Archive for the ‘Ecology & Environment’ Category
Public Lab’s DIY spectrometry kit makes it possible for citizen scientists to do their own spectrometric analysis at home.
Come to your senses! SciStarter has curated a list of citizen science projects for all five senses.
Spectrometry. Listen to yourself say it out loud. Admit it. It sounds cool just to say “spectrometry.”(Whoa you just did it again!) As fans of Star Trek or Star Wars will attest to, spectrometers are must-have instruments in the scientific arsenal. I’m happy to let you know, however, that the use of a spectrometer (a.k.a ‘spec’) is not limited to fictional, futuristic worlds. In fact, from discovering new chemical elements to measuring DNA, spectrometry is a technique that’s dipped its toes in almost every field of research.
What’s all the fuss about a spectrometer?
Before I talk to you about a spectrometer, let me get into a little bit about the properties of light. You might know that objects appear a certain color because they absorb certain wavelengths of light while reflecting others. For example, leaves appear green because they absorb other colors except green. So if you took some leaf extract in a glass tube and passed light through it on one side, the light that comes out of the other side will have lots of green and little of the other colors (because they were absorbed by the leaf extract).
Put on your scientist hat (or a lab coat) and think about that for a moment. You’ll probably say, “Hey! If I can figure out what specific mix of colors a known substance is made of then I can use that to find out what an unknown substance is made of!” And put simply, that’s what a spec does. It’s an instrument that uses light to determine what a substance is made of.
A spec identifies the specific mix of colors that is absorbed by a sample producing what is known as an ‘absorption spectra‘ which is characteristic of that sample. Think of it like a fingerprint for every material. To do this accurately, the spec needs something that can effectively split light into its constituent colors. One option is to use a prism, which you’ve probably seen at some point. Another way is to use a ‘diffraction grating’ which is a surface with many small parallel lines that can also do the same job of splitting light.
One cool everyday object that acts as a diffraction grating is a CD or DVD. The tiny grooves on the disc act like a grating and split white light giving off the rainbow of colors that you see on its back side. The Public Lab DIY spec uses a DVD as a diffraction grating. The image below describes how a simple DIY spec works. And that’s the Cliffs Notes version. Public Lab’s spectrometer curriculum has lots more detail!
The Public Lab DIY Spectrometer
Our friends over at Public Lab have made it possible for you to do your own spectrometric analysis at home! When it started, the goal of the project was to create a cheap, do-it-yourself spectrometer that anybody could use to analyze materials and contaminants like oil spills and tar residues in urban waterways. In 2012, the team came up with an idea for a spec and crowd-funded it on Kickstarter. The Kickstarter project was a massive success and now Public Lab is selling the DIY desktop kit for $40 in its online store. However, if you prefer to build it from the materials you have at home, they have a great instruction manual for how to make it yourself.
They have also made a smartphone compatible Foldable Mini Spectrometer ($10 in the store) that you can carry around (and show off!). To be able to actually use the spec, the team at PublicLab built an open source software called Spectral Workbench that runs within your browser to help you record and analyze the data you collect. Whether you buy the kit or build it yourself, the Public Lab community has a wiki style page that is a great information resource.
To make it easier to get started, I’ve put together a plan to get you started with making and using your shiny new instrument:
Images: PublicLab.org, Wikipedia
Arvind Sureh graduated with his MS in Cell Biology and Molecular Physiology from the University of Pittsburgh. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biotechnology from PSG College of Technology, India. 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. Connect with him on Twitter, LinkedIn or at his Website.
The Field Photo Library project helps scientists document changes in landscape by sharing crowdsourced and archived field photos from all over the world.
Find more citizen science projects for all five senses on SciStarter.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but what value does “any old geo-tagged photo” hold for a scientist? Field Photo Library (official site) is an app that captures images. It is also a partner project of CoCoRaHS, a project that crowdsources weather data to meteorologists to measure rain, hail, and snow. Nolan Doesken, the state climatologist for Colorado at the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University says, “It is a fun collaborative effort with many potential applications—drought, inter-annual variability, growing season and phenology, land use change, and, over much longer periods of time, climate change. But it will require establishing a baseline and growing the photo archive from there.”
The project encapsulates the meaning of crowdsourced data collection as well as just how broadly images captured with an iPhone app be used. The University of Oklahoma website which offers a link to the app says, “Every day, researchers, students and citizens use GPS cameras and smartphones to take photos in the field as part of their efforts to document their observations of landscapes, agriculture, forests, natural disasters, and wildlife.”
It would seem intuitive that a landscape photo can tell scientists about land use change over time, and about a sudden catastrophe such as a tornado where there exists a very clear ‘before’ and ‘after,’ but what can a field photo tell a researcher about wildlife for example? In part, the answer to that is ‘ground-truth.’ Mark Shafer, the Director of the Southern Climate Impacts Planning Program and an Associate Professor at the University of Oklahoma agreed that a landscape photograph can assist his biology colleagues when they match research findings to actual landscape photographs, for example as part of a comparative habitat study between wet and dry years.
Having everyone taking pictures at approximately the same time allows us to see a landscape as it relates to the things we measure—how it corresponds to the amount of rain that has fallen, or if it looks like something we might expect according to US Drought Monitor. It seems the real benefit now, is to be able to answer questions such as, “Is the land around you as green as the satellite seems to say?”
Shafer says, “We see a lot of data, but there was no consistent baseline. So that was one of the reasons for starting this project—to create a baseline for drought monitoring, and for seasonal changes.”
With Santa Barbara currently experiencing a drought, I scooped up my phone, downloaded the app, and headed out to test-drive Field Photo. This PDF explains how to position yourself in your landscape of choice, which is what I did, before capturing a series of images of a nearby valley. And that was that—done and dusted. All I had to do was email the photos in. Instructions for submitting images are provided on this page.
Until now, the app has only been used by a local Oklahoma audience, often as part of an organized Field Photo Weekend, but as Doesken says, “It is now ready to be promoted to a much wider public audience.” Shafer says it would be remarkable if it went global, but for now they are hosting another Field Photo Weekend that will coincide with Presidents Day on February 15. “It would be wonderful if all 19,000 Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow volunteers took a photo for the database this weekend!”
More about Field Photo Weekend: http://www.southernclimate.org
Submitted images will appear here: http://www.eomf.ou.edu/photos/map/#gallery
Download the app: http://www.eomf.ou.edu/photos/
Email photos to email@example.com
Image: Courtesy of Ian Vorster, looking west across a drought-stricken grassland/open shrubland landscape from a vantage point on the western edge of Santa Barbara, California.
Ian Vorster has a MS in Environmental Communications and most recently served as director of communications at the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts. Prior to that he worked in the health communications field. Ian has served as a designer, writer, photographer, editor and project leader in the field of science, and now works freelance in a blend of these roles.
The non-profit Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science (Public Lab) previously won a Knight News Challenge in 2011 and received $500,000 to fund a tool kit and online community for citizen-based, grassroots data gathering and research. The second Knight News Challenge the group won, a $350,000 Knight award focused on health data, will allow the group to build and deploy inexpensive technologies for monitoring.
Connections between the hacker culture of the 1970s and emerging DIY science continue with the funding of the Homebrew Sensing Project. Born of Public Lab, this project aims to create low-cost sensor technologies for environmental research and monitoring. Following its namesake’s (the homebrew computer club) lead, this project’s participant composition complicates distinctions between expert and hobbyist or amateur.
The three individuals leading up the project are Shannon Dosemagen, Jeffrey Warren, and Mathew Lippincott. I was able to chat with Dosemagen, also a co-Founder of Public Lab, via email. Situating the Homebrew Sensing Project within the Public Lab’s effort tells us a lot about the motivations behind the project. “Public lab,” Dosemagen writes, “isn’t just a nonprofit that creates tools, we’re interested in creating a community.” Connecting with community organizations, NGOs, and research institutions they have created an extensive network that helps connect with a community and connect communities.
Connecting communities and providing a space for them to interact, Public Lab provides what Dosemagen describes as “a space where people with different expertise can interact.” This is a particularly important interaction among different kinds of expertise, including specialized technical as well as local knowledge, and reflects the efforts of Public Lab, Dosemagen tells us, to “recognize that not only researchers linked to academic institutions bring value and expertise to projects such as this, but that everyone can bring something to the table through the experience and knowledge sets that they have.”
Engagement among experts is demonstrated through the “barn raising” activities, events where members of the community come together to create something (be it tool or tutorials), Public Lab undertakes. Winning a another Knight Challenge means that the group can continue such efforts with the Homebrew Sensing Project. This project aims to address growing concerns about exposure to various human-made hazards and the associated risks, including health risks. To do this, the group wants to create inexpensive tools that can be used with mobile devices, allowing community members to take readings and analyze the information without the high costs associated with traditional lab testing. The group will undertake these efforts by refining their hardware and software platforms and developing new ones. As well, Dosemagen writes that a “portion of this grant will go towards supporting an outreach role and community partners,” which means that further community building and crossing of boundaries between communities will be part of this important initiative. If you’re interested in learning more about Public Lab or following this project you can find more information about the project in their news release.
Public Lab’s Homebrew Sensing Project extends their work on a DIY spectrometry project. The initial project, Dosemagen noted, began a few years ago and publicly “launched in 2012 with a Kickstarter” and the results have been impressive. To date, she tells us, Public Lab has ”over 2,000 accounts on SpectralWorkbench.org, over 14,000 spectral samples uploaded, [and] 750 members in the spectrometry Google Group.” In addition to all of this work, the group has “shipped 3,500 spectrometers worldwide that range between a price point of $10 and $70,” with the price point being a particularly notable feature in how accessible that is when compared with traditional spectrometers that typically begin at several thousand dollars.
Ashley Rose Kelly is a Ph.D. candidate in the Communication, Rhetoric, & Digital Media program at North Carolina State University. In August 2014 she will join the faculty in the Brian Lamb School of Communication at Purdue. Ashley studies how emerging technologies may be changing science communication. She also teaches scientific and technical communication courses as well as an introductory course on science, technology, and society. You can find Ashley on Twitter as @ashleyrkelly
Using Citizen Science Weather Data Collection with CoCoRaHS to Meet Common Core and Next Generation Teaching Standards
The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) is hosted by the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University. It is a network of citizen scientists and classrooms (K-12) that participate in a community project to provide weather condition data and precipitation information across the US and Canada. This data is used by the National Weather Service, city managers, the USDA, hydrologists, and emergency managers. It is also a source of data and information for teachers and students. In collaboration with this project the Paleontological Research Institution (PRI) in New York has developed a set of curriculum (ages 8-12) called “Tracking Climate in Your Backyard” that goes along with the CoCoRaHS project to support teachers with additional lesson plans.
Materials You’ll Need:
- A computer with internet access and printer.
- An e-mail address that can be used for creating an account with CoCoRaHS.
- A rain gage from CoCoRaHS (this must be purchased from their organization for standardization, $30)
- Ruler for measuring snow fall and ice.
- Optional: Hail pads (make your own from Styrofoam and aluminum foil), make your own wind gage or use an app., thermometer, kitchen scale.
Why This Citizen Science Project is a Strong Candidate for the Classroom:
- The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network project is appropriate for grades K-12 and can be hosted in urban or rural environments around the US.
- This project may be done by multiple grades or schools in one or area; and classroom data collection sharing may be set up in a school (between grades or classes).
- No minimum amount of participation is required, just as much as you can do.
- The CoCoRaHS project is made to be classroom-friendly with lots of videos, online resources, and lesson plan support, through the NY based Paleontological Research Institution’s “Tracking Climate in Your Backyard” curriculum and the CoCoRaHS website.
- CoCoRaHS is entirely online so it’s easy to access and use. You can upload data directly to their site or you can print forms and send them in.
- There is plenty of data available from their website for downloading (by region and station location) for use in the classroom.
- Students can see maps of precipitation amounts (even locally) and learn geography as well as meteorology.
Educational materials are provided on the CoCoRaHS website along with 4-H lesson plans (elementary to middle school focused) and educational links. There are videos and slideshows on their site about snow measurement, ice accretion, measuring the water content of snow by weight, and reporting drought impacts in a region. Lesson plans from the 4-H page include making rainfall measurements, how to make a cloud in a bottle, cloud types and formation, reading temperature, making a tornado, and lightening. The lesson plans from the affiliated “Tracking Climate in Your Backyard” include water cycle based activities such as rain, snow, temperature activities, wind activities, and climate activities. These are geared towards 8-12 yr. olds.
Online Safety for Children
For this project only one account is required to upload information to the website. This should be the e-mail address of an adult or school account. Students do not need to make individual observations. Data collection should be reported as a “location.”
Common Core and Next Gen. Standards Met:
Next. Gen. Science:
K-ESS2-1 Use and share observations of local weather conditions to describe patterns over time. Students may use the precipitation tracking from this project to help them describe weather patterns over time. The CoCoRaHS 4-H lesson plans on rainfall, clouds, and temperature are helpful support of weather patterns, as well as the “Temperature Through Time” Lesson plan from PRI.
K-ESS3-2 Ask questions to obtain information about the purpose of weather forecasting to prepare for, and respond to, severe weather. Teachers may use the lesson from PRI “Pine-Cones-Mother Nature’s Weather Forecasters” for a hands-on lab. Observations from the class may be used to support discussions.
Literacy: W.K.7 Participate in shared research and writing projects. Students will share in research of precipitation amounts of over time.
Math: MP.2 Reason abstractly and quantitatively. MP.4 Model with mathematics. Students will measure precipitation amounts and model precipitation over time. K.MD.A.1 Describe measurable attributes of objects, such as length or weight. Students may measure the depth of rainfall on a gauge as well as weighing the water. This may also be done with snow pre and post melting. The lesson plan from PRI “Light, Fluffy, Wet, Heavy: How much water is in that snow?” would be helpful.
Next. Gen. Science: 3-ESS2-1 Represent data in tables and graphical displays to describe typical weather conditions expected during a particular season. Teachers may use precipitation data collected by the class to describe weather conditions for the region. Data is also available for download by state and county on the CoCoRaHS website.
Literacy: W.3.7 Conduct short research projects that build knowledge about a topic. W.3.9 Recall information from experience or gather information from print or digital sources; take brief notes on sources and sort evidence into provided categories. Teachers may assign students to analyze data from the precipitation project as well as gathering information from the CoCoRaHS website or other outside sources to discuss patterns and trends over time.
Math: MP.2 Reason abstractly and quantitatively. MP.4 Model with mathematics. Teachers may assign students to analyze data from the precipitation project and model trends over time. 3.MD.A.2 Measure and estimate liquid volumes and masses of objects using standards units. Teachers may use water weights and volumes collected during the duration of the class for measurement. The lesson plan from PRI “Light, Fluffy, Wet, Heavy: How much water is in that snow?” would be helpful. 3.MD.B.3 Draw a scaled picture graph and a scaled bar graph to represent a data set with several categories. Students may represent their precipitation data (mean and median) over time in graphic form.
Middle School & High School
MS-ESS2-5 Collect data to provide evidence for how the motions and complex interactions of air masses results in changes in weather conditions. After collecting data about precipitation during and after major rain events (which may include barometric pressure, rainfall, and wind speed) students may discuss how air masses affected their data results and collected information. The lesson plans from the CoCoRaHS website on cloud types and formation, up drafts, rising air, and temperature may be helpful for demonstrations.
HS-lS4-5 Evaluate the evidence supporting claims that changes in environmental conditions may result in (1) increases in the number of individuals of some species, (2) the emergence of new species over time, and (3) the extinction of other species. Teachers may have students analyze mean temperature and precipitation changes in areas that are known to have sensitive species living in them. Data may be uploaded from the CoCoRaHS website to look at trends over time. Information may then be extrapolated and discussed regarding animal responses to environmental variability. In particular data may be looked at in regions such as Canada where permafrost and glacial ice are important, or even in desert regions or areas where flooding has been significant over the past few years.
When not writing her blog The Infinite Spider, Karen McDonald is a guest blogger, curriculum developer, science content editor, and outdoor educator with over thirteen years in informal science education. She has an MS in Biology and a BS in Environmental Science and Philosophy. Currently she works for Smithsonian and contracts for Discovery Channel.
Is your friend or family member an ornithologist, a conservationist, or a general appreciator of the environment? How about a Baltimore Orioles or Philadelphia Eagles fan? Stanford Cardinal? Consider adopting a bird through Audubon’s gift program! (Orioles, eagles, and cardinals among a number of other birds are all available for adoption). For $30, through the adoption program, the recipient will be given a personalized card showcasing their adoption, a year subscription the Audubon magazine, and a year of membership to the National Audubon Society. Your donation will support Audubon’s programs aimed toward conserving and restoring natural ecosystems for birds and other wildlife.
The adoption program contributes to Audubon’s efforts to protect flight paths that birds use during migration, or flyways, and other important bird areas around the world. Through Audubon’s work with local chapters, conservation partners, and citizen scientists, the organization has identified over 370 million acres (more land than California and Texas combined) in the U.S. for active monitoring and restoration to ensure birds safe passage and healthy breeding. A case in point is the Atlantic flyway, which is home to roughly 150 important bird areas prioritized by Audubon. Spanning diverse ecosystems all the way from Maine to Florida, the Atlantic flyway is a passageway for over 500 different species, totaling millions of individual birds. One of the main challenges posed to the birds that depend on this flyway for habitation and migration is the populous nature of the region – although the Atlantic flyway covers a tenth of the nation’s landmass, it is inhabited by one third of the nation’s people. Urban development, climate change and overfishing have adversely affected the avian community and have rendered 40% of the resident species in need of conservation. Sadly, some species’ populations have decreased by as much as half in recent years.
This year, you can choose to adopt the Atlantic puffin, a protected bird in the Atlantic flyway and a great choice for the holiday season. Donations through the adoption program have supported Project Puffin which has restored puffins to their historic nesting habitat in the Gulf of Maine. In 1973, just two small colonies of puffins existed in Maine. Over years of transplanting puffins from colonies in Newfoundland and extensive monitoring and habitat sustainment by ecologists, there are now over 1,000 puffins in Maine. These birds, with their unique beak coloring, can fly up to 55 miles per hour (which is faster than a racehorse can run) and can dive 200 feet underwater. Puffins usually mate for life and return to their home burrowing grounds to breed, a critical factor for the success of the repopulation of the Maine site. In spite of the project’s productive results, more pufflings and adult birds died last year than in all previous years of the the project. Biologists suspect that recent increases in temperature of the Atlantic Ocean have contributed to changing fish populations that puffins prey on, affecting the viability of this Atlantic flyway resident. Audubon employs a combination of supporting science and education and habitat conservation to aid in the recovery of the Atlantic puffin population.
Sheetal Modi is a postdoctoral fellow at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University where she studies how bacteria develop and spread antibiotic resistance. She has a PhD in Biomedical Engineering, and when she’s not growing her bacterial cultures (and repeatedly killing them), she enjoys science communication and being outside.