Archive for the ‘Tools’ Category

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-Maro

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 jenna@scistarter.com

Open science: resources for sharing and publishing citizen science research

By November 12th, 2013 at 1:34 pm | Comment 1

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.

FigShare

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.

DataONE

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.

Dryad

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.

F1000

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.

Image: Energy.gov


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.

Photosynq: Plugging into Photosynthesis

By October 21st, 2013 at 11:37 am | Comment

Recently researchers at Michigan State University have been turning their attention to how we study plant photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the biological process by which plants and algae convert light into storable energy for growth and survival. Quantifying photosynthesis levels can reveal a lot about plant health. For example how efficient is the plant in capturing light energy. How resilient is it in the face of environmental stressors such as drought.

Scientists already have tools to measure photosynthesis. Unfortunately, these tools can be prohibitively expensive or require testing be done in a lab. To address this obstacle, researchers at Michigan University launched Photosynq, an open access project aimed at creating a low-cost hand-held device which would allow anyone and anywhere to measure photosynthesis.

Scientists still have much to learn about plant photosynthesis and crowd sourcing the research can be really helpful. “The way we currently study plants is limited,” explains project manager Greg Austic. “We take one plant, grow it in the lab and examine what happens to that one plant in very controlled conditions. But there are thousands of plant species, and they are growing and surviving outside in their real environment. Creating a device that enables anybody to contribute to this research could really expand our understanding.”

The creators have developed a device small enough to hook up to a cellphone, which comes preloaded with a bank of measurements and protocols for the user to select from. After collecting their data, users can upload their results to an open database. The beauty of the project is that anyone with a phone and an internet connection could use it, meaning its use would not be limited to academic research. The Photosynq team envisions educators using it as a teaching implement to help students learn about plant biology. Or farmers using it to modify planting strategies. And as more people use it, the larger the database grows giving everyone more data to use.

Mining that data could result in some pretty interesting outcomes. For example, researchers might identify a plant with unusually high photosynthesis efficiency. A private citizen might stumble upon a plant that is particularly effective at carbon capture. These potential discoveries could be used to develop new, possibility greener, technologies.

The device and project materials are still in beta and the Photosynq team is interested in getting more input about their project. The developers encourage individuals to sign up to be device beta testers. They are also interested in pre-production input. If there is a measurement or tool that you think would be useful or interesting to have, visit their Google discussion board and let them know. The more feedback they can get, the better the device will meet people’s needs.

At the heart of the project is the philosophy of making science and scientific inquiry more open. “What I think is so great about this project,” Austic explains, “is its mission to create an ecosystem where anyone [be it a senior scientist or a curious seven year old] can ask a science question and engage anyone to answer it.”

Learn more about their project, why it is important, and how you can get involved by visiting.


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.

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.