Archive for the ‘Tools’ Category

Citizen Scientists Like You Could Change How We Handle Iraq’s Humanitarian Crisis

By June 24th, 2015 at 9:26 am | Comment

A refugee camp in the Kurdistan region of Iraq (Photo Credit: Flickr EU/ECHO/Caroline Gluck/CC BY-ND 2.0)

A refugee camp in the Kurdistan region of Iraq (Photo Credit: Flickr EU/ECHO/Caroline Gluck/CC BY-ND 2.0)

By analyzing images taken during times of humanitarian crises, citizen scientists can help refine a tool for data analysis improve relief efforts.

A guest post by Megan Passey and Jeremy Othenio. Edited by Arvind Suresh

In August 2014, following the fall of Mosul in Iraq, the UN declared the situation a level 3 crisis, the most severe type of humanitarian emergency. Iraq was already home to an estimated 1 million internally displaced persons prior to the current crisis, as well as over 200,000 refugees from Syria.

Read the rest of this entry »

What is killing California’s trees, and what can you do about it?

By January 12th, 2015 at 9:00 am | Comment

(Eskalen Lab. UC-Riverside, Reproduced with permission)

Trees infested by the polyphagus shothole borer in California (Eskalen Lab. UC-Riverside, Reproduced with permission)

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on the author’s blog. Project SCARAB is one of more than 800 great citizen science projects on SciStarter. Use our project finder to find one that you can participate in!

The great thing about living in a major port city such as Los Angeles is having access to ideas and goods from the around the world. However, the port of LA, and by extension every trade conduit branching off from there, takes the chance on cargo containers carrying an invasive species. In 2003 one such species, the polyphagus shothole borer (PSHB), was spotted in Whittier, a suburb of Los Angeles. In the intervening decade it has quickly spread to many of the trees in southern California. Read the rest of this entry »

Waiting for a butterfly to flutter by with the Los Angeles Butterfly Survey

By July 20th, 2014 at 11:01 am | Comment

Live in Los Angeles county? Photograph butterflies and moths, and help scientists study climate change.

Interested in more moth and butterfly citizen science projects?  We’ve got you covered!


Hyalophora cecropia [1]

Once I read a story about a butterfly in the subway, and today, I saw one…” [2]

In the heat of summer monsoons, butterflies accompany the paddling turtles in the lake outside my window… butterfly? Wait a minute; I remember dragonflies, not butterflies, from childhood. Nightly news reports every evening that our fragile blue marble is undergoing significant changes. Could butterflies and moths help scientists understand how living organisms adapt to climate change?

More than 174,000 species of butterflies and moths, the Lepidoptera, or scaly-winged insects, have been cataloged, making them some of the most successful insects to flutter across our planet. Vital to local ecosystems, butterflies and moths are important food sources and pollinators, only differing in their coloration (bold colors vs. drab monochrome) and diurnal/nocturnal range. Yet, only 236 species of butterfly have been observed in Los Angeles County.

Citizen scientists monitoring monarchs on milkweek in Los Angeles. [3]

Citizen scientists monitoring monarchs on milkweek in Los Angeles. [3]

The Los Angeles Butterfly Survey, a partnership between the all-volunteer Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA) and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, is working with citizen scientists to count and photographically catalogue the butterflies, and moths, found between the urban skyscrapers of southern California.

Becoming a butterfly, or moth, hunter has never been easier. Citizen scientists simply photograph, noting the date, time, and location, of their winged sighting. The photo and observations are then uploaded to the BAMONA website, where experts identify/verify the species before adding the find to their database. The data is used to develop a visual database and life history page for each species including stunning, user-submitted, photographs and maps reflecting recent sightings.

Kelly Lotts, co-founder of BAMONA, notes, “It is very easy for kids to grab cameras and to take photographs of species found where they live or at their school… Kids really enjoy being able to point to their dot on the map, to their actual photograph.”

Hyalophora cecropia, normally found east of the Rocky Mountains, spotted in California.[4]

Hyalophora cecropia, normally found east of the Rocky Mountains, spotted in California.[4]

Since its launch in 2011, the Los Angeles Butterfly Survey has become an invaluable tool encouraging city dwellers to become scientists for the day. Over 628,000 butterfly and moth sightings have been recorded across all of North America; 1320 for southern California. Lotts goes on to explain, “We get a lot of data requests from scientists looking at butterflies as indicators of climate change… in 2011 and 2012, in California, there was a sighting of Hyalophora cecropia each year. This is very unusual as the Cecropia is found in the east of the Rocky Mountains.”

Citizen scientists benefit from their involvement as well. At the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, they are mapping local species in order to inform planting in the pollinator garden. New projects are sprouting up including the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project. According to Lila Higgins, Manager of Citizen Science for the museum, “Citizen scientist are already getting so much out of their experience. They are thinking like scientists – making predictions about what they are going to find in the coming weeks. Talk about science in action.”

Why not grab a camera and enjoy the summer sun while waiting for a butterfly to flutter by?

References and Resources:

[1] Image courtesy Tony Maro (BAMONA submission).
[2] Kathleen Kelly, You’ve Got Mail
[3] Image courtesy Wendy Caldwell (Museum of Natural History, Los Angeles).
[4] Data courtesy BAMONA website.

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 in one place for very long, she might be found exploring, often behind the lens of her Nikon D80, plotting her next epic adventure, or training for the next half marathon.

Citizen Science… After Hours

By February 28th, 2014 at 5:05 pm | Comment

From moon monitoring to stargazing to salamander sleuthing, SciStarter brings you citizen science projects you can do in the dark.

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GLOBE at Night
Within a couple of generations in the U.S., only the national parks will have dark enough skies to see the Milky Way. Light pollution disrupts the habits of animals and wastes energy and money.Join this international star-hunting program to “see the light!” Get started!


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Loss of the Night
How many stars can you see where you live? The Loss of the Night App (available for Android devices) challenges citizen scientists to identify as many stars as they can in order to measure light pollution. Get started!


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Dark Sky Meter
The Dark Sky Meter (available for iPhones) allows citizen scientists to contribute to a global map of nighttime light pollution. The map is also a great help for (amateur) astronomers looking for dark skies. Get started!


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Lunar Impact Monitoring
NASA needs your help to monitor the rates and sizes of large meteoroids striking the moon’s dark side. This data will help engineers design lunar spacecraft, habitats, vehicles, and extra-vehicular activity suits to protect human explorers from the stresses of the lunar environment. Get started!


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Salamander Crossing Brigades
Serve as a Salamander Crossing Guard at amphibian road crossings throughout the Monadnock Region. Volunteers count migrating amphibians and safely usher the animals across roads during one or more “Big Nights.” Get started!


Want to bring citizen science into the classroom? Check out our Educators Page to learn more about how to integrate projects into your curriculum.

SciStarter and Azavea (with support from Sloan Foundation) spent the last year investigating developments in software, hardware, and data processing capability for citizen science. Here’s what we found

If you’d like your project featured in our newsletter, e-mail

Open science: resources for sharing and publishing citizen science research

By November 12th, 2013 at 1:34 pm | Comments (2)

Science endeavors to be a collaborative and open process. Unfortunately, it can be challenging for independent citizen scientists to share their data or publish their research findings. “Despite the quality of their work, competent amateurs and citizen scientists are not well-represented in the research literature,” explains Dr. Sheldon Greaves co-founder and Executive Director of the Citizen Scientists League, a non-profit organization dedicated to engaging non-professional scientists in all aspects of science. “It is a shame. These individuals or organizations might have years of valuable data collected but limited resources for sharing their data with the scientific community.”

Thankfully, the barriers are coming down. Online data repositories are available to both professional and non-professional scientists. Increasingly, publishers are making their primary research articles ‘open access’ (free) and are actively encouraging citizen scientists to submit articles for publication. Below is a sample of resources that can help citizen scientists share data and publish their findings. 

Data archiving and repositories

Online data archiving is a mechanism for sharing large datasets.  Typically, the uploaded data becomes public allowing anyone interested to access and mine the information. These repositories often allow users to update their datasets, keeping the information current. They also provide a citation mechanism so that users get credit for their work. These repositories are useful for individuals or organizations that already have a substantial collection of data.


Multidisciplinary, free, citable, searchable database.

FigShare provides unlimited data storage for a variety of data formats including datasets, filesets, photos, videos and papers. Users are welcome to upload published or unpublished data as well as negative findings where it will be freely available for others to use. FigShare also provides up to 1GB of free private storage. All open data is stored under the CC-BY attribution license, the most liberal of Creative Commons copyright licenses and is citable.


Earth and environmental science, cost may vary, citable, searchable database.

Supported by the National Science Foundation, DataONE is an online earth and environmental science data repository. It features an open geographic searchable database useful for scientists, policy makers, educators, students and the public at large. Users must submit their data through specific member nodes such as USGS Core Sciences Clearinghouse or the Ecological Society of America.


Primarily biosciences, costs vary, citable, searchable database.

Dryad archives data from peer-reviewed or reputable non-peer reviewed publications. A wide range of formats are accepted including software programs, all of which is released under public domain (CC0) licensing. Data set owners are welcome to update their datasets with are made available for other Dryad members.

Journals and Publishing

Publishers such as PLOS, Frontiers, and PNAS are making their content open access, meaning articles, including academic primary research articles are available for free to the public, no subscription fee required. In addition, government funding agencies like the National Institutes of Health require that publications supported by their agencies be made publicly available. This means interested citizens have direct access to research publications and can keep abreast of new knowledge.

Actually publishing articles can be a little trickier for non-professional scientists because of lack of funding or a formal research affiliation. However there are services aimed at facilitating the publication process and some journals are specifically seeking citizen scientist articles, see below.


Life sciences, potential publishing discounts citizen science article, seeking submissions.

F1000Research is open access publisher of life science research and is interested in collecting and publishing citizen science driven research articles. F1000Research accepts a variety of different article types that can be difficult to publish elsewhere such as replications, data articles, null or negative results as well as traditional articles. All articles are transparently peer-reviewed post publication. As part of their open access philosophy, F1000Research requires article’s underlying datasets be assessable  and hosted in an appropriate data repository,  such FigShare with whom they have an ongoing partnership.

Scientific Data

Life, biomedical and environmental science, publication fee, seeking submission, May 2014 launch.

Scientific Data is an open-access online publication from the Nature Publishing Group. This peer-reviewed publication will feature ‘data descriptors’ articles, a novel content type which emphases describing how datasets are gathered and how the data might be reused. The goal is to increase visibility and reuse of experimental and observational data. Authors will be expected to make their data accessible by either FigShare or Dryad.  Scientific Data is expected to launch May 2014 and is currently seeking submissions.

Peerage of Science

Multidisciplinary, free for authors and reviewers, cost for publishers and institutions.

While not a publication per se, Peerage of Science is a service aimed at facilitation of the peer review process. Authors can submit their manuscripts to Peerage of Science were it will be viewable by Peerage reviewers who can comment on the value and soundness of the research. Only previously published scientists are eligible to be Peerage reviews. After the review process, articles receive quality index scores. Authors can the provide access to their reviewed manuscript to participating Peerage of Science journals or conventionally submit the manuscript to non-participating journals with the advantage of having already been vetted.

Dr. Caren Cooper, a research associate at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and an advocate for citizen science embraces this openness in research. “Open access journals ensure that knowledge is available to the public, not hidden behind pay walls. And sharing actual data sets – whether created by scientists or enthusiasts – is key part of the movement toward open knowledge,” reflects Dr. Cooper. “The development of new knowledge is no longer limited to the ivory tower but is something the public can contribute to.”

For a more extensive list of data archives and repositories visit Databib.


Dr. Carolyn Graybeal holds a PhD in neuroscience from Brown University. She is a former National Academies of Science Christine Mirzayan Science & Technology Policy Fellow during which time she worked with the Marian Koshland Science Museum. In addition the intricacies of the human brain, she is interested in the influence of education and mass media in society’s understanding of science.