the amount of initial support and the details of how the project will be funded and carried out, I now believe that the ArduSat Project is an amazingly unique and innovative way for the public to become involved in actual space exploration.
The ArduSat (Arduino Satellite) utilizes state of the art Arduino Processors to process data from over 25 sensors, all housed within a 10cm x 10cm x 10cm CubeSat miniature satellite. Participants will be able to collaborate with others to formulate, test, and ultimately deploy publicly designed applications to run experiments.
What makes this all possible is a unique funding plan set up through the project’s Kickstarter Campaign. The campaign site also has all the information you will need to get started with the project. As with any Kickstarter project, based on the amount you pledge, you are rewarded with increasingly enticing awards. Rewards start at very reasonable pledge amounts and include chances to have satellite photos sent right to your email inbox, development packages to design advanced Arduino based applications, and reserved satellite time to run experiments.
The Kickstarter campaign ends July 15th and has a goal of $35,000 – so hurry and reserve your spot! Plus, Discover is running a contest until July 6th, to determine the application with the most innovative use of ArduSat. The grand prize is the $1,500 advanced sensor package and a full week to run your experiment. All you have to do to enter is join the campaign at the $1 level! This is an outstanding opportunity to challenge your science class, friends, and fellow space buffs to come together and be handsomely rewarded for inventive ideas.
The possibilities with this project are truly endless, allowing citizen scientists all over the world a amazing opportunity to engage in space exploration. So let your imagination run wild and get involved!
What does it mean to think scientifically?
If you asked me this question when I first moved back to New York three years ago, I’m quite positive I would have said something like, “What do I know? I’m not a scientist,” and pointed the questioner in the direction of the nearest pocket-protecting nerd in the vicinity.
Science was never one of my best subjects (I can still remember my high school physics teacher, Dr. Moroni, speeding out of the parking lot in his Pontiac Aztek to avoid telling me that I had failed the final exam). In fact, it was the very last thing I thought I would get involved in upon settling into my artsy Brooklyn neighborhood in 2008 to write my first novel. However, since my discovery of citizen science through the Earthwatch Institute and WildMetro, I now consider myself an unofficial member of the super hip NYC science community, whose events on such sexy topics as the dark matter and neuroscience are more likely to be full of trendy 30-somethings sipping beer out of plastic cups than pale, lab coat wearing individuals with microscope indentations around their eyes.
To begin a journey into the realm of the scientific mind, let’s go back in time about 177 years ago, when the word “scientist” first appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary. Before this transitional moment in human history, people we would now think of as scientists were called “natural philosophers” – those who studied the workings of nature. Some of these philosophers, such as Anton van Leeuwenhoek and Michael Faraday, had little formal training in their chosen subjects, but came to learn about science through a personal desire to come up with answers to their individual questions about the universe. Science was less a profession or an academic field as it was a way of thinking about the world and understanding its mysteries through direct observation.
In some ways, the study of science was more accessible two hundred years ago than it is in today’s science classrooms, where students are typically tested on their ability to remember the answers to hundreds of questions that have already been answered, rather than being encouraged to look up at the sky or at a blade of grass and come up with questions of their own.
During the past week, I’ve experienced nature from a state of semiconsciousness in my bed. Almost every morning, the same lonely male cardinal practices his songs for spring, occasionally interrupted by a pair of blue jays imitating a hawk or a small flock of monk parakeets flying overhead from their nests.
There’s something special about doing citizen science from your bedroom with your eyes closed – even if I have yet to find a project that will accept data that is taken while you’re half-asleep.
A couple of days ago, I had a brilliant idea: citizen science from the comfort of my bed! I can count the stars, peer through my window at birds (which has the additional benefit of freaking out the neighbors), and measure snow accumulating on my fire escape – all without experiencing the February cold!
I tried this for a couple of hours one morning, attempting to conduct as many scientific experiments as possible from my 8×4 foot bedroom. Yet, something was missing from the experience. I found myself getting bored and my mind floating between the unread emails in my inbox and the uneaten chocolate in the refrigerator. So, the next morning, I threw on some warm clothes, filled up a travel mug with hot coffee, and headed over to Prospect Park to figure out what was missing.