SciStarter Blog http://scistarter.com/blog Covering the people, projects, and phenomena of citizen science Fri, 29 Aug 2014 17:19:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Informing NASA’s Asteroid Initiative: Your Chance to Participate!http://scistarter.com/blog/2014/08/informing-nasas-asteroid-initiative-citizen-forum/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2014/08/informing-nasas-asteroid-initiative-citizen-forum/#comments Thu, 28 Aug 2014 18:00:55 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=10253 August 28, 2014 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE In its history, the Earth has been repeatedly struck by asteroids, large chunks of rock from space that can cause considerable damage in a collision. Can we—or should we—try to protect Earth from potentially hazardous impacts? How about harvesting asteroids for potential economic benefits? What do we do if […]

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Asteroid Sample Retrieval

Asteroid Sample Retrieval

August 28, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

In its history, the Earth has been repeatedly struck by asteroids, large chunks of rock from space that can cause considerable damage in a collision. Can we—or should we—try to protect Earth from potentially hazardous impacts?

How about harvesting asteroids for potential economic benefits? What do we do if we find an asteroid that threatens Earth? How should we balance costs, risks, and benefits of human exploration in space?

Sounds like stuff just for rocket scientists. But how would you like to be part of this discussion?

An innovative project between NASA (the US government’s space agency) and a group led by Arizona State University called ECAST—Expert and Citizen Assessment of Science and Technology—is planning to do just that: give ordinary citizens a voice in the future of space exploration.

The “Informing NASA’s Asteroid Initiative” project will hold forums this fall to engage ordinary citizens in active dialogue about NASA’s Asteroid Initiative. Discussion will cover topics from how to detect threatening asteroids, planetary defense strategies, and how the exploration of asteroids is part of the future of human space exploration.

“Public engagement is crucial to the effective development of science and technology policy,” said David Guston, Co-director of the Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes (CSPO), one of the founding members of ECAST. “It is essential to consider input from diverse constituents, and nowhere are citizens’ values, hopes and dreams more important than in the future of the planet and the future of humans in space.”

The citizen forums will engage diverse publics in respectful, reflective and informed conversations, both face-to-face and online. The goal is to enable participants to learn about such issues, develop their own questions, and make recommendations based on their own values and interests.

Jason Kessler, Asteroid Grand Challenge and LAUNCH Program Executive at NASA, said “These forums are a direct result of the Asteroid Initiative Request for Information process—ECAST submitted a proposal that was highly ranked and well received at the 2013 Asteroid Initiative Workshop. This is the next step in public engagement, allowing us to directly engage in a meaningful two-way dialog and provide valuable insight for continued planning of the Asteroid Initiative.”

 

Concept using robotic arms to retrieve a boulder from the surface of an asteroid

Concept using robotic arms to retrieve a boulder from the surface of an asteroid

ECAST is a network of different institutions, launched in 2010, to provide a 21st Century model for technology assessment. It combines the research strengths of universities like Arizona State University with the skills of nonpartisan policy research organizations and the education and outreach capabilities of science museums and citizen science programs. “Science museums have a long history of making complex science topics interesting and accessible to public audiences. With the help of our ECAST partners we’ve developed the techniques to give lay publics the opportunity to consider the societal impacts of scientific and technological advances and to share their views with the experts. We are excited to be able to do this for NASA’s Asteroid Initiative,” said Larry Bell, Senior Vice President for Strategic Initiatives at the Museum of Science in Boston.

Three of the five ECAST founding partners, the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes (CSPO) at ASU, the Museum of Science, Boston and SciStarter.com are working with NASA to design, convene and evaluate citizen forums in Phoenix and Boston, and also online. The in person forums will each comprise about 100 demographically diverse participants selected to be representative of the two geographies. The online forum will be open to all and representative of diverse geographies. The report and assessments from the forums will provide input to the asteroid initiative and ideas for future asteroid-related public engagement activities.

“Citizen science connects people with varied interests, from nature lovers to Makers, to engage in civic and science activities,” said Darlene Cavalier, founder of SciStarter. “With NASA’s Asteroid Initiative, we are expanding the scope of citizen science to also empower people who want to be part of conversations and developments shaping science, technology and related policy.”

For more information on the project or to sign up to receive updates visit http://ecastonline.org.

Images courtesy of NASA

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ECAST is a collaboration among university, informal science education, and policy research partners to establish a non-partisan, independent, flexible, and proactive technology assessment capability in the United States.

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The Consortium for Science, Policy, and Outcomes is an intellectual network aimed at enhancing the contribution of science and technology to society’s pursuit of equality, justice, freedom, and overall quality of life. The Consortium creates knowledge and methods, cultivates public discourse, and fosters policies to help decision makers and institutions grapple with the immense power and importance of science and technology as society charts a course for the future.

 

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One of the world’s largest science centers and New England’s most attended cultural institution, the Museum introduces about 1.5 million visitors a year to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) via dynamic programs and hundreds of interactive exhibits.

 

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SciStarter.com is a citizen science hotspot that connects people from all walks of life to the tools, resources, projects, and communities in need of their perspectives, data, talent, and wisdom.

 

Contact:

Marissa Huth, Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes (CSPO) at Arizona State University,
480-727-0627, marissa.huth@asu.edu

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Wanted: You and Your Dog! For Science! – It’s National Dog Day! [GUEST POST]http://scistarter.com/blog/2014/08/canine-science/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2014/08/canine-science/#comments Tue, 26 Aug 2014 13:07:19 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=10230 Editor’s Note: In honor of National Dog Day, we are featuring an article by Julie Hecht, the Dog Spies blogger for Scientific American.   A few years back, John Homans, former executive editor of New York magazine, published What’s a Dog For? — an intimate reflection on his beloved family dog, Stella, as well as […]

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Editor’s Note: In honor of National Dog Day, we are featuring an article by Julie Hecht, the Dog Spies blogger for Scientific American.

 

She's ready for science. Photo by Rebecca Moore-Ghilarducci

This dog is ready for science.
Photo: Rebecca Moore-Ghilarducci

A few years back, John Homans, former executive editor of New York magazine, published What’s a Dog For? — an intimate reflection on his beloved family dog, Stella, as well as a snapshot into the flourishing field of canine science. Looking down at the wagging tail by your side, you could easily answer the above question. What’s a dog for? Simple. Dogs are our family members and friends, our assistants and fellow-workers, and in some cases, our unexpected mentors. But would you also add ‘enthusiastic science partner’ to the list?

Since the late 1990s, companion dogs and their owners have played a crucial role in the growing field of canine science — a field investigating a wide range of questions about who dogs are and how they came to live their lives so intertwined with ours. To borrow from Dr. Alexandra Horowitz’s New York Times bestseller Inside of a Dog, researchers are tackling the nuances of “what dogs see, smell, and know,” and all those burning questions you have about dogs. In recent years, we’ve learned why dogs so easily move in sync with us (they readily attend to not only our gestures, but also our gaze and even our facial expressions), why dogs eat food off the table when you are out of, but not in, the room (they learn to note your attentional states), and how our assessments of dogs are not always spot-on (studies to date suggest the beloved “guilty look” in dogs is not what we think it means).

What’s probably most interesting about canine science is that it can’t be done without you. The field does not rely on laboratory or purpose-bred dogs. Instead, companion dogs and their owners are often study participants and subjects. No matter where you live on planet Earth, there’s probably a canine behavior and cognition lab on your continent (and it likely wants your help!).

Traditionally, dogs and their owners participate in short studies held at academic institutions, although research at owner homes, the park, dog daycares or even animal shelters is becoming more common. Through this research, we’re developing a more detailed picture of what it’s like to be a dog, and even how dogs view us. In an early study from the Family Dog Project, a leading canine research group in Budapest, researchers wondered what dogs would do when faced with an unsolvable task — say attempting to access a treat that’s in a box that can’t be opened. Dogs tend to look back toward a person, having learned that you, Mr. Opposable Thumbs, are a great tool to open the box, get the ball from under the couch, open the “cookie” jar, and the list goes on. I’m surprised Gary Larson, cartoonist extraordinaire, didn’t do a comic of a dog’s ode to human thumbs.

Recently, canine science projects are catching up to the 21st Century, incorporating new technologies and increasing the scale and scope of participation. For example, in a recent study at the Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College, we asked owners to upload short videos depicting how they play with their dog. Project: Play With Your Dog (which has since ended) received hundreds of submissions from 19 different countries. This approach gave us a direct link to unique and unscripted play-styles from around the world — something that would have been challenging with more traditional approaches.

Because canine science projects do not follow a singular, standardized form, there are many different ways you can get involved! To name a few, some researchers want your dog’s saliva (there’s lots of quality information in spit)! Others would like video or audio recordings of your dog, or perhaps even your help analyzing recordings of other dogs’ vocalizations. If you’d like, you can fill out questionnaires about your experiences with or perceptions of dogs. And as we’ve seen, you and your dog can participate in short studies.

Canine researchers can’t study dogs alone. We need your help (well, often you and your dog’s help). If I could guess how dogs rate participating in canine science studies, they’d probably give it two dog ‘thumbs’ up (which, as research finds, might equate to a right-sided tail wag). After all, it feels good to be understood.

Follow Julie at Dog Spies (Blog, Twitter, Facebook) to keep up with the field of canine science.

Check out these dog citizen science projects: Don’t Let These Dog Projects Pass You By, Scientific American

More on the growing field of canine science:
Julie Hecht. 2012. Dog Smart: Exploring the Canine Mind. The Bark. Issue 69: Mar/Apr/May 2012
Julie Hecht. 2013. Drop Outs and Bloopers: Behind the Scenes of Canine Science. Dog Spies. Scientific American.
Virginia Morell. 2009. Going to the Dogs. Science. 325: 5944, 1062-1065.

Reference:
Bensky, M.K., Gosling, S.D., Sinn, D.L., 2013. The world from a dog’s point of view: a review and synthesis of dog cognition research. Advances in the study of behavior. 45, 209–406.

Interested in canine citizen science? Check out these projects:
C-BARQ
Emotional Load of Calls
Pets Can Do
Dognition
Canid Howl Project


Julie Hecht is a canine researcher, science writer and public speaker. She has investigated dogs’ understanding of “fairness,” olfactory preferences, dog-human play behavior, and common anthropomorphisms along with Alexandra Horowitz at the Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College in NYC. She frequently holds lectures for the general public and student groups on all things dog.

Julie is a regular contributor to Bark magazine, and you can find her blog, Dog Spies, on Scientific American. She and fellow canine researcher Mia Cobb also maintain Do You Believe in Dog?. Julie’s popular writing covers everything from dog humping and crotch-sniffing to canine cognition and the infamous “guilty look.” You know, the important things.

Julie received a Masters with distinction in Applied Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare from the University of Edinburgh, and she is a PhD student in the Animal Behavior and Comparative Psychology training area at The City University of New York. Julie conducted her Masters research with the Family Dog Project in Budapest, pioneers in the field of canine ethology. She would really like to meet your dog.

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The Citizen Science Funding Resource Guidehttp://scistarter.com/blog/2014/08/citizen-science-funding-resource-guide/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2014/08/citizen-science-funding-resource-guide/#comments Mon, 25 Aug 2014 23:08:36 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=10225 Looking for ways to fund citizen science research? Check out the Citizen Science Funding Resource Guide! Jessica Clemente, an environmental science graduate thought she would be doing work outside of her community once she got her degree. But she is an asthmatic, and when she found out there was an asthma study taking place in […]

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Looking for ways to fund citizen science research? Check out the Citizen Science Funding Resource Guide!

242px-Environmental_Protection_Agency_logo.svgJessica Clemente, an environmental science graduate thought she would be doing work outside of her community once she got her degree. But she is an asthmatic, and when she found out there was an asthma study taking place in the area of her home in South Bronx she became involved and eventually took the lead. “Living day-to-day in an area where all I saw was high traffic volumes, poor air quality and adding more waste to our community got me enraged,” she says in an EPA video interview. Her anger prompted action, and she looked at the tools to empower herself and her community—education and advocacy.

In many cases, there is a connection between socioeconomic status and air quality. Some call it environmental justice—why should a factory spew tons of filth into the same air that a poor, young family across the road breathes? Amanda Kaufman, the Environmental Health Fellow in the Air Climate and Energy Program Office at the EPA says, “We are currently working with a community in Newark, New Jersey that has faced environmental justice issues in the past and still faces many to this day.  We hope to collaborate with the community action group to establish a community-led air monitoring project.”

The EPA has several tools to assist environmental justice communities, including the EJView mapping tool and the Community-Focused Exposure and Risk Screening Tool (C-FERST). The Air Sensor Toolbox for Citizen Scientists is also a valuable resource for environmental justice communities, as well as any other community interested in monitoring their air quality, but most recently Kaufman compiled a list of organizations, specific grants and other funding opportunities within organizations that will fund citizen science monitoring projects.

Kaufman says, “The Citizen Science Funding Resource Guide is a compilation of all the funding opportunities I discovered while searching the Internet for funding for citizen science and/or community-based research projects.” The guide is not EPA-specific and some of the funding sources are specifically focused on air quality or air sensors because that is the focus of EPA’s new resource tool, the Air Sensor Toolbox for Citizen Scientists.

Kaufman isn’t involved in any of the funding processes so she doesn’t know how easy or difficult it is to get funding. Each funding opportunity is different and will probably need different types of information, depending on the specific requirements of the funding grantor. But what energizes her is that there are so many opportunities available through the Air Sensor Toolbox for Citizen Scientists and the Citizen Science Funding Resource Guide. “Most importantly, I am excited that individuals and communities will now be able to access this extensive list of funding opportunities all located in one easy to navigate database. Often, citizens are unaware of funding opportunities or unsure of how to obtain money to do projects, and this resource guide will assist them in bringing their projects to fruition.”


Ian Vorster has a MS in Environmental Communications and most recently served as director of communications at the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts. Prior to that he worked in the health communications field. Ian has served as a designer, writer, photographer, editor and project leader in the field of science, and now works freelance in a blend of these roles. You can see more of Ian’s work at dragonflyec.com.

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Exploring a Culture of Health: Repurposing Medicine to Help More Peoplehttp://scistarter.com/blog/2014/08/exploring-culture-health-repurposing-medicine-help-people/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2014/08/exploring-culture-health-repurposing-medicine-help-people/#comments Fri, 22 Aug 2014 18:22:30 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=10213 This post is part of Exploring a Culture of Health, a citizen science series brought to you by Discover Magazine, SciStarter and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, serving as an ally to help Americans work together to build a national Culture of Health that enables everyone to lead healthier lives now and for generations to come.   Each year in […]

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How can we use medication efficiently to help more people? (Image Credit: Pixabay / CC0 1.0)

This post is part of Exploring a Culture of Health, a citizen science series brought to you by Discover Magazine, SciStarter and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, serving as an ally to help Americans work together to build a national Culture of Health that enables everyone to lead healthier lives now and for generations to come.  

Each year in the U.S. millions of dollars’ worth of useable medication is destroyed. While at the same time one in four working adults cannot afford their medication. It is a confusing and unnecessary contradiction.

Fortunately innovative organizations recognize that by recycling or repurposing medication it is possible to limit waste and conserve resources while helping individuals live healthier lives.

SIRUM, a California-based online non-profit is bringing excess usable drugs to patients in need. Playfully dubbing itself ‘the Match.com of unused medicine’, SIRUM mediates the transfer of unused, unopened medication from donor organizations such as health facilities, drug manufacturers, and pharmacies to institutes that serve low-income patients.

Each year in the U.S. millions of dollars’ worth of useable medication is destroyed. How can we help? (Image Credit: SIRUM)

Each year in the U.S. millions of dollars’ worth of useable medication is destroyed. How can we help? (Image Credit: SIRUM)

 

“Once a donor facility choses a recipient clinic, SIRUM takes care of all the rest—recordkeeping, shipping, tracking, and more,” explains Kiah Williams, co-founder of SIRUM.

This efficient system not only improves patient health but helps to lower health care costs by reducing money spent on the manufacturing and purchasing of new drugs. SIRUM’s work got the attention of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) whose financial support is helping SIRUM expand their network and explore how their model might be replicated in other states.

“The foundation’s support has helped SIRUM expand its network to 260 medicine donors and enabled us to make over 740 donations in the last one and half years. That amounts to about $1.3 million worth of medication that would have otherwise been destroyed. And we have recently begun a pilot program in Colorado,” says SIRUM co-founder George Wang.

Taking a different approach to reuse medication is Cures Within Reach, whose mission is to advance drug and device repurposing.

Drug or device repurposing is not such a new idea. When clinicians prescribe medication for off-label use they are in essence repurposing that drug. The practice is more common when clinicians are faced with a disease lacking a prescribed treatment.

Why do we need to repurpose medication? (Image Credit: Cures Within Reach)

Why do we need to repurpose medication? (Image Credit: Cures Within Reach)

While off label use is legal, it is not regulated, meaning the beneficial effects of a drug’s off-label use is often not scientifically tested or systematically described. Cures Within Reach changes this by facilitating formal research into drug and device repurposing, particularly for rare diseases.

“New treatment research for rare diseases is not a priority for most private companies. It comes down to economics. Development and approval of a new drug can take billions of dollars and years of work. A company isn’t going to be able to recover that investment if the potential user population is so small,” says Dr. Bruce Bloom, President and Chief Science Officer of Cures Within Reach. “However, by focusing on repurposing market drugs, devices or nutraceuticals, we can try to find treatments for patients with overlooked diseases or conditions in a more cost effective and efficient manner.”

Cures Within Reach does not conduct or fund the research , but instead helps bring the important stakeholders, clinicians, researchers, and funding institutions together. With support from RWJF, CWR will be streamlining, scaling and globalizing this process with the development on an online platform.

The online platform will have two components. One is the Commons, an open participation platform where individuals can openly discuss potential treatments, get feedback on their ideas, organize research and connect with funders. The other component, the Vault, will be a private version of Commons. When there are concerns about intellectual property or research ownership, the Vault will enable users to solicit ideas or post funding opportunities while hammering out the details privately. CWR’s goal is to have a beta version of the platform up by winter and a fully functioning version running by the end of 2015.

“By thinking outside the box, SIRUM and Cures Within Reach are bringing treatments to patients who would otherwise go without, whether it’s because they can’t afford the medicine they need, or because it doesn’t yet exist,” says Deborah Bae senior program officer at RWJF. “As we strive to build a Culture of Health, it will be critical to move beyond ‘business as usual’ and explore novel approaches that help us address unmet needs.”

Do you have ideas or stories about how to repurpose health? Leave a comment below.

 

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Interested in opportunities to contribute to health research? Check out these two crowdsourcing projects.

Transparency Life Sciences is an open innovation drug company that encourages researchers, clinicians, patients and family members to participate in and improve clinical trial protocols. Researchers and clinicians can propose protocols or suggest alternative uses for stalled pharmaceutical compounds. Patients and families can provide their insight and needs to guide protocol development. Join their network to contribute your expertise, insight and experience. All data is open access.

Cure Together is a worldwide health research project to find cures for some of the most painful, prevalent, and chronic conditions. Users anonymously track their own health care data, including medication schedules, symptoms, and treatment plans, and provide it to other participants around the world. By donating their data, citizens can help forward research to understand their bodies, improve treatment policies and clinical research.

 

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MuseHack Interview with Darlene Cavalier, Founder of SciStarterhttp://scistarter.com/blog/2014/08/excerpts-interview-darlene-cavalier-founder-scistarter/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2014/08/excerpts-interview-darlene-cavalier-founder-scistarter/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 12:19:34 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=10198 Editor’s Note: Earlier this month MuseHack, the site “dedicated to getting your creativity active” interviewed Darlene Cavalier, the founder of SciStarter about citizen science, SciStarter and making a difference. Here are some excerpts from that interview. I spoke about the mission of SciStarter – but how would you describe your mission? First and foremost, we […]

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Editor’s Note: Earlier this month MuseHack, the site “dedicated to getting your creativity active” interviewed Darlene Cavalier, the founder of SciStarter about citizen science, SciStarter and making a difference. Here are some excerpts from that interview.

I spoke about the mission of SciStarter – but how would you describe your mission?

Darlene Cavalier, Founder, SciStarter

Darlene Cavalier, Founder, SciStarter

First and foremost, we want to help people recognize that they are as entitled as anyone else to play active roles in science and technology. In the process, we’ve been able to help a lot of researchers and other people organizing participatory research and civic engagement projects, recruit skilled participants. A win/win!

It seems that more and more people are getting interested in citizen science. Do you think this is true – and if so, why?

I think that’s true and I think more types of people are becoming increasingly interested: hackers, makers, educators, people from local, state and federal government agencies, foundations, corporations, and the media to name a few. Why? It’s likely a combination of factors: there are more opportunities, it’s never been easier to get involved or to share success stories and best practices, participants are forming their own communities and networks and so are the researchers and practitioners. Plus the media has helped lend visibility and credibility. Shout out to Discover Magazine, Public Library of Science and WHYY, in particular (our media partners).

 You’ve had an amazing career yourself.  What would you tell people that want to really make a difference like you have?

Just. DO. It. Become well informed on the issue you care about. That’s 100% on you. Information is accessible and usually free. I went to graduate school to explore a question nagging at me: where do I fit in science, if at all? I really didn’t care about the degree. I was on a personal quest. Once I found out about citizen science and related participatory public policy opportunities, I got involved then created SciStarter to help others learn about and get involved.

 

Click here to read the full interview on MuseHack!

 

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How Are Cows and Purses Related to Sharks?http://scistarter.com/blog/2014/08/shark-citizen-science-how-do-cows-and-purses-relate-to-sharks/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2014/08/shark-citizen-science-how-do-cows-and-purses-relate-to-sharks/#comments Sun, 17 Aug 2014 14:49:09 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=10182 Look back at two shark citizen science projects featured on the SciStarter blog. Want to learn about and protect sharks? We’ve got you covered!   Sharks often get a bad rap; they’re featured in the media as dangerous killers that prey upon helpless human beings and animals.  Although shark attacks occur, they are rare; and attempts […]

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Look back at two shark citizen science projects featured on the SciStarter blog.

Want to learn about and protect sharks? We’ve got you covered!

 

Broadnose sevengill shark (Notorynchus cepedianus) in False Bay

Broadnose sevengill shark (Notorynchus cepedianus) in False Bay

Sharks often get a bad rap; they’re featured in the media as dangerous killers that prey upon helpless human beings and animals.  Although shark attacks occur, they are rare; and attempts to decrease the shark population to prevent attacks leads the ocean ecosystem down a dangerous path, because sharks are important members of the aquatic food chain.  Through education, observation in their natural habitat, and participation in citizen science projects dedicated to sharks, we can learn about and protect these misunderstood animals.  In that light, we featured two shark citizen science projects last year that deserve another read.

For some strange reason, some ocean animals have bovine names.  For example, there are sea cows (or manatees).  But did you know there are a family of sharks known as cow sharks?  The sevengill shark is one example of a cow shark, and Dr. Ashley Rose Kelly wrote about the Sevengill Shark Tracking Project, which was developed to monitor the rise of these particular cow sharks near San Diego.  You can find her blog post here.

In the aquatic world, a mermaid’s purse is not a fancy accessory; rather, it’s an egg case, or a case that surrounds the fertilized eggs of sharks and other fish.  Dr. Melinda T. Hough featured Shark Trust, a project that identifies and catalogs mermaid’s purses with the intention of protecting marine nurseries.  Read about the project here.

Image: Derekkeats, Wikimedia Commons.


About the Authors:

Dr. Ashley Rose Kelly is Assistant Professor of Communication,Networks, and Innovation at Purdue University. Kelly’s work is in the areas of science studies and science communication. You can find Ashley on Twitter as @ashleyrkelly

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.

Rae Moore is the Managing Editor of the SciStarter and PLOS blogs. She studied Bioinorganic Chemistry as a graduate student at McGill University, and is currently the Undergraduate Chemistry Lab Coordinator at Harvard University.

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Big Fish, Dainty Meals: Observing Shark Behavior with the New England Basking Shark Projecthttp://scistarter.com/blog/2014/08/new-england-basking-shark-welcome-restaurant-meal-served/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2014/08/new-england-basking-shark-welcome-restaurant-meal-served/#comments Sat, 16 Aug 2014 19:33:34 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=10174 Connect with others and learn about basking sharks with the New England Basking Shark project. Want to learn about and protect sharks?  We’ve got you covered! With abundant jellyfish and other gelatinous critters, the New England area is always a trendy place for a basking shark to go for a meal after a long day travelling. […]

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Connect with others and learn about basking sharks with the New England Basking Shark project.

Want to learn about and protect sharks?  We’ve got you covered!

Basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) off the Atlantic coast

Basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) off the Atlantic coast

With abundant jellyfish and other gelatinous critters, the New England area is always a trendy place for a basking shark to go for a meal after a long day travelling. This is in fact a popular restaurant, not just with sharks but with many other species as well. “The whales, the tuna, the sharks, everybody comes up here to eat”,  jokes Carol “Krill” Carson, President of the New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance (NECWA), a non-profit organization based in Massachusetts.

As such a great opportunity to find a large number of basking sharks and ocean sunfish could not be missed, in 2005 Carson created a network of beachcombers and boat enthusiasts to spot these magnificent fish whenever they decided to come to the surface; and The New England Basking Shark (NEBShark) and Ocean Sunfish Project was born. “We see basking sharks and ocean sunfish in our whale watching trips and people get very excited, so I thought it would be really nice to have people involved in a community sighting network, where they could participate by reporting their sightings of these deep sea fish,” says Carson. “The more eyes you have looking, the better your chances of finding them.”

As the NECWA is not a research organization, the main purpose for this sighting network is to get people connected with the unique wildlife in the area. Secondary to that – like a cherry on top of the cake – is the opportunity to gather data to better understand these big fish and then use that knowledge to help protect them.

Nevertheless, this focus on public participation hasn’t stopped Carson from pursuing something rather unexpected that started happening in the fall and early winter. All of a sudden, they started receiving phone calls from concerned locals reporting stranded ocean sunfish on the beach. The first phone calls were met with a large dose of inexperience and ignorance about what was happening. As a whale biologist by trade, Carson wasn’t prepared to deal with these fishy problems. However, after a few years of trips to the library to brush up on fish biology and behavior, she now feels better equipped to answer these calls. “Over the years we’ve been responding to these reports, and now we actually have a better handle on what’s happening.”

It turns out what’s happening is very similar to what happens with sea turtles in the area. In theory, when the time comes to migrate, all they have to do is head south, for warmer waters. However, these fish sometimes stumble on a strange bit of land stretching 50 miles into the Atlantic Ocean: Cape Cod. If they get funneled into the arm of the Cape, they inevitably get stuck and their migration is over. Some are lucky and can be rescued in time, but for others it’s sometimes too late.

Basking shark identification and sighting card.

Basking shark identification and sighting card.

Upon sighting the stranded fish, Carson and her team carefully analyze the animals, including a detailed external and internal examination. “This is developing into something that I never imagined,” says Carson. “I’ve been contacted by researchers in Japan, in the Mediterranean, in England, all over the world, asking me to share samples. It’s really something incredible, because we really didn’t know what we were doing”. After a few necropsies (autopsies performed on animals) generating interesting results – “look, there’s a bladder, what other fish has a bladder?” – Carson believes they may be close to having enough data to publish a paper.

For the project participants however, it’s all about finding out that not all sharks are man-eating machines with ferocious teeth. The area is also characterized by a large population of great whites looking for food – mostly in the form of seals – but these animals tend to stay low in the water and are very rarely seen at the surface.  Only basking sharks like to “bask” in the warm sunshine and opt for travelling near the surface. “If you’re gonna see a big fish it’s typically those two fish [basking shark and ocean sunfish]. That behavior makes them very acceptable for a sighting network,” explains Carson.

The whale biologist turned shark expert continues, “When you tell people that a basking shark, which can be over 30 feet, comes here to eat something the size of a grain of rice, people can’t believe it. They come up here to eat jellyfish and people can’t believe that. Here’s something the size of your kitchen table coming up here to eat jellyfish.”

In this project every participant gets a personal call or email from Carson after reporting a sight. “I think it’s very important that you make that human connection with them to thank them for their information” says Carson, “and if you can talk to them you can get more information, things that they might not have thought about before.” This approach also creates an opportunity to emphasize the importance of taking a photo or video, even a bad one, to ensure the quality of the data collected.

The project will mark its 10th anniversary next year and it’s still going strong. “It’s so much fun. I’ve no clue what I’m doing, but I’m the only one doing it,” concludes Carson. So, if you happen to be in the area when these fish are around – typically spring, summer and fall – either simply walking on the beach or going on a whale watching trip, don’t forget to have your camera ready for a snapshot of a rather strange looking ocean sunfish with apparently no head or a basking shark with a mouth wide open.

Resources:
New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance (NECWA)

Images: Wikimedia commons (top); Educational Materials, NEBShark (bottom)


Dr. Alex Reis is a freelance science writer, with a particular expertise in the field of biology and genetics. She holds a degree and MSc in Animal Science, topped up with a PhD in Embryology. In a ‘previous life’ as a researcher, she worked in the field of cell and molecular biosciences and published various scientific manuscripts including in Nature. Nowadays, however, she spends most of her time reading and writing science articles for several news outlets. Recent work includes articles published in The Munich Eye, Decoded Science, United Academics Magazine, BitesizeBio and Science NOW. After moving around the UK for a while, she now lives in the Highlands of Scotland. When not working, she can be found trying to get friendly with the ‘locals,’ from deer to seals, otters or even sea eagles.

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Exploring a Culture of Health: Reimagining Medical and Health Educationhttp://scistarter.com/blog/2014/08/exploring-culture-health-reimagining-medical-health-education/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2014/08/exploring-culture-health-reimagining-medical-health-education/#comments Wed, 13 Aug 2014 18:51:17 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=10159 This post is part of Exploring a Culture of Health, a citizen science series brought to you by Discover Magazine, SciStarter and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, serving as an ally to help Americans work together to build a national Culture of Health that enables everyone to lead healthier lives now and for generations to come.   What we […]

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How can we reimagine online health learning? (Image Credit: Pixabay / CC0 1.0)

How can we reimagine online health learning? (Image Credit: Pixabay / CC0 1.0)

This post is part of Exploring a Culture of Health, a citizen science series brought to you by Discover Magazine, SciStarter and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, serving as an ally to help Americans work together to build a national Culture of Health that enables everyone to lead healthier lives now and for generations to come.  

What we know about health and medicine is ever changing and improving. So should the way we teach and learn about it.

For several years now, Khan Academy has been reimagining teaching and improving access to education. As part of their mission to provide “a free world-class education to anyone, anywhere”, they develop free online video lessons to help students, teachers, and parents tackle subjects ranging from algebra to art history to computing. With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), they are now turning their attention to medical and health education.

“We need more effective ways to spread knowledge about health and medicine and online tools seem to have a lot of potential in this respect,” explains Michael Painter, senior program officer at Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “With Khan Academy’s focus on disrupting traditional approaches to education and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s interest in disrupting traditional notions of health and medicine it seemed like a good match.”

There is an enormous quantity of potential health and medical content that can be taught. Khan and RWJF decided to focus on developing student preparation resources for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), the exam prospective students must take for admission into medical school.

Recognizing that many individuals are passionate about education, Khan Academy hosted a content competition to find talent. Khan Academy was looking for submissions, which were informative, engaging, and well-constructed. Many winners were residents and young medical faculty. They were treated to a video ‘boot camp’ to hone their video making skills before they were let loose to create their instructional videos. A second competition was completed this past spring to refresh the first cohort of video makers. To make sure the content is accurate, the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) is overseeing a review of the content before it is posted online.

These videos are part of Khan’s Health and Medicine catalogue. The section has a growing library of content covering a range of topics including cardiovascular diseases, the musculoskeletal system, and cognition. It also has information about general health and fitness and as well as a section on understanding lab test results. Within each topic module there are several videos that sequentially guide the viewer through the relevant material. Some modules contain a comprehension quiz. While the content is geared towards healthcare trainees and practitioners, all are relevant and viewable for the general public.

“This is a platform to provide free, high-quality resources in the area of health and medicine. We want to offer a deep learning experience that is accessible to anyone, anywhere.  As such, we try to avoid using jargon and don’t always assume a pre-existing base of medical knowledge.  For instance, our video on anemia breaks down the complexities of oxygen delivery in the body by drawing an analogy, and using clear language appropriate for anyone interested in learning about the disease,” says Rishi Desai, MD, MPH the Khan Academy medical partnership program lead.

Building on its work with the MCAT, Khan Academy is in the process of generating content in collaboration with the Association of American Colleges of Nursing and the Jonas Center to offer preparation materials for the NCLEX-RN, the registered nurses licensing exam.

“We believe efforts such as these will make significant improvements in the education of health care providers and ultimately in the care they deliver to patients,” says Painter.

What ways can you think of to improve health and medical information? Leave a comment below.

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What to expand your science knowledge? Check out these free online science learning resources.

VisionLearning is an online resource for undergraduate level science education. Lessons are organized in concise and engaging modules interspersed with comprehension check points and animations to keep students engaged. Material is created by professional scientists and educators. In addition the site provides resources for helping educators create a lesson plans. Read a more detailed description here.

The National Science Digital Library This site provides a collection of free resources and tools which support science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.  Resources include activities, lesson plans, websites rosters, simulations, or other materials to facilitate STEM education.

Citizen Science Academy A tool for educators interested in incorporating citizen science projects in their curriculum. Courses and tutorials help guide educators through the process. There are also opportunities for continuing education credits.

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Super Moon, Super Meteor Showers, Super Citizen Sciencehttp://scistarter.com/blog/2014/08/super-moon-supper-meteor-showers-super-citizen-science/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2014/08/super-moon-supper-meteor-showers-super-citizen-science/#comments Sat, 09 Aug 2014 08:08:42 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=10149 On Sunday August 10, join Slooh and citizen scientists as they observe the Super Moon. Don’t miss a live interview (Sunday at 7:30 ET) with SciStarter’s founder Darlene Cavalier on Slooh, the telescope and astronomy website devoted to stars and the cosmos.     There is a tendency to prefix anything dramatic, unusual or super […]

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On Sunday August 10, join Slooh and citizen scientists as they observe the Super Moon.

Don’t miss a live interview (Sunday at 7:30 ET) with SciStarter’s founder Darlene Cavalier on Slooh, the telescope and astronomy website devoted to stars and the cosmos.

 

Credit NASA

 

There is a tendency to prefix anything dramatic, unusual or super with…well, the prefix ‘super,’ which is partly why the Moon is called super twice more this year. Let me explain.  When a new Moon coincides with the closest approach the Moon has on its elliptical path to the Earth (because of this the Moon’s orbit typically varies between about 222,000 miles and 252,000 miles from the Earth), it actually appears from 7 to 30 percent larger and brighter, especially when it’s close to the horizon. That happens on the 10th of August—tomorrow—and again on the 9th of September 2014.  Slooh will be broadcasting live coverage of the event.

The term ‘super moon’ is not used in professional astronomical circles, but rather has its roots in modern astrology—the high tides created at this time are believed by some to cause earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and it has actually been blamed for sinking the Titanic (although there has not been any evidence to support this), and for the 2011 tsunami in Japan.

What’s so super about the Moon this weekend? The perigee (that’s what astronomers call it) will coincide with meteor showers. Named Perseid, it is possible to see as many as 100 shooting stars every hour; probably peaking between August 10 and August 13, with the best time to view the shower at about 2 am.

It’s not only a super opportunity for photographers (capturing something in silhouette against the horizon because that gives some form of reference) but also for citizen scientists. Here are a few projects that you could choose from:

  • Moon Mappers helps scientists understand the lunar surface. Participate in this cosmoquest as you mark craters and flag interesting images for followup, help correct algorithms and compare your mapping skills with others.
  • Help the American Meteor Society log fireball meteors with a smartphone app. Sensors in the phone provide an accurate means to record the location of the observation as well as the azimuth and elevation values for the start and end points of the meteor.
  • Meteor Counter is an iPhone app that allows you to capture meteor observations with an innovative “piano key” interface. As you tap the keys, Meteor Counter records critical data for each meteor: time, magnitude, latitude, and longitude, along with optional verbal annotations.
  • NASA needs your help to monitor the rates and sizes of large meteoroids striking the moon’s dark side with their Lunar Impact Monitoring project. By monitoring the moon for impacts, NASA can define the meteoroid environment and identify the risks that meteors pose to future lunar exploration. 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.
  • The MeteoNetwork is an ambitious collaboration in Italy to make scientific data from over 400 weather nationwide stations available in an easy to understand visual interface. You can now join in this groundbreaking work and gain access to loads of real time data. You can even add your own data and share analysis among the many members of the network.

Image credit: NASA


Ian Vorster has a MS in Environmental Communications and most recently served as director of communications at the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts. Prior to that he worked in the health communications field. Ian has served as a designer, writer, photographer, editor and project leader in the field of science, and now works freelance in a blend of these roles. You can see more of Ian’s work at dragonflyec.com.

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Citizen Science, Shark Week Editionhttp://scistarter.com/blog/2014/08/citizen-science-shark-week-edition/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2014/08/citizen-science-shark-week-edition/#comments Fri, 08 Aug 2014 19:02:46 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=10128 It’s Shark Week for Citizen Scientists! It’s that time of year again. (Cue Jaws theme song.) Discovery Channel’s Shark Week starts on August 10th! But rather than fear these beautiful creatures, participate in projects to help advance research about sharks! Hey! If you’re involved in more than one citizen science project, we’d like to hear […]

Find more posts like Citizen Science, Shark Week Edition by Rae Moore - Editor on the SciStarter Blog. Your source for citizen science and other science you can do.

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It’s Shark Week for Citizen Scientists!

It’s that time of year again. (Cue Jaws theme song.) Discovery Channel’s Shark Week starts on August 10th! But rather than fear these beautiful creatures, participate in projects to help advance research about sharks!

Hey! If you’re involved in more than one citizen science project, we’d like to hear from you. Email carolyn@scistarter.com to find out why (we’ve got a free t-shirt for you!).


 

Wildbook for Whale Sharks
Share your photographs of whale sharks and Wildbook’s pattern recognition software will distinguish between individual sharks by identifying skin patterns behind the gills of each shark! The photos you share will be used in mark-recapture studies to help with the global conservation of this threatened species.Get started!

 

Sevengill Shark Sightings, San Diego
If you spot a Sevengill Shark while on a dive, be sure to snap a photo or record video. Images can be uploaded to a pattern recognition program to track Sevengill sharks! Get started!

 

New England Basking Shark Project
The New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance invites boaters, fishermen, and divers to report their sightings and send in their photos of basking sharks. Help monitor the local population and migration patterns.  Get started!

 

Shark Trust: Great Eggcase Hunt
Prefer a casual stroll on the beach? Report findings of shark egg cases (“mermaid’s purses”) washed up on the beach. An eggcase contains one embryo which will develop over several months into a miniature shark, skate or ray. Once empty, the eggcases often wash ashore, indicating the location of nurseries, which provides species information on abundance and distribution!  Get started!


From our partners:

Check out “Exploring a Culture of Health,” a citizen science series brought to you by Discover Magazine, SciStarter and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, serving as an ally to help Americans work together to build a national Culture of Health that enables everyone to lead healthier lives now and for generations to come.

Find more posts like Citizen Science, Shark Week Edition by Rae Moore - Editor on the SciStarter Blog. Your source for citizen science and other science you can do.

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