Archive for the ‘Science Centers’ Category

Bridging the Gaps: Integrating Citizen Science Throughout an Institution

By June 1st, 2014 at 9:09 pm | Comment

At the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences (NCMNS), Raleigh, we’ve made citizen science a priority, because we recognize its power to teach people about the natural world and the role of science in their daily lives. The value of the citizen scientist is apparent throughout our museum, including in our research and collections, educational programs, exhibits, and outdoor facility, Prairie Ridge Ecostation. We constantly improve our public science offerings to reach out to our visitors and engage them in scientific experiences.

Research and collections
The strength of our citizen science program lies largely in its integration with research conducted at NCMNS. For decades, our curators have conducted research on our geological and biological collections from North Carolina and beyond. With the opening of the Nature Research Center wing in 2012, we added four glass-walled research labs visible to our visitors to highlight museum research and allow scientists and the public to work together to solve scientific problems.

Researchers in the labs are dedicated to providing public science opportunities to our visitors and periodically open the labs to collect samples for the Meet Your (Face) Mites! or the Primate Armpit Microbiome projects, or to share the biodiversity discovered through the Arthropods in Your Home project. The researchers routinely give public talks in our three-story Daily Planet Theater to share the results of these citizen science projects and discuss their other research projects with visitors. Through these dialogues, visitors actively contribute to research in progress by sharing their hypotheses and interpretations of our research.

Exhibits
Citizen science is integrated throughout NCMNS’s exhibits. We have one of the first dedicated citizen science exhibitions, the Citizen Science Center, where we invite visitors to learn about citizen science and explain how to get involved. Citizen Science Center visitors participate in projects through computer stations, cart programs, and hands-on workshops. For example, visitors might classify whale calls, identify ladybugs, or go outside to document the biodiversity around the museum for our new Natural North Carolina project.

Visitors can browse hundreds of citizen science opportunities worldwide through our SciStarter kiosk, an exhibit-friendly version of the SciStarter website. SciStarter developed this kiosk for NCMNS and is now making it available to others.

NCMNS also houses public educational Investigate Labs that offer opportunities for visitors to get hands-on experience with scientific tools and techniques and to participate in citizen science projects. For example, our Visualization Investigate Lab currently features eMammal, a mammal-tracking project using camera traps. Visitors identify animals from camera trap footage collected at our outdoor Prairie Ridge Ecostation facility, and NCMNS researchers then analyze the results. To be sure they’re doing quality work, a trained technician later double-checks the identifications.

Educational programs
Our educational programs bring citizen science opportunities to students throughout North Carolina. For example, the Shad in the Classroom program engages students in ongoing conservation efforts by having them rear fish in their classrooms and release them into local rivers, while teaching them about conservation, ecology, and watersheds. The students collect basic data on the fish, such as survival rates, and the program will soon expand to include a genetic analysis component.

Visitors to our Prairie Ridge Ecostation participate in hands-on, nature-focused citizen science projects while enjoying a beautiful natural setting in the heart of an urban environment. For example, visitors can count and identify birds for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society’s eBird program or collect and identify water scorpions in the pond for our Wading for Water Sticks project.

Thanks to a $7 million (U.S.) National Science Foundation Math and Science Partnership grant (DRL-1319293) awarded in collaboration with North Carolina State University’s Your Wild Life program, we are improving our integration of scientific research and educational programming. The Students Discover project funds postdoctorates conducting original cutting-edge research in the museum’s labs and partners them with middle school teachers participating in the Kenan Fellows program, which provides research experience and professional development for K–12 teachers in North Carolina. Together, researchers and teachers will develop curriculum for new citizen science projects where middle school students will form hypotheses and collect data. These data will then be used by the researchers to support their research efforts. Once these programs have been piloted in North Carolina schools, we will offer them free of charge to schools worldwide through the Your Wild Life website. The first modules are expected to be available later this year, and more projects will be added as they’re developed.

Integrating strong research into a variety of educational opportunities throughout NCMNS has allowed us to bring real science to our visitors on site and online. Citizen science is a powerful tool that gives visitors an opportunity to learn by doing while supporting ongoing research efforts worldwide. We encourage everyone to take advantage of the benefits of citizen science.

Five tips for building an institution-wide citizen science program
There are many ways to integrate citizen science into your institution, from quick and simple to more involved and complex. For those interested in developing, building, and maintaining a strong institution-wide citizen science program, we offer these suggestions:

1. Make citizen science an institutional priority. You might even write it into your mission statement to keep everyone engaged.

2. Designate a citizen science contact for your facility. Integrating citizen science throughout a museum or science center requires cross-departmental communication. Having staff to bridge the gaps between departments will help you achieve your goals.

3. Provide a dedicated space within your facility where visitors can learn about and participate in citizen science. Consider offering a cart program if space is limited.

4. Play to your strengths. If you have researchers, encourage them to develop citizen science projects based on their research. If not, hundreds of citizen science projects are available for your educators or exhibits staff to use. For ideas, we recommend browsing the existing citizen science projects at SciStarter.

5. Collaborate with other organizations. Collaborations allow multiple facilities to bring together their individual strengths. Talk to other museums and science centers or local universities when you need help. Consider joining ASTC’s new Citizen Science Community of Practice to help get some of those conversations started.

Release Date: May 30, 2014

ASTC Logo: Copyright © Association of Science-Technology Centers Incorporated, 2014. All rights reserved.

This originally appeared in the ASTC Dimensions Blog.

Getting flashed by the Moon?

By March 3rd, 2014 at 1:17 pm | Comment

Monitor the rates and sizes of meteoroids striking the moon with the Lunar Impact Monitoring project.

Citizen science after hours…here are some citizen science projects you can do at night.

Moon-craters

By now you’ve probably seen Gravity, and maybe you figured real astronauts don’t have to worry about projectiles, flying debris, or explosions. After all, the stars seem so calm from Earth, and the only turbulence we see on the surface of the moon are the waves breaking its reflection over the river. But sometimes, if you look long enough (even with the naked eye), you can spot a meteorite hurtling into Earth’s atmosphere with a flash. Approximately 73,000 lbs, about two large truckloads, of rock streaks through the Earth’s atmosphere each day. Earth’s atmosphere causes the meteorites to burn out before they do any damage, but the Moon has no protection against meteorites and neither do spacecraft or astronauts who might be working on or near the Moon. Potential for catastrophe? Worthy of little globes of Sandra Bullock tears? I’d say so.

To understand what risk these meteorites pose to spacecraft and their crews working in the lunar environment, astronauts have to know how often meteorites impact the moon, what size, and with how much force. Astronomers have been able to see the meteorites hitting the Moon for years – it doesn’t take much. When a meteorite strikes the Moon, it explodes in a flash that can be caught with only an 8 to 14 inch telescope and a clear sky. Since 2006, NASA astronomers like Rob Suggs say they “point telescopes at the night portion of the moon and record video from sensitive cameras,” which they analyze later. Simple as that, the Lunar Impact Monitoring Project at NASA was born.

Image courtesy of George Varros. A lunar impact flash on the Moon from March 13, 2008.

Suggs says NASA began seeking out the help of citizen scientists immediately: “Many amateur astronomers have equipment similar to what we use.” By having more eyes on the moon, NASA can greatly increase the likelihood of seeing a lunar impact flash. The scientists want to be able to see as much as possible but sometimes, Suggs says, “we are clouded out or the Moon has set at our observatories while the Moon may still be visible from an amateur astronomer’s backyard.”

And sometimes amateur astronomers are the ones who end up seeing the impact. George Varros, a citizen scientist volunteer who has been involved with the Lunar Impact Monitoring Project since 2006, has already caught several impacts on camera. Varros first got involved with the project in part because of a lifelong love of astronomy, but he also says he recognized NASA was asking the amateur astronomy community to do “solid science, and it was not very difficult to do.” Even so, Varros says that the work “does take an effort and several hours, several nights, of imaging might elapse before you record [an impact],” but the wait is well worth it. Capturing an image, he says, is the best part. Already, the project has been able to catch the birth of a new crater and 300 flashes.

Once an image is caught on tape, NASA scientists can try to correlate the impact with a meteor shower they know about and use that information to learn the speed and size of the meteorite.  Often, these meteorite can fly through space eighty times faster than the fastest jet on Earth. So far, meteorites haven’t been known to destroy any spacecraft, but some people say that some in-space anomalies – bumps and bruises – have been from meteorites.

Whatever violence the rocks are causing up in space, lunar monitoring is still a peaceful experience from Earth. Suggs says it’s been thrilling to see impacts from the project and “seeing the new crater that Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter detected from our March 17, 2013, impact was extremely exciting and satisfying.” But his favorite part of the project is still sitting out and watching the sky. Suggs says, “I enjoy the observing: just me and the telescopes and the Moon in the middle of the night.”

Images: Wikimedia (top), courtesy of George Varros (GIF)


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.

Announcing the SciStarter kiosk interface for schools, museums and public areas.

By December 13th, 2012 at 5:21 pm | Comment

SciStarter Kiosk

Earlier today, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences hosted “E.O. Wilson’s Global Town Hall,” with biologist Edward Osborne Wilson, University Research Professor Emeritus at Harvard. In anticipation of this exciting event, the museum revamped its Citizen Science Center and added new features.

“I am especially pleased that we now offer a SciStarter kiosk in our exhibit as it will provide museum visitors access to hundreds of citizen science projects with a few clicks of the mouse,” said Chris Goforth, manager of Citizen Science at the Museum and the brains behind one of our favorite citizen science projects, the Dragonfly Swarm!
“SciStarter has an unparalleled ability to match the public with citizen science projects, regardless of their interests, and does a great job of highlighting how anyone, anywhere can become a citizen scientist. It is a most welcome addition to our citizen science exhibit.”

The SciStarter kiosk is designed to prevent random web surfing while enabling visitors to “shop” for their favorite citizen science projects from among the more than 500 curated projects featured in the SciStarter Project Finder. Visitors can simply email their “shopping cart” to themselves so they can get get started later!

If you would the SciStarter Kiosk interface in your school, science center or other public area, please email info@scistarter.com to learn more.