Archive for the ‘smart phone apps’ Category

Recording The Noise Scape of Your Life with NoiseTube

By February 19th, 2014 at 6:17 pm | Comment

NoiseTube allows citizen scientists to monitor noise pollution with a mobile app.

Come to your senses! SciStarter has curated a list of projects for all 5 senses.

Pristine view or noise pollution?

Pristine view or noise pollution?

I was overjoyed the first time I heard the peaceful fountain, twittering bird song, and gentle rustle of wind through the trees oustide my office window. Then, one morning in early January, I opened the windows to a cacophony of new, and unwelcomed, sounds – cars on the freeway, backhoes and bulldozers beeping, chainsaws buzzing. The developers had arrived with their manmade noise pollution and associated health risks. But how loud is this new racket wafting in on the breeze?

NoiseTube was developed by the Sony Computer Science Laboratory in Paris and the BrusSense Team at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel to empower citizen scientists to measure and record their daily exposure to noise. According to Dr. Ellie D’Hondt, a scientist with BrusSense, “The volunteers helping out in these campaigns are essential… we are showing that participatory maps are just as useful as the ones made by official approaches.”

Once the free mobile app (available for iOS, Android, and Java ME-based smartphones) is downloaded, your mobile phone is transformed into a noise-sensing machine. Curious how noisy the school run is? Is the ‘sound of silence’ really deafening? Are theme parks louder than crashing waves? Simply launch the app and record your noise exposure on-the-go to find out. Once your tracks are uploaded, you can compare your experiences with others around the globe.

Since its launch in 2008, over 2250 citizen scientists representing more than 652 cities in 75 countries have contributed sound tracks to the project. The top seven cities – Paris, Brussels, Zagreb, Hoeilaart, Aachen, Brooklyn, and Braunschweig; account for over 1000 minutes, or 16.67 hours, of recordings.

WommelgemMap

Citizen scientists identify traffic noise in Wommelgem, Belgium.

After analyzing data from just one city, Wommelgem, Belgium, Dr. D’Hondt explains, “I learned interesting things – where red lights were, where there were traffic slowers, and how locals would related these to colours on the noise map.” But how can a noise map show where red lights are? Through collaboration and feedback from local citizen scientists, Dr. D’Hondt discovered that a red light was located on the high dB(A) side of a roundabout (pictured). Eventually, Dr. D’Hondt would like to understand how loudness correlates positively and/or negatively with fun experiences.

While helping scientists understand how people perceive their daily soundscape, researchers hope to engage city planners by providing them with evidence to improve zoning and building regulations. “Getting the techniques to be accepted by authorities is still difficult at times.” Dr. D’Hondt observes. “Cities struggle with these norms [noise assessment guidelines] and often don’t have the means to include more modern techniques [such as participatory sensing].” The BrusSense lab has shown that citizen scientists contribute high quality data and that “Particpatory Noise Mapping Works!” – supporting the continued acceptance and democratisation of grassroots citizen scientist projects to explore the world around us.

Armed with my NoiseTube, I’m dying to know how the backhoes and bulldozers compare to rustling leaves or the cheering crowds at this weekend’s race. How might your experiences with fresh crunching snow compare to those of crashing waves? Why not grab your mobile phone and record the soundscape of our modern lives?

Photos: Melinda T. Hough and NoiseTube


Dr Melinda T. Hough is a freelance science advocate and communicator dedicated to sharing the inspiring stories of life science and helping the general public explore their world. She holds a PhD from the University of Edinburgh for research into how antibiotics kill bacteria, was a policy fellow at the National Academy of Sciences, and is a published photographer. Naturally curious, it is hard to tear Melinda away from science.  Not content to stay stateside, she might be found exploring, often behind the lens of her Nikon D80 or plotting her next epic adventure.

Spec-tacular Science: Use Public Lab’s DIY Spectrometer to find out what stuff is made of!

By February 19th, 2014 at 12:01 pm | Comment

PublicLab Spectrometer Project. Images: publiclab.org

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.

Emission_spectrum-Fe

Spectrum produced by iron

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.

DVD as a diffraction grating

DVD as a diffraction grating for a spectrometer

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:

Getting Started

1. What would you like to do with your spec? Check out this page of spectrometry activities. You can also look up this really cool (and really big!) Kickstarter backers-suggested list of ideas. For fun experiments you can test things like coffee, wine or beer! On a more serious note, you can read about detecting pesticides in fruits. At the end I would suggest you make a list of 2-3 experiments you want to try (if it’s your first time experimenting with a spec, start with an easy one!)

2. Buy the kit or make one yourself. Here’s the list of materials you will need (from the Public Lab website) and here are the instructions.

  • stiff black card paper
  • a clean DVD-R
  • a USB webcam (preferably HD)
  • a Type LB conduit body (basically a light-proof box with a couple holes)
  • double-sided foam tape and a box cutter/x-acto knife

3. Ready with your spec? Now read up about how to use Spectral Workbench, the software that PublicLab has built to help you capture and analyze your data. You can also watch the introductory video. Spectral workbench also has an open source database of spectra for different materials that you can compare yours to.

4. Connect your spec and fire up Spectral Workbench. Make sure to calibrate your spec using a fluorescent light bulb. This will ensure that your readings are accurate and can be compared between samples.

5. Based on your project, find out how you can prepare your samples for testing.

6. Get some science done! Document your research and share it with the PublicLab community (you will need to sign up to post your research notes). Get input from your fellow citizen scientists to answer questions you might have or improve your experiment.

7. (Optional but definitely recommended!) If Scistarter helped you get started, tell us how it worked out. Give us a shout out on Twitter or Facebook! If you haven’t already, sign up to learn about cool projects in the future.

 

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.

From the Redwoods Forest to the Gulf Stream Waters: Mapping Redwoods Helps Conservation Efforts

By September 16th, 2013 at 2:10 pm | Comment

This post is part of this week’s featured projects about other tree projects. Branch out into citizen science and take a look!

RedwoodsStanding among Redwood trees is truly a humbling experience – driving amidst these giants of the plant kingdom, I couldn’t help imagining I had time-travelled back to Earth’s Mesozoic Era when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Yet, in the throes of climate change, even these titans are threatened as their ecosystem changes. To address this, Save the Redwoods League (SLR) has launched the Redwoods Watch project to harness the power of citizen scientists to map these trees across the globe.

By understanding the climate in which redwoods currently exist, the scientists at SLR can figure out how their habitat has been altered in the last century and predict where it will shift as a result of climate change. This is critical information for SLR, as their Science Director Dr. Emily Burns states, “If we know where the trees are, we’re going to make better decisions as we’re doing our other conservation activities.”

To participate, citizens need only to download the easy-to-use iphone app, snap a photo of the specimen, and submit the evidence. The app uses the phone’s GPS to record the location of the tree, and this info is correlated to produce a map of the redwoods. To help new users, SLR has produced a short video informational video:

Dr. Burns describes that one of the reasons for taking the citizen science approach to tree mapping is that SLR is “hoping to get folks out into corners of the redwood forest that we don’t visit frequently.” However, you can still help even if do not live near a native forest – SLR is curious about horticultural redwoods too, the data are just used differently. Whereas redwoods mapped in their natural areas help with climate modeling predictions, the redwoods mapped in horticultural settings help to understand the extremes in which the trees can exist.

So don’t worry if you’ve never stepped foot in a redwood forest. Dr. Burns asserts, “We encourage people to, when they see a redwood, let us know about it.”

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Emily Lewis is a PhD candidate in chemistry at Tufts University, where she analyzes industrially important catalysts on the nanoscale. She received her BS and MS degrees from Northeastern University, and her thesis work examined fuel cell catalysts under real operating conditions. She loves learning about energy and the environment, exploring science communication, and investigating the intersection of these topics with the policy world. When she’s not writing or in the lab, you’ll probably spot Emily at the summit of one of the White Mountains in NH. Follow her: @lewisbase, emilyannelewis.com.

A Picture Saves 1,000 Streams – Water Quality Monitoring on Your Smartphone

By September 9th, 2013 at 10:36 am | Comment 1

This post is part of this week’s featured projects about water quality monitoring. Take a look!

Creek Watch iphone appDespite over 70% of the Earth’s surface being covered in water, one in nine people do not have access to an improved water source.(1) Contaminated water kills more people than all wars, crimes and terrorism combined yet more people have a mobile phone than a toilet.(1,2,3) Every day, on our way to work or school or play, we encounter local water supplies, subconsciously noting their health. Could improving water quality be as simple as snapping a photo on your smart phone?

Creek Watch was developed by IBM research – Almaden, in consultation with the California Water Resources Control Board’s Clean Water Team, to empower citizen scientists to observe and monitor the health of their local watersheds. According to Christine Robson, an IBM computer scientist who helped develop Creek Watch, “Creek Watch lets the average citizen contribute to the health of their water supply – without PhDs, chemistry kits and a lot of time.”

Creek Watch ScreenshotWatersheds, land where all the water in creeks and streams drain into the same aquifer, river, lake, estuary or ocean, surround us. Conservation biologist Erick Burres of California’s Citizen Monitoring Program: The Clean Water Team explains, “Creek Watch as a learning tool introduces people to their streams and water quality concepts.”

Once the free iPhone application is downloaded, citizen scientists are asked to take a photo of their local waterway and answer three simple questions: What is the water level? (Dry? Some? Full?) What is its rate of flow? (Still? Slow? Fast?) And, how much trash is there? (None? Some? A lot?) The photo, GPS tag, and answers are then uploaded in real-time to a central database accessible to water experts around the world. Water resource managers track pollution, develop sound management strategies for one of our most valuable resources, and implement effective environmental stewardship programs.

Since its launch in November 2010, over 4000 citizen scientists in 25 countries have monitored creeks and streams, providing invaluable information to over-extended water resource managers; water quality data that would otherwise be unavailable. Watershed biologist Carol Boland is using this data to prioritize pollution cleanup efforts in San Jose, California. Similarly, local citizen scientists are comparing their observations to previous years as well as data collected around the world on the Creek Watch map to help inform local voluntary stewardship programs.

Creek Watch is increasing global awareness about watersheds and environmental protection. This is just the beginning. Future applications will allow citizens to monitor every aspect of their surroundings – from urban services to wildlife distribution, noise pollution to air quality and even global warming; in order to solve some of the biggest challenges of our day.

Join thousands of citizen scientists monitoring our planet’s water supply as you head to work, school, and play this week. Could your picture save a thousand streams?


Photo : IBM Research

Resources:
1. Estimated with data from WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) for Water Supply and Sanitation. (2012). Progress on Sanitation and Drinking-Water, 2012 Update.
2. International Telecommunication Union (ITU). (2011). The World in 2011 ICT Facts and Figures.
3. United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). (2011). State of World Population 2011, People and possibilities in a world of 7 billion.

Dr. Melinda T. Hough is a freelance science advocate and writer.  Her previous work has included a Mirzayan Science and Technology Graduate Policy Fellowship at the National Academy of Sciences (2012), co-development of several of the final science policy questions with ScienceDebate.org (2012), consulting on the development of the Seattle Science Festival EXPO day (2012), contributing photographer for JF Derry’s book “Darwin in Scotland” (2010) and outreach projects to numerous to count.  Not content to stay stateside, Melinda received a B.S in Microbiology from the University of Washington (2001) before moving to Edinburgh, Scotland where she received a MSc (2002) and PhD (2008) from the University of Edinburgh trying to understand how antibiotics kill bacteria.  Naturally curious, it is hard to tear Melinda away from science; but if you can, she might be found exploring, often behind the lens of her Nikon D80, training for two half-marathons, or plotting her next epic adventure.

Proceed to the Perseids with NASA’s Meteor Counter

By August 10th, 2013 at 9:31 am | Comment

meteor

The first time I ever saw the Perseids, I was 15 years old.

I snuck out of the house in the middle of the night (without telling my parents, of course) and found the darkest spot at the park nearby. What followed was one of the most awesome sights I had witnessed up until then: hundreds of staggered streaks of light, tearing through an ink-black sky. Part of me knew it was strict science. Another part of me was convinced it was magic. Who knew that a phenomenon that happens every day could resonate so profoundly?

Every day, on average, more than 40 tons of meteoroids strike our planet.  Most are tiny specks of dust that disintegrate harmlessly high up in Earth’s atmosphere, producing a slow drizzle of “shooting stars” in the night sky. Meteors (what they’re called before they enter our atmosphere) are made of cosmic material–silicate rock, iron, and metals–left over from the early formation of our solar system.

Where do the Perseids come from?

As the Earth rotates around the sun this weekend, it will pass through the debris field of the comet Swift-Tuttle, a dirty snowball of remnants that never became planets nor stars. The comet takes about 133.2 years to orbit the sun. As it moves, a tail of gas, ice and dust is left behind it.

Each year, from mid-July to early August, the cosmic debris in this comet’s tail culminate in an evening spectacular called the Perseids.

When and How to View

This year, the meteor shower peaks late Sunday (8/11)  into early Monday (8/12) just before dawn.

Find a dark field away from any light pollution. Look for the constellation Perseus, where the Perseids derive their name. It should be observable in the northeastern sky. During a Perseid meteor shower, you can expect to observe up to 100 meteoroids in an hour.

perseid_map2

What to Bring

What’s nice about the Perseids is you don’t need any special viewing equipment. The naked eye is adequate. Grab a blanket and/or lawn chair, a cup of warm liquid, some snacks, and sit back to wait for the forthcoming light show.

NASA has a Meteor Counter app that iPhone users can download. Viewers of the Perseids can help report how many they see within a particular time frame. The app’s “piano key” interface allows you to tap keys as you view meteoroids. It records critical data for each meteor: time, magnitude, latitude, and longitude, along with optional verbal annotations. Afterward, these data are automatically uploaded to NASA researchers for analysis.

While you’re out there, you might as well turn an otherwise passive (albeit amazing) viewing experience into a participatory one in the name of citizen science.

SciStarter wishes you a happy viewing for this year’s Perseids. If it doesn’t make you feel too cheesy, make a wish when you see your first meteoroid. I know the fifteen year old in me won’t forget to.

If you live in Alabama, you can participate in the Alabama Meteor Tracking Project.


Sources:

Photos: NASA.gov

Lily Bui holds dual (non-science) bachelors’ degrees in International Studies and Spanish from the University of California Irvine. She has worked on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.; served in AmeriCorps in Montgomery County, Maryland; worked for a New York Times bestselling ghostwriter; and performed across the U.S. as a touring musician. She currently works in public media at WGBH-TV and the Public Radio Exchange (PRX) in Boston, MA. In her spare time, she thinks of cheesy science puns. Follow @dangerbui.