Archive for the ‘Syndicated’ Category

Be Trendy and Hip and Use That Smartphone for Science

By June 12th, 2014 at 4:34 pm | Comment

In my last blog, I wrote about some science that I found to be fascinating, but also a little on the weird side. Remember the curious case of green poop? Beginning to notice the science that exists in our daily lives is a great skill to have, and I hope I have piqued your interest to begin wondering and asking more questions. Now I would like to show you how you can use your cell phone to begin doing science of your own. What do I mean, using cell phones for science? This is an idea becoming more common in the world of citizen science, which is something that more and more researchers and science centers are beginning to utilize as we move into the future.

Citizen science as a concept has been around for centuries, as it got its roots from science hobbyists like Gregor Mendel, Benjamin Franklin, and Charles Darwin. But what exactly is a citizen scientist? It has long been considered to be an amateur or nonprofessional scientist, and these types of scientists are proving to be quite useful with cutting edge research today. Without the typical training and science education that is required of university and other professional scientists, everyday people can foster the behavior of asking questions about the world around them, seeking out the answers to those questions, and documenting their own observations and conclusions.

This change in behavior to make wondering and asking questions a habitual experience is what I find to be the most important and beneficial aspect of this new age of citizen science. As opposed to just taking in the world around you, this form of science engagement encourages people to wonder the why and the how, and ultimately come to their own conclusions about how our world works. As another branch of hands-on learning, citizen science can have a greater impact on education by promoting the method of learning by doing. Through actually doing the science, people will feel more emotionally invested in the outcome of their project.

Now let’s face it, we live in a generation of screens and ever-evolving technology. So how do we avoid the common scenario of disengagement caused by the often perpetual need to be glued to our smart phones and our tablets? We transform these devices into tools of engagement. And citizen science is doing just that. As we continue to move in the direction of advanced mobile technology, citizen science is utilizing this by encouraging programmers to develop new apps that provide the everyday person with the tools they need to contribute to current research. Since its inception, the internet has provided a platform for such a high level of information exchange, and these growing mobile technologies act somewhat as a catalyst for this type of exchange. While I love the ease and accessibility of the internet, one of the biggest issues we face is simply that not everything is accurate, fact-checked, or even the truth. With opposing views and agendas so apparent in our media, it often seems that science is portrayed in a sensationalized manner, which can cloud the public’s understanding of necessary issues. This is where critical thinking skills truly come in to play. With hot topics like climate change, citizen scientists can participate in research and data collection, just by turning to their smart phones. Through their personal contributions with research, I strongly believe citizens will enhance and improve their ability to think critically about key issues, as opposed to making strong conjectures without seeking out all the necessary information.

In Phoenix, AZ, we have had and will continue to have projects focused on climate change. At Arizona State University, projects led by Dr. Kevin Gurney in the past have attempted to characterize fossil fuel CO2 emissions in North America through the use of crowdsourcing. And in our near future, the “Citizen Science to Forecast the Future of a Desert City” project is developing a citizen science and citizen engagement initiative called “MyFuturePhoenix”. This initiative aims to break down the barrier that prevents engagement with key issues in our city such as water management. By encouraging students to document their personal water usage and input their data into an online simulation model, they will be able to visualize the impact their decisions will have on sustainability in Phoenix in 2050. This form of involvement is crucial in order to increase science literacy among our future policy decision makers, and I am eager to see how this project unfolds. For more information, click here.

Related to the impacts of climate change, citizen scientists can also help monitor the happenings and changes of the natural environment in their area. This can help researchers keep an eye on the status of global biodiversity, among other things. How can you use your cell phone or other mobile device to help with this? For certain apps, like SciSpy, mobile devices allow users to take pictures of what they observe, stamped with the time, date, and even GPS coordinates. This is incredibly useful for researchers that need to compile large amounts of data for things like bird migration patterns, species concentration, and seasonal trends. Who knows, you may even discover a new species in your own backyard! With cool programs like this, everyone wins. You get the opportunity to get outdoors, have some fun taking pictures, and know that you’re making a contribution to the scientific community. For the scientists, it’s as if they have a bunch of volunteers and interns sprinkled around the globe that can help them with field work for their ongoing projects.

There are so many projects out there that can benefit from your help. For a good starting point, I suggest you visit SciStarter for a list of current projects that you can be a part of. Now let’s get you out there and put that smart phone of yours to good scientific use! Have fun, and as always, Never Stop Wondering.

Release Date: June 4, 2014

Follow Chevy Humphrey on Twitter.

This originally appeared in the Huffington Post Science Blog.

NanoRacks Launches Four Payloads on SpaceX-3

By June 2nd, 2014 at 9:09 pm | Comment

What do Cheerleaders, Flies and Cancer Research Have in Common?


Houston, TX-May 12, 2014 — NanoRacks is excited to have continued broad participation aboard the International Space Station (ISS) through partnerships with citizen and student scientists on the SpaceX-3.

The launch occurred on April 18th from Cape Canaveral, FL. NanoRacks is hosting four payloads on the International Space Station that incorporate work from over eight institutions, both domestic and international. NanoRacks is pleased to have launched two of the seven winners of the Space Florida International Space Station Research Competition on the SpaceX CRS-3 launch.

“The breadth and range of these latest experiments vividly shows how utilization of the International Space Station has accelerated,” said NanoRacks CEO Jeff Manber. “We want to thank all our partners with a special shout-out to Space Florida for their ISS Research Competition program”

The on-station payloads included work of students and researchers from UCDavis, Stanford University, Ohio State University, the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, NASA Ames, NASA JSC, Texas Southern University, Savannah State, Jarvis Christian College, Tougaloo College, and Prairie View A & M (NASA’s ISS Tier2/Tier3 University Research Project), the Science Cheerleaders, and the German space agency, DLR.

NanoRacks ISS facilities and services are made possible via a space act agreement with NASA. Each of the four payloads launched had a unique mission:

MERCCURI: Microbiologists from UCDavis and the Science Cheerleaders, along with thousands of other citizen scientists from SciStarter, are working to compare the growth of microbes from built environments on Earth with their growth on ISS. They will compare types of microbes found on Earth with those found by astronauts aboard the ISS.

UR-1: Researchers and students from Texas Southern University, Savannah State, Jarvis Christian College, Tougaloo College, and Prairie View A & M (NASA’s first ISS Tier2/Tier3 University Research Project (thus, UR-1)) are focusing on Pharmacology, Immunology, and Cancer research through the NanoRacks platform, with the goal to investigate countermeasures that could “modulate and augment the immune system” focusing on Pharmacology, Immunology, and Cancer research through the NanoRacks platform, with the goal to investigate countermeasures that could “modulate and augment the immune system.”

HeartFlies: Stanford University, Ohio State University, the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, and NASA Ames launched HeartFlies. HeartFlies is a medical experiment set to understand the effects of space travel on astronaut cardiovascular systems.

Cancer CellBox: Germany’s DLR is carrying out experiments on “scavenger cells” of the human immune system and on human thyroid cancer cells. CellBox will study changes in cellular and molecular function as a result of microgravity. NanoRacks was the first commercial provider that commissioned for transporting and carrying out experiments for the German Space Agency, DLR. Through the CellBox mission, DLR is trying new ways to offer German scientists cost-effective options for carrying out experiments in space.

About NanoRacks:
NanoRacks, LLC – was founded in 2009 in Houston, Texas. They are the market leader in commercialized and scheduled space operations on the ISS via a Space Act Agreement with NASA and their own hardware inside and outside the ISS. To date, over 150 payloads have been delivered to space under the direction of NanoRacks.

Release Date: May 28, 2014

For more information: Email or download the press release.

Image: Robert Neff

This originally appeared on the NanoRacks’ Press Release page.

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.

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.

Liberty and Science for All: Project MERCCURI press release

By January 31st, 2014 at 8:52 am | Comment

Darlene Cavalier, founder of SciStarter, swabs the Liberty Bell for microbes in Philadelphia.

Darlene Cavalier, founder of SciStarter, swabs the Liberty Bell for microbes in Philadelphia.

Thanks to the Independence National Historical Park for giving me access to the Liberty Bell. I had a lot of fun collecting microbes from this national treasure in my hometown!

Happy to announce that the microbes from the Liberty Bell have been selected to fly on the International Space Station where their growth rates will be analyzed and compared to their counterparts back at the UC Davis lab! We will be announcing each selected microbe over the course of the next two weeks, with Philly first.

This research is part of Project MERCCURI, a citizen science project from UC Davis, Science Cheerleader and SciStarter, to examine the diversity of microbes on Earth and on the International Space Station.

Check out this particular microbe’s very own trading card! Here’s an excerpt:

Where we found it: On the Liberty Bell (Philadelphia, PA)

Why it’s awesome: This is an important industrial organism, used for the production of penicillin, vitamins, various drugs, and numerous enzymes

Fun fact: The species name of this microbe means “big beast” and it is among the largest bacteria ever discovered

In addition to the microbes from the Liberty Bell, six other microbes from Philadelphia were selected by UC Davis researchers to blast into space for research at the International Space Station. Here are links to images and more information about the microbes collected from the following sites in Philadelphia and selected to fly on the International Space Station:

Chemical Heritage Foundation
Philadelphia Phillies
Philadelphia 76ers
The Franklin Institute
The Academy of Natural Sciences (microbes collected by St. Peter’s School students)
St. Joseph’s Preparatory School
WHYY studio

A total of 48 samples were selected from across the country.

Here’s more information about this project:

Davis, CA. (Jan. 30, 2014) — Microbes collected from Philadelphia landmarks will soon blast into orbit for research and a microgravity growth competition on the International Space Station (ISS). This citizen science project, known as Project MERCCURI, investigates how microbes from different places on Earth compare to each other and to those found on the International Space Station.

Led by the Science Cheerleaders (current and former NFL and NBA cheerleaders pursuing science and technology careers), thousands of people across the United States participated in the project. Several Pop Warner cheer teams swabbed practice fields, shoes, and cell phones for microbes. Other people collected microbial samples at NFL, NBA, and MLB stadiums; from schools; from landmarks like the Liberty Bell, Sue the T-Rex, the statue of Ben Franklin in Philadelphia, and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum; and during events including Yuri’s Nights, a series of gatherings across the country to commemorate the first human in space.

The microbes they gathered were examined by the “microbiology team” in the laboratory of Dr. Jonathan Eisen at the University of California at Davis. The team selected 48 microbes (SEVEN of which are from Philadelphia!), which, with approval from NASA, are to ride the SpaceX Falcon 9 to the Space Station for further research. The rocket is scheduled to launch from the Kennedy Space Center in early March.

The public will be able to follow Project MERCCURI as it continues over the next several months via the web site The site will include updates from the research on the Space Station including results of the “microbial playoffs” growth competition. The site also features free interactive visualization tools, lesson plans for teachers, and even trading cards that include photos and the details of each microbe selected for the project, as well as their importance.

In addition to the research in space, thousands of additional samples collected by the public are being analyzed further at UC Davis and by the lab of Dr. Jack Gilbert at Argonne National Laboratory. The microbes found in these samples are being assayed using DNA sequencing technology, and the resulting data will be made available to the public and also integrated with results of the Earth Microbiome Project. Scientists hope to gain insights into what is living at the ISS, how microbes vary between different places on Earth and in space, and to compare growth of microbes on Earth and in microgravity. Philadelphia 76ers fans will have the opportunity to participate in this part of the research during Science at the Sixers night on 2/18 when the 76ers host the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“We are in the midst of a revolution in our ability to study the hidden world of microbes found throughout the planet,” said Jonathan Eisen, Professor at UC Davis and leader of the microBEnet (microbiology of the built environment network) team doing the microbiology side of Project MERCCURI. “One area of growing interest is in studying the microbes living right around us – in our buildings – on our phones – and elsewhere. The Science Cheerleader group has allowed us to get thousands of people to not only think more about the microbes among us, but to also participate in a microbial diversity research project. And those people have helped us get more samples than we have been able to obtain previously.”

“A lot of people ask us *why* we’re sending microbes into space,” said Dr. David Coil, a microbiologist at UC Davis. “Understanding how microbes behave in microgravity is critically important for planning long-term manned spaceflight but also has the possibility of giving us new insight into how these microbes behave in built environments on Earth.”

“This initiative is not just about significant research,” said Darlene Cavalier, a former 76ers cheerleader and Founder of Science Cheerleader and SciStarter, both based in Philadelphia. “It’s about engaging the public in that research. Microbes that were collected at Georgia Tech are taking a ride on the International Space Station. They’re the subject of research by microbiologists and astronauts. We hope that inspires youngsters as well as adults to become more aware of and involved in science.”

Project MERCCURI is coordinated by Science Cheerleader,, and UC Davis, in conjunction with the Argonne National Laboratory. The Project is made possible by Space Florida, NanoRacks, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.


Note to editors: To arrange interviews with the research team at UC Davis, members of the Science Cheerleader or SciStarter teams, or with local groups that participated in collecting the microbes, please email Claire LaBeaux,

Image: Courtey of Darlene Cavalier

This post originally appeared on the Science Cheerleader blog.

EPA Launches New Citizen Science Website; Resources Available to Conduct Scientific Investigations in Communities

By January 11th, 2014 at 1:56 pm | Comment


(New York, N.Y.) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has revamped its Citizen Science website to provide new resources and success stories to assist the public in conducting scientific research and collecting data to better understand their local environment and address issues of concern. The website can be found here.

“Citizen Science is an increasingly important part of EPA’s commitment to using sound science and technology to protect people’s health and safeguard the environment,” said Judith A. Enck, EPA Regional Administrator. “The EPA encourages the public to use the new website as a tool in furthering their scientific investigations and developing solutions to pollution problems.”

The updated website now offers detailed information about air, water and soil monitoring, including recommended types of equipment and resources for conducting investigations. It also includes case studies and videotapes that showcase successful citizen science projects in New York and New Jersey, provides funding opportunities, quality assurance information and workshops and webinars.

The EPA Region 2 Citizen Science Program, which covers New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and eight federally recognized Indian Nations within New York State, welcomes the efforts of citizen scientists to better understand and protect the environment. By providing the tools to increase the quality of the data collected and assist in its interpretation, the EPA is helping the public achieve greater levels of environmental protection.
Visit the website today to explore the new Citizen Science website and sign up for our mailing list to receive regular updates on Citizen Science from EPA Region 2.

Release Date: 01/09/2014

Contact Information: Jennifer May-Reddy,, 212-637-3658

This originally appeared on the EPA blog.