Archive for the ‘Sound’ Category

Citizen Science on the Radio

By October 6th, 2014 at 3:46 pm | Comment

sound science

Listen. Let’s get one thing straight: I am an unabashed public radio nerd.

So, when citizen science and public radio come together, I am nothing short of ecstatic. But it’s not just my public radio nerdiness for its own sake. Rather, this convergence speaks to a larger narrative (for me, at least) — that of citizen science being a form of public participation in science and public radio playing the role of representing public discourse.

In conjunction with SciStarter’s current audio/radio citizen science theme, I’ve put together a “playlist” of some examples of how public radio can engage citizen scientists and vice versa.

WHYY the Pulse

Producer Kimberly Haas features various citizen science projects, in partnership with SciStarter,  on The Pulse on WHYY. She has covered projects like Old Weather, Tiny Terrors, IceWatch, and other projects in order to (1) report on research findings and (2) recruit volunteers for the projects themselves.

Encyclopedia of Life podcast

If you haven’t listened to the EOL’s ‘One Species at a Time‘ podcast, go do it now. Producer Ari Daniel walks listeners through various species — from bees to  raptors to head lice (and much more) — and their traits. You can also help contribute to the Encyclopedia of Life with your own findings.

Science Friday

There might not be any on-air pieces about citizen science yet, but Science Friday certainly has a lot of educational opportunities around citizen science. For instance, the Jumping Spider Shake Down activity, you can both listen to and try to match spider courtship displays with the right vibration signals.

North County Public Radio

Over the summer, North County Public Radio covered the FrogWatch project and interviewed a citizen science volunteer for the segment. Listen along as the producer and volunteer embark on trying to spot one.

BBC Radio 4

This episode of ‘Saving Species’ series reports on citizen science efforts around species monitoring. Many scientific communities, such as an academic study by Jeremy Thomas (Professor of Ecology at Oxford) and colleagues acknowledge that without the input from these amateur wildlife watchers much of today’s understanding of the natural world would be impossible.

Are your ears tingling yet? Although I am acutely aware of my own biases, I hope that public radio does more with citizen science, and I hope that citizen science does more with public radio. There is potential for much, much mutual benefit in these kinds of collaborations.

For now, happy listening!


Lily Bui is a researcher and M.S. candidate at MIT’s Comparative Media Studies program. She holds dual degrees in International Studies and Spanish from the University of California Irvine. She is also the STEM Story Project Associate for Public Radio Exchange (PRX) in Cambridge, MA. Previously, she helped produce the radio show Re:sound for the Third Coast International Audio Festival, out of WBEZ Chicago. In past lives, 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. In her spare time, she thinks of cheesy science puns. Follow @dangerbui.

Citizen Science on the Radio: WHYY Features Dan Duran’s Drexel Elaphrus Beetle Hunt

By June 27th, 2014 at 1:50 pm | Comment

Image credit: CC-BY Charles Lindsey via Wikimedia

Image credit: CC-BY Charles Lindsey via Wikimedia

This week on The Pulse and SciStarter’s segment about citizen science, producer Kimberly Haas speaks with Dan Duran, who is running a project that monitors the elusive Elaphrus beetle to monitor stream health.

Read WHYY’s related blog post to learn more. Here’s an excerpt:

Dan Duran, assistant professor in Drexel University’s Department of Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science, has just embarked on a search for one of those indicator species. The marsh ground beetle, which also goes by the Latin name for its genus, Elaphrus, is found along muddy stream banks in temperate regions like ours. Duran says it’s an effective indicator species because it’s adversely affected by run-off, like road salts and agricultural chemicals–that make it into a stream without being visible.

Duran’s goals are to chart where Elaphrus is found in the waterways of the Philadelphia region, and to track changes to their range over time. But ours is a watery habitat, so how will it play out – one researcher vs. how many hundreds of streams? The answer, of course, is citizen scientists.

Here’s where you can help. If you’re a citizen science researcher, project manager, or participant in the PA, NJ, or DE areas, we want to hear from you! If you have an interesting story to share about a citizen science project or experience, let us know. Send your stories for consideration to


WHYY (90.9 FM in Philly) Friday on-air schedule:
6-9 a.m. – Morning Edition
9-10 a.m. – The Pulse
10 a.m. to 12 p.m. – Radio Times
10 a.m. following Sunday – The Pulse (rebroadcast)

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.


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.

Can Words Trigger a Response from Your Senses? Find Out with the Investigating Word Modalities Project

By January 21st, 2014 at 12:18 pm | Comment

Investigating Word Modalities seeks citizen scientists to help investigate words attached to senses.

SciStarter is shuffling science into the language department. Explore the science of words with these citizen science projects!


Modality describes a pathway in the body through which a stimulus is registered.  It essentially refers to one of the five senses.  For example, the stimulus light is registered through the visual modality with the eyes.  However, unexpected stimuli can sometimes trigger a modality, such as words.  The goal of the Investigating Word Modalities Projectis to explore which words elicit a response from the auditory (hearing) or visual modalities.

Drs. Bonnici and Simons from the Memory Lab at the University of Cambridge are performing the research, which Simons describes as “a small pilot study.”  They ask that participants take a quiz rating how strongly a series of words are associated with an auditory sensation, a visual sensation, or both.  The words range from onomatopoeia, in which the word mimics the sound it is describing, to names of objects that make sounds, to things that make no sound at all.  Similar types of words are explored for the visual modality, ranging from things that can be seen to those that are invisible.


A sample question from the online quiz showing the modality ranking procedure, where 6 indicates a strong experience. “SciStarter” in this case would be the word being investigated.

When I took the quiz, it was interesting to see what words triggered a sensory response. I found that a number of words describing silent objects still caused me to have an auditory response, while similarly, I experienced visual sensations with words that name invisible things. I also found that many words evoked distinct auditory or visual memories.

Overall, the quiz was a fun exploration of the associations made my brain.  If you have a spare twenty minutes, give it a shot – you, too, might be surprised by the response of your senses.  Plus, you’ll be helping scientists understand how words can elicit a modality.

Emily Lewis is a PhD candidate in chemistry at Tufts University, where she analyzes catalysts for synthetic fuels 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,

Categories: Biology,Brain,Sound

Hooked – Can’t get that song out of your head? Here’s how you find out why!

By November 21st, 2013 at 10:49 am | Comment

The hills are alive with citizen science. More musical projects for your ears and brain.

This morning, I woke up after a good night’s rest, ready to take on the world. I was still lying in bed, thinking about how great it would be if I could just lace up and go out for a run. I imagined myself getting ready like Rocky Balboa in his now famous training montage (never mind that I’m closer to Kung Fu Panda than Rocky in the physical fitness department). After a few moments, I realized I was humming the tune to ‘Eye of the Tiger’. Before I knew it I had the tune stuck in my head and couldn’t get it out all day long. What is it about this song that’s so ‘sticky’ I wondered and so when I got back home, I listened to the full song a few times. And then it hit me. It was the guitar riff at the beginning that had me hooked.

#Hooked - Citizen science and catchy tunes

#Hooked – Citizen science to understand what makes music memorable

If you hear that song right now, you’ll see that the riff and the chorus (“It’s the eye of the tiger, it’s the thrill of the fight…”) are the parts that have a penchant for getting stuck in your head. Not surprisingly, that’s what you’d call the song’s hook. And it isin’t just me trying to find out where the hook is. Singers and songwriters are always looking for that perfect hook that creates the next chart topping hit. And scientists like Dr. Henkjan Honing and Dr. John Ashley Burgoyne at the University of Amsterdam are looking deeper, trying to decipher how our brains process these catchy tunes (the science of musical cognition). When Dr. Erinma Ochu, an expert in citizen science engagement at the University of Manchester got to know about this research, she did what she does best. She made a citizen science project out of it.

And so #Hooked was born. Launched in October this year at the Manchester Science Festival, the project was a big hit. It kicked off by asking about 700 people what they thought was the catchiest tune and analyzed the results. Now the project moves on to the next phase where anybody in the world can participate in this exciting experiment. To take it to the masses, the #Hooked team has created a game that can be played online. The game is set to launch in early 2014 and as the team explains on their webpage,

 “We’ve designed a name-that-tune type game where people need to first recognise a tune then identify the hook in that song. By comparing the results from lots and lots of people who play the game, we will be able to look at the musical elements of the hooks to see what common factors, if any, create the most noticeable part of the tune.”

If you’re asking yourself why you should participate, apart from being a whole lot of fun playing this on the ride home from school or work, the project could end up adding significantly to brain research. By analyzing the results of this experiment, scientists hope to understand how your grey cells respond to colorful tunes. That knowledge in turn can be applied to help people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, whose memories are failing. Ready to jump on this groove train? Sign up to receive alerts about the project and know when the game is released (we’ll be sure to update it here as well!).

And oh, the tune voted the catchiest at the Manchester Science Festival? Fittingly, it was ‘I Can’t Get You Out of My Head’ by Kylie Minogue.

Arvind Sureh is a graduate student in Cell Biology and Molecular Physiology at the University of Pittsburgh. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biotechnology from PSG College of Technology, India. For his thesis, he has been studying the molecular mechanisms behind uterine contraction during pregnancy. 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.

Categories: Citizen Science,Sound