SciStarter Blog http://scistarter.com/blog Covering the people, projects, and phenomena of citizen science Wed, 20 Aug 2014 13:08:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 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 […]

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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 on the SciStarter Blog. Your source for citizen science and other science you can do.

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Is our thirst for energy killing the ecology of the Grand Canyon?http://scistarter.com/blog/2014/08/thirst-energy-killing-ecology-grand-canyon/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2014/08/thirst-energy-killing-ecology-grand-canyon/#comments Fri, 08 Aug 2014 09:45:40 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=10095 A new citizen science project invites volunteers to help study insect diversity in the Grand Canyon. Every night when she’s on the water, Gibney Siemion, a river expedition guide in the Grand Canyon, crouches at the edge of the Colorado River right on the line where the sand turns from wet to dry. Her equipment […]

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A new citizen science project invites volunteers to help study insect diversity in the Grand Canyon.
Christian Mehlfuhrer. A shot of the south side of Glen Canyon Dam and the Colorado River.

A shot of the south side of Glen Canyon Dam and the Colorado River.

Every night when she’s on the water, Gibney Siemion, a river expedition guide in the Grand Canyon, crouches at the edge of the Colorado River right on the line where the sand turns from wet to dry. Her equipment is rudimentary: a jar of grain alcohol poured into a plastic Tupperware with a glowing bar of black light perched on its edge. But this is an effective insect trap. Siemion, and citizen scientists like her, are using these traps in a 240 mile experiment to understand how energy demand and dams on the Colorado River are washing away key insect species.

“The flow of the Colorado River is extremely unnatural,” says Ted Kennedy, an ecologist with United States Geological Survey.  As energy demands in the U.S. West peak and ebb over the course of a day or season, the amount of water flowing through a dam like Glen Canyon, just north of Grand Canyon, varies tremendously. All this regulation “could be limiting the diversity of insects that we have here,” Kennedy says.

When the cities feeding off the Colorado River dams need less power, the water level in Glen Canyon drops. But during the daytime or peak summer months, more water plummets through the dam’s power turbines to meet electricity usage, and the flow in the river increases. This amounts to a kind of artificial tide creating fluctuations in water height as great as a meter (over 3 feet) in a day. As the river rises and falls, so does the number of insects that Siemion and her cohort of citizen scientists catch in their Tupperware.

David Heramimschuk. Citizen and professional scientists inspecting a black light trap.

Citizen and professional scientists inspecting a black light trap.

Kennedy says the die-off is probably happening when the insects lay their eggs. Adult aquatic insects tend to lay their eggs just under the water surface, near the shore. “But the shoreline is constantly changing,” Kennedy says. “Twelve hours [after the egg-laying], the water level drops out and those eggs desiccate and dry out and are killed before they ever hatch.” In the summer, when temperatures can reach up to 130°F, the insect babies have no hope for survival under the sun. Aquatic insect species that lay their eggs only along the shorelines, like mayflies or caddis flies, are the ones that have vanished from Glen and Grand Canyon.

Kennedy says showing the connection between the waning insect diversity and the flow of water coming out Glen Canyon Dam was difficult. To get at the issue, he and other professional scientists needed to more fully understand changes of the insects’ life cycles over months and across an immense section of the river. “It wasn’t going to cut it,” Kennedy says, “if it was just us out there collecting data once every three months.”

Then he realized that guides like Siemion and hundreds of others are out on the river every day during the spring and summer. Kennedy and the U.S.G.S. Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center recruited a handful of river guides as well as boatloads of students from a non-profit program called Grand Canyon Youth to collect samples. And collect they did. Thousands of samples have been collected since the project launched in 2012. “The data that I’ve seen from this work are incredible,” says Wyatt Cross, an ecologist at Montana State University. “Their efforts contribute hugely to our understanding of aquatic invertebrates in Grand Canyon.”

For river guides like Siemion, taking part in the research and learning the ecology helps her and her passengers develop a stronger connection with the canyons. “It’s a special thing,” she says. “It helps people to build a sense of place to understand some of the name of the species that call this landscape home and understand their natural history, their life cycle.” And Siemion says the work is making people more aware of the environmental impacts of the modern thirst for electricity. “This particular project – it gives us an even greater level of resolution and another example of just how damming this river has completely altered the flora and fauna.”

If you’re interested in participating in this project, contact Ted Kennedy or Carol Fritz.

Image Credits: Christian Mehlfuhrer (top); David Heramimschuk (bottom).


Angus R. Chen is a research assistant at Princeton University, where he does geochronology research using uranium and lead isotopes from zircon crystals. Previously, he was a research intern at the Harvard Forest, studying the impacts of climate change on soil. He recently graduated from Oberlin College with a double major in environmental science and creative writing. When he’s not in the lab admiring rocks and then pulverizing them, he writes poetry, fiction, science articles, and makes cool videos. You can read more of his work online at ScienceDiscover, and here on SciStarter.

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Exploring a Culture of Health: Navigating the Path Towards Responsible Personal Health Data Researchhttp://scistarter.com/blog/2014/08/exploring-culture-health-navigating-path-towards-responsible-personal-health-data-research/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2014/08/exploring-culture-health-navigating-path-towards-responsible-personal-health-data-research/#comments Wed, 06 Aug 2014 11:18:09 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=10104 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. With the advent […]

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The Personal Health Data Ecosystem. How Can it be Used for Public Good? (Image Credit: Health Data Exploration)

The Personal Health Data Ecosystem. How Can it be Used for Public Good? (Image Credit: Health Data Exploration)

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. With the advent of health-related wearable devices and apps, more and more individuals are actively tracking their personal health. In addition to physiological measurements like heart rate or blood pressure, these tools also enable individuals to record and analyze their behavior such as physical activity, diet and sleep. (See image below). Individuals are able to build reliable records of their personal health data with day-to-day resolution. Now, researchers are interested in using this data to better inform health research. “Personal health data research has the potential to provide a more holistic and inclusive description of an individual’s and a population’s health profile. Personal health data research will not replace traditional data and research methodologies but rather complement and enrich it, providing researchers with a deeper understanding of what contributes to health,” says Dr. Kevin Patrick principal investigator for Health Data Exploration, a project exploring how to use PDH in research that is responsible, ethical and meaningful. But research using personal health data is not without its obstacles. “Personal health data comes with its own set of complications, requiring new rules and guidelines for research. There are a lot of very legitimate concerns. We need to be very cautious and aware of how we handle this type of data,” says Patrick. The mission of the Health Data Exploration is to understand and address these challenges. The project is building a network of representatives for the various personal health data stakeholders. This includes the individuals who generate the data, the researchers or public health officers who want to access it, and the companies that broker the data. “We see this project and those involved as map makers. We are trying to chart the landscape of this new space and smooth the roads between the different stakeholders,” explains Dr. Matt Bietz, co-investigator of the Health Data Exploration project. This past fall, the Health Data Exploration project surveyed these stakeholders to being scoping out this landscape. Not surprisingly privacy was a big concern. “Among individuals who track their personal health data, many are open to anonymously donating their information for health-related research. However we learned that the question of what constitutes sufficient privacy is contextual and very personal. We will need a nuanced way to address the issue of privacy and informed consent,” says Bietz.

What kind of health apps do you currently have on your phone? (Image Credit: Health Data Exploration)

What kind of health apps do you currently have on your phone? (Image Credit: Health Data Exploration)

Another question that arose was data ownership and the potential complication of sharing data managed by private companies. “Certain companies are interested in working with personal health data research and sharing their data. For some it helps them understand the needs and wants of their consumers. For others it speaks to their interest in promoting public good. Many of these health-related companies were started by individuals interested in public health and public good. But these are private companies. Their owners still need to consider the company’s interests,” explains Bietz. The full report on the survey can be accessed on the project website. Data analysis will require some rethinking as well. Traditional health research is controlled, specific and very focused. By contrast, personal health data is real time data, highly variable, without experimental controls or organized sampling. “Analyzing this type of ‘big data’ will require new statistical approaches, drawing from the fields of computer science, atmospheric science and engineering,” says Patrick There is also the issue of self-selection – not everyone has access to or is interested in using personal health data tracking technology. But as mobile phone technology becomes more accessible and if datasets are made open and can be pooled, sampling even in underrepresented populations should be feasible. The Health Data Exploration network is organized by the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology and supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). RWJF program officer Steve Downs explains the foundation’s interest in this project. “We want people to consider health an integral part of their day-to-day life. We think pursuing personal health data research has tremendous potential to open a new window into the role of daily behavior on health. Long term we hope people will see the value of their data to help health research and understand how such research will provide insights into their own health.” How do you think personal health data can provide insights into health? What would make you more willing or less willing to share your own data? What concerns or suggestions do you have? Leave a comment below. *** Interested in other participating in personal health related projects? Check out the projects below which are part of a database of more than 800 citizen science projects created and managed by SciStarter, an online citizen science hotspot. The Human Food Project: American Gut Help researchers understand how diet affects the microbes that live on our bodies. Make a donation and receive a microbe kit which you can use to sample yourself or others, including your pet. Mail the kit back and get a report detailing the microbes on your body. Personal Genome Project Mapping the A, T, C, G’s of the human genome is just the start. This global project asks individuals to donate their genomic, trait and health data so scientists can build an open access database to study the genome, genome-environment interactions and the link between genetics and other aspects of the human experience. Participants must be at least 21 years old and willing to share data in a public platform.   logo

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Jellywatch: Observing Blobs for Marine Ecologyhttp://scistarter.com/blog/2014/08/jellywatch-observing-blobs-marine-citizen-science/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2014/08/jellywatch-observing-blobs-marine-citizen-science/#comments Sat, 02 Aug 2014 13:52:11 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=10070 Turn your beach visit into marine ecology research on worldwide jellyfish populations. Looking for more summertime citizen science projects? Find them here. Between 2012 and 2013, power plants in Israel, Sweden, Scotland, Japan, and the U.S. were shut down unexpectedly, all for the same reason: jellyfish. Blooms of jellyfish abundantly swarmed in coastal waters and clogged […]

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Turn your beach visit into marine ecology research on worldwide jellyfish populations.

Looking for more summertime citizen science projects? Find them here.

Sea nettle

Sea nettle

Between 2012 and 2013, power plants in Israel, Sweden, Scotland, Japan, and the U.S. were shut down unexpectedly, all for the same reason: jellyfish. Blooms of jellyfish abundantly swarmed in coastal waters and clogged water intake pipes, forcing plants to halt operations and clear the unwitting slaughter. More recently, headlines have heralded an upswing of jellyfish appearances, such as CNN’s “Jellyfish taking over oceans, experts warn,” and Nature News’  “Attack of the blobs.” Just last week, BBC News reported record numbers of jellyfish spotted on the Welsh coastline this summer. At first glance, these sightings appear to reflect a global increase in jellyfish populations, but scientific studies say that current data is too limited to make conclusions on the ecological effects of these gelatinous zooplankton.

Sightings map on the Jellywatch app.

Sightings map on the Jellywatch app.

“It is easy for scientists to cop out and say, ‘We need more data before drawing any confident conclusions.’ ” says Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute Research Scientist and Associate Adjunct Professor Steven Haddock. “In this case, however, it really is true that we are lacking the long-term perspective needed to understand cycles that can happen on 10- or 20-year scales. It is part of the life-history of many jellyfish to have boom and bust periods.” Jellywatch, a project launched by Haddock and other scientists at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, seeks to fill this information gap by gathering population data on jellyfish from citizen scientists across the world and making the data available for anyone to analyze. Users can log in to Jellywatch or download the app for iPhones and Androids and submit information on the type of jellyfish encountered, or even the lack thereof. Jellywatch encourages users to report beaches free of jellyfish, too. To obtain a more complete picture, Jellywatch collects user sightings of squid and other unusual marine life in coastal areas, as well as phenomena like red tides, where algal blooms pigment marine waters red, brown or green and affect viability of marine life.

“We are taking the long-term view that such reports, as sporadic as they are, will still allow us to develop a picture of jelly conditions. If you ask the right questions, you do not need perfect data to determine things like seasonality (are jellies showing up earlier or later than usual?) and big picture trends,” says Haddock. Accordingly, citizen scientist observations are critical to assessing marine ecology dynamics, even though the data can take awhile to get published and incorporated into environmental action.

In comparison to the stereotypical display of a species’ fragility, the potential rise in jellyfish populations poses a different consequence to anthropogenic effects like climate change and overfishing. Jellyfish survival is favored in warmer, saltier waters with fewer predatory fish, enabling their takeover of unoccupied ecological niches in these conditions. While recent jellyfish sightings may simply be a reflection of natural blooms and bursts of populations, in a more dire scenario, they may represent an imbalance of normal marine ecology, altering food webs, carbon cycling, and sustainability of fishing industries. That’s not to say that jellyfish themselves are bad; although commonly disliked for certain varieties’ painful stings, these organisms are among the ocean’s most efficient swimmers and can have a Benjamin Button-like life cycle, capable of rejuvenating to their polyp stage in a manner that has captured the curiosity of researchers studying aging. However, understanding human impact on this imbalance will be important toward ensuring the conservation of other species and minimizing the socioeconomic consequences of these ecosystem changes.

So this summer when you visit the beach, pay a visit to Jellywatch and log your sightings or even the absence of them. Haddock adds, “It is important to remember that we are the ones invading the ocean, not the jellyfish. Also, don’t believe everything you read in the headlines.”

References:
Condon et al. Questioning the Rise of Gelatinous Zooplankton in the World’s Oceans. BioScience 62, 160-169 (2012).

Image credits: Sheetal R. Modi


Sheetal R. Modi does research for a biotech start-up in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has a PhD in Biomedical Engineering where she focused on the evolution of antibiotic resistance in bacteria. When she’s not tinkering with microbes, she enjoys science communication and being outside.

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Exploring Citizen Sciencehttp://scistarter.com/blog/2014/08/exploring-citizen-science/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2014/08/exploring-citizen-science/#comments Fri, 01 Aug 2014 21:24:18 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=10072 This post, written by Christine Nieves, originally appeared on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Pioneering Ideas blog.  Check out the citizen science projects mentioned in the post, such as: FoldIt, Sound Around You, and FightMalaria@Home. I remember the distinct feeling of learning about Foldit. It was a mixture of awe and hope for the potential breakthrough contributions a […]

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This post, written by Christine Nieves, originally appeared on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Pioneering Ideas blog.  Check out the citizen science projects mentioned in the post, such as: FoldItSound Around You, and FightMalaria@Home.
Christine Nieves / RWJF

Christine Nieves / RWJF

I remember the distinct feeling of learning about Foldit. It was a mixture of awe and hope for the potential breakthrough contributions a citizen can make towards science (without needing a PhD!). Foldit is an online puzzle video game about protein folding. In 2011, Foldit users decoded an AIDS protein that had been a mystery to researchers for 15 years. The gamers accomplished it in 3 weeks. When I learned this, it suddenly hit me; if we, society, systematically harness the curiosity of citizens, we could do so much!

This is the spirit behind our recent exploration to learn more about how citizen scientists are addressing some of the most pressing problems in health and health care.

Health-related citizen science projects encompass a wide gamut of areas ranging from oncology and epidemiology to more social aspects such as community health and health care delivery. Citizen participation ranges from game play, with projects like Foldit, to data collection using mobile phones and other devices, such as in the noise pollution research project Sound Around You, and data generation using sampling kits or completing surveys, as with Flu Near You. Other projects, such as FightMalaria@Home simply ask individuals to donate their computer’s processing power.

Through “Exploring a Culture of Health: A Citizen Science Series,” a blog series produced by SciStarter—a place to find and participate in citizen science projects—and Discover Magazine, we have spotlighted some of the ways our grantees are working to improve health, from making doctor visits more effective to boosting the health of whole communities. I hope readers of this series will share their own thoughts and ideas about how citizen scientists can get involved and help advance these efforts.

Check out the latest blog posts and join the conversation on social media using the hashtag #citsci:

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