SciStarter Blog http://scistarter.com/blog Covering the people, projects, and phenomena of citizen science Thu, 30 Oct 2014 22:04:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 Citizen Science in the Rocky Mountains – Celebrate Halloween with the Colorado Spider Surveyhttp://scistarter.com/blog/2014/10/citizen-science-rocky-mountains-celebrate-halloween-colorado-spider-survey/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2014/10/citizen-science-rocky-mountains-celebrate-halloween-colorado-spider-survey/#comments Wed, 29 Oct 2014 16:25:21 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=10580 Love Creepy Crawlies? Check out our Halloween Picks! Editors Note: This post was written by Aditi Joshi, a freelance science writer and a new contributor at SciStarter As a kid, I avoided houses that had spider decorations during Halloween. Even today, I find spiders scary. Spiders add an extra ounce of spookiness to Halloween.  Spiders […]

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Love Creepy Crawlies? Check out our Halloween Picks!

What are you looking at? Family: Araneidae Genus: Neoscona - An orb weaving spider from Colorado

What are you looking at? Family: Araneidae Genus: Neoscona – An orb weaving spider from Colorado

Editors Note: This post was written by Aditi Joshi, a freelance science writer and a new contributor at SciStarter

As a kid, I avoided houses that had spider decorations during Halloween. Even today, I find spiders scary. Spiders add an extra ounce of spookiness to Halloween.  Spiders might be scary for some, but they’ve always fascinated Dr. Paula Cushing, an arachnologist (spider biologist) at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science in Colorado.

Cushing hoped to get a better sense of what kinds of spiders existed around her and what role they play in the ecosystems of the Rocky Mountains. To do that, she needed a map of where the spiders were and what kinds of spiders exist in the area. But an area spanning 104,000 square miles has a daunting array of spider species estimated to be over 650 in number. It wasn’t something that she or a small staff or professional scientists were going to be able to do on their own. They needed help.

Earlier, a scientist named Dr. Richard Bradley had done a project in Ohio, where he had recruited volunteers to help capture and tag spiders across his state. That project was wildly successful, and sixteen years ago, Cushing decided to follow suit with the Colorado Spider Survey.

A spider survey had never been done in Colorado before Cushing. “We started from zero spider specimen vials, and today we have a collection of over 50,000 vials,” Cushing says. Survey volunteers have identified and classified specimens from the entire Rocky Mountain region even going as far as Montana.

Colorado Spider Survey volunteers on a field trip with their beat sheets, sweep nets and vials.

Colorado Spider Survey volunteers on a field trip with their beat sheets, sweep nets and vials.

The project has since helped scientists understand the impact of urbanization on spiders and the ecology and distribution of spiders across Colorado. But Cushing also uses the opportunity to teach locals about their environment. Every year during the spring and summer, Cushing leads spider survey trainings for teens and adults who are interested in volunteering for the survey. She’s been able to train over eight hundred people, many of whom volunteered to help the survey grab and tag spiders.

Nina Shilodon, who’s been able to take some the lessons she’s learned in Cushing’s trainings into the classrooms, says that her adopted pet spider, Blueberry, has been able to get her kids’ attention in “spider storytelling” sessions. “When Blueberry comes crawling out she’s the one that brings the fun… whether a child is fearful or fascinated, they’re interested,” Shilodon says. And “they listen when one tells them about the different hunting styles, body parts, and environments that spiders inhabit.”

Cushing says the spider survey is a great way for people to become more intimate with biodiversity “of which otherwise one would not have been aware.”

***

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Image Credits: Dr. Paula Cushing, Rick Teichler

 

Aditi Joshi, a freelance science writer, is an expert in the field of clinical psychophysiology. She holds a PhD in Human Physiology from the University of Oregon and has published several academic papers. Apart from science, she is interested in Native American art, and art history

 

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Five Halloween Treats for Citizen Scientistshttp://scistarter.com/blog/2014/10/five-halloween-treats-citizen-scientists/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2014/10/five-halloween-treats-citizen-scientists/#comments Fri, 17 Oct 2014 18:33:28 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=10539  Zombees and spiders and bats, Oh MY! Drag your bones over, give these projects a TRY! Happy Halloween! From the SciStarter team. Here are  five projects to put a smile on your skull.    Want a free SciStarter Tshirt? Take our quick survey before Tuesday, 10/21! (Update: Limited Quantities Available!)   Loss of the Night Bring Citizen […]

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 Zombees and spiders and bats,
Oh MY!
Drag your bones over,

give these projects a TRY!

Happy Halloween!

From the SciStarter team.

Here are  five projects to put a smile on your skull. 

 

Want a free SciStarter Tshirt? Take our quick survey before Tuesday, 10/21! (Update: Limited Quantities Available!)

 

loss-of-the-night-scistarter

Loss of the Night
Bring Citizen Science with you to Trick or Treat this year! This App helps you learn constellations as you  contribute to a global real-time map of light pollution. Get started!

zombee watch scistarter

ZomBeeWatch
There’s a Zombie Fly threatening our honeybees! Learn how to set a trap, catch a bee, and see if it’s been infected by the Zombie Fly.  Get started!

bat-detectives-scistarter

Bat Detective
By sorting the sounds in recordings into insect and bat calls, you will help biologists learn how to reliably distinguish bat ‘tweets’ to develop new automatic identification tools.  Get started!

istock spider

Colorado Spider Survey
Little is known about the biodiversity of spiders in Colorado and the impact urbanization is having on species distribution. Learn how to collect and identify spiders, which will be sent to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. Get started! BONUS! The L.A. Spider Survey needs your help investigating these issues in the L.A. area!

istock earthworm

Great Lakes Worm Watch
Not fazed by creepy crawlies? Then this wormy project is for you! Help monitor earthworm distribution and habitat from ANYWHERE! Collect earthworms and habitat data, and learn how to do soil surveys. Get started!

***

Image Credits

Loss of the Night – NASA

ZomBeeWatch – US Geological Survey

Bat Detective – National Park Service

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SciStarter among 18 winners of Knight Prototype Fund!http://scistarter.com/blog/2014/10/scistarter-among-18-winners-knight-prototype-fund/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2014/10/scistarter-among-18-winners-knight-prototype-fund/#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 21:36:57 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=10526 The Knight Foundation today announced the latest winners of its Knight Prototype Fund. Eighteen projects will receive $35,000 to help them bring their concepts closer to fruition and one of the 18 projects is ours: SciStarter ‘s project will connect data journalists and researchers with citizen scientists who are interested in helping them collect data about […]

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knight-logo-3000

The Knight Foundation today announced the latest winners of its Knight Prototype Fund. Eighteen projects will receive $35,000 to help them bring their concepts closer to fruition and one of the 18 projects is ours:

SciStarter ‘s project will connect data journalists and researchers with citizen scientists who are interested in helping them collect data about specific issues (i.e. water quality in a particular neighborhood).

The fund, launched in 2012, also gives winners a support network and the opportunity to receive human-centered design training in an effort bring early stage media ideas to a formal launch.

We are very honored to be in such great company and will post developments here.

Learn more about the other winners and the Knight Prototype Fund.

***

Image Credit: Knight Foundation

 

 

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The Sound of Science! 5 Citizen Science Projects That Need Your Earshttp://scistarter.com/blog/2014/10/sound-science-5-citizen-science-projects-need-ears/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2014/10/sound-science-5-citizen-science-projects-need-ears/#comments Wed, 08 Oct 2014 03:44:51 +0000 http://scienceforcitizens.net/blog/?p=10507 In our latest newsletter we’ve picked citizen science projects where you can collaborate with scientists and use sounds and radio waves to track environmental health, understand our solar system, and even search for extraterrestrial intelligence. And don’t forget to tune into NPR/WHYY’s Citizen Science radio series, produced in partnership with SciStarter. And without further ado, here’s science you […]

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In our latest newsletter we’ve picked citizen science projects where you can collaborate with scientists and use sounds and radio waves to track environmental health, understand our solar system, and even search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

And don’t forget to tune into NPR/WHYY’s Citizen Science radio series, produced in partnership with SciStarter.

And without further ado, here’s science you can do!

 

SETI@home

setihomeSETI, or the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, is a scientific effort seeking to determine if there is intelligent life outside Earth. Radio SETI listens for artificial radio signals coming from other stars. SETI@home is a radio SETI project that lets anyone with a computer and an Internet connection participate. Get started!

Radio JOVE

NASA’s Radio JOVE project enables students and amateradio joveur scientists to observe natural radio emissions from Jupiter, the Sun, and our galaxy. Learn about radio astronomy first-hand by building your own radio telescope from an inexpensive kit and/or using remote radio telescopes through the Internet.  Get started!

Frog Listening Network

tree-frog-324553_640Amphibians are considered “sentinels” of environmental health. By knowing where in our environment frogs are flourishing and where they may be vanishing, researchers can direct their efforts to protect key habitats. Learn how to identify amphibians in Florida, by their sounds!  Get started!

Citizen Weather Observer Program

cwp_logoJoin thousands of ham radio operators and other people with personal weather stations around the country volunteering their weather data for education and research.   Get started!

 

Interactive NASA Space Physics Ionosphere Radio Experiments (INSPIRE)

inspire_scienceforcitizensUse build-it-yourself kits to measure and record very low frequency radio emissions. Help advance our understanding of how they interact with the Earth’s ionosphere and magnetic fields. You’ll work with NASA space scientists on real scientific problems! Get started!

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Image Credits (In order)

SET@Home, NASA, Josch13 / Pixabay CC0, CWOP, INSPIRE

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Citizen Science on the Radiohttp://scistarter.com/blog/2014/10/sound-science-citizen-science-radio/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2014/10/sound-science-citizen-science-radio/#comments Mon, 06 Oct 2014 19:46:11 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=10450 Listen. Let’s get one thing straight: I am an unabashed public radio nerd. So, when citizen science and public radio come together, I am nothing short of ecstatic. But it’s not just my public radio nerdiness for its own sake. Rather, this convergence speaks to a larger narrative (for me, at least) — that of […]

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sound science

Listen. Let’s get one thing straight: I am an unabashed public radio nerd.

So, when citizen science and public radio come together, I am nothing short of ecstatic. But it’s not just my public radio nerdiness for its own sake. Rather, this convergence speaks to a larger narrative (for me, at least) — that of citizen science being a form of public participation in science and public radio playing the role of representing public discourse.

In conjunction with SciStarter’s current audio/radio citizen science theme, I’ve put together a “playlist” of some examples of how public radio can engage citizen scientists and vice versa.

WHYY the Pulse

Producer Kimberly Haas features various citizen science projects, in partnership with SciStarter,  on The Pulse on WHYY. She has covered projects like Old Weather, Tiny Terrors, IceWatch, and other projects in order to (1) report on research findings and (2) recruit volunteers for the projects themselves.

Encyclopedia of Life podcast

If you haven’t listened to the EOL’s ‘One Species at a Time‘ podcast, go do it now. Producer Ari Daniel walks listeners through various species — from bees to  raptors to head lice (and much more) — and their traits. You can also help contribute to the Encyclopedia of Life with your own findings.

Science Friday

There might not be any on-air pieces about citizen science yet, but Science Friday certainly has a lot of educational opportunities around citizen science. For instance, the Jumping Spider Shake Down activity, you can both listen to and try to match spider courtship displays with the right vibration signals.

North County Public Radio

Over the summer, North County Public Radio covered the FrogWatch project and interviewed a citizen science volunteer for the segment. Listen along as the producer and volunteer embark on trying to spot one.

BBC Radio 4

This episode of ‘Saving Species’ series reports on citizen science efforts around species monitoring. Many scientific communities, such as an academic study by Jeremy Thomas (Professor of Ecology at Oxford) and colleagues acknowledge that without the input from these amateur wildlife watchers much of today’s understanding of the natural world would be impossible.

Are your ears tingling yet? Although I am acutely aware of my own biases, I hope that public radio does more with citizen science, and I hope that citizen science does more with public radio. There is potential for much, much mutual benefit in these kinds of collaborations.

For now, happy listening!

 


Lily Bui is a researcher and M.S. candidate at MIT’s Comparative Media Studies program. She holds dual degrees in International Studies and Spanish from the University of California Irvine. She is also the STEM Story Project Associate for Public Radio Exchange (PRX) in Cambridge, MA. Previously, she helped produce the radio show Re:sound for the Third Coast International Audio Festival, out of WBEZ Chicago. In past lives, she has worked on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.; served in AmeriCorps in Montgomery County, Maryland; worked for a New York Times bestselling ghostwriter; and performed across the U.S. as a touring musician. In her spare time, she thinks of cheesy science puns. Follow @dangerbui.

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When Dog Vomit Smells Delightfulhttp://scistarter.com/blog/2014/10/dog-vomit-smells-delightful/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2014/10/dog-vomit-smells-delightful/#comments Wed, 01 Oct 2014 14:15:23 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=10466 Editor’s note: The Smell Experience Project is one of more than 800 projects on SciStarter. Use our project finder to search and participate in citizen science that interests you! I hate the smell of a mall. Everything reeks of that seemingly incurable lust for stuff—‘buy me, buy me’ is the cry. It’s as if the building is overdosing on […]

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What can a change in our capacity to smell can tell us about our health? (Image credit: PublicDomainPictures / Pixabay CC0 )

Editor’s note: The Smell Experience Project is one of more than 800 projects on SciStarter. Use our project finder to search and participate in citizen science that interests you!

I hate the smell of a mall. Everything reeks of that seemingly incurable lust for stuff—‘buy me, buy me’ is the cry. It’s as if the building is overdosing on the smell of money, and perspires that sickly-sweet perfume. You can lick it off the air. But that’s just me—my daughter loves it.

It’s not accidental. There are firms who research and provide signature scents for companies like Tommy Hilfiger. Marketplace.org recently reported on this. And if you didn’t know that, consider this: scientific papers have been published that actually test the impact of ambient odors on mall shopper’s emotions, cognition and, wait for it… spending!1  The authors concluded that the cognitive theory of emotions explains the influence of ambient scent best, and they went on to discuss managerial implications. I guess if LL Bean could manage that I would become more entranced with the idea.

Recently, the Smell Experience Project, a citizen science project that tested volunteers for a change in odor perception, published its findings. Imagine that you walked into Macy’s and smelt something like dog vomit, but it was the actual signature scent—you would know that your nose is misleading you—that would be a give-away. Dolores Malaspina, MD the researcher at The Institute for Social and Psychiatric Initiatives who is using this information is particularly interested in what a change in olfaction or odor perception actually tells physicians and psychiatrists. She says, “We have a large amount of publications showing that olfaction is related to symptoms and cognition in schizophrenia and that there are strong sex differences in cases and controls. In the disease we have appreciated olfaction as an indicator of higher cognitive control, in addition to olfactory specific mechanisms and regions. We can use profiles of olfactory function to address the heterogeneity of schizophrenia, that is, to find different subgroups of cases.”

Another question that can’t be ignored is whether the deficits in olfactory perception could be a cause of behavioral distress or disorders. To address this question Malaspina and colleagues conducted an Internet based study of 1000 people reporting a change in olfactory function2. She says the results were intriguing, “They showed that olfactory dysfunction substantially impacts a person’s quality of life, despite being of little concern to treating physicians.” The results show that olfactory stimulation and processing may help maintain a healthy brain, and people who loose their sense of smell may experience emotional consequences.

While there may be less practical problems associated with impaired or distorted odor perception than with impairments in visual or auditory perception, many affected individuals report experiencing olfactory dysfunction as a debilitating condition. Smell loss-induced social isolation and smell loss-induced anhedonia (the inability to experience social enjoyment) can severely affect quality of life.

I might mention that Discover has published a long list of Malaspina’s work, and she notes that, “Discover was also one of the first magazines to take my findings on paternal age and psychiatric illness seriously. They published this in an article by Josie Glausiusz entitled Seeds of Psychosis in the 2001 edition.”

Changes in odor perception can be a symptom of a condition, such as depression, head injury, dementia, or allergies, or a side effect of medication. Because the changes are subjective and difficult to measure, medical professionals often do not ask patients about changes in their sense of smell. As a result, there is little documented information about these changes. With the Smell Experience Project researchers successfully turned to the public for their help to better understand how changes in sense of smell can serve as an important and useful health indicator.

References

  1. Impact of ambient odors on mall shoppers’ emotions, cognition, and spending – A test of competitive causal theories Jean-Charles Chebat, Richard Michon, Journal of Business Research, 2003.
  2. Hidden consequences of olfactory dysfunction: a patient report series Keller and Malaspina, 2013

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Eyes on the Rise: Sea Level Rise Rallyhttp://scistarter.com/blog/2014/09/eyes-rise-sea-level-rise-rally/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2014/09/eyes-rise-sea-level-rise-rally/#comments Sun, 28 Sep 2014 14:05:11 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=10461 Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Dr. Robert Gutsche, Jr., Assistant Professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Florida International University and a part of the team at Eyes on the Rise, a crowd-hydrology citizen science project. University and high school students at Florida International University’s Biscayne Bay Campus are […]

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eyeswebsite

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Dr. Robert Gutsche, Jr., Assistant Professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Florida International University and a part of the team at Eyes on the Rise, a crowd-hydrology citizen science project.

University and high school students at Florida International University’s Biscayne Bay Campus are launching an effort to measure possible flooding on King Tide Day (Oct. 9) on Miami Beach, beginning with a sea level rise rally at 9 a.m. on Sept. 29, 2014. The event will be hosted by eyesontherise.org, a collaboration of four journalism professors at FIU, hundreds of college and high school students, and a dozen Miami area scientists, media and technology professionals.

“King Tide Day presents us with a unique opportunity to measure and report on the impact of sea level rise in Florida and beyond,” said Dr. Raul Reis, Dean of FIU’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication. “This event organized by eyesontherise.org reflects FIU’s commitment to positioning ourselves at the forefront of climate change studies.”

Along with MAST @ FIU BBC – a Miami-Dade County Public School that is focused on issues of marine science and the environment and housed at FIU’s Biscayne Bay Campus in North Miami – the Sept. 29 event inside the WUC theater at BBC will feature workshops in which high school students and FIU students from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication will prepare for an Oct. 9 citizen science event on Miami Beach.

The Oct. 9 event will feature nearly 50 high school and 20 college students who will be using sensors to measure the salinity, quality, and depth of potential flood waters expected on King Tide Day, the day when tides are the highest around the world and which have, in the past, led to massive flooding throughout parts of South Florida.

Water samples and data gathered on Oct. 9 will be used by MAST students throughout October to conduct classroom experiments. The Oct. 9 event will also include FIU students and faculty using boats and vehicles to capture high-resolution images of the Miami Beach coastline, in some instances using helium balloons to make aerial photographs.

“Our students are excited about their involvement in this project,” said Dr. Matthew Welker, principal of MAST @ FIU BBC. “They recognize the important work that is being accomplished by people who recognize the threat that is posed by sea level rise and they want to use their enthusiasm and energy to help make a difference now rather than later when it may be too late.”

The Sept. 29 rally to announce and launch eyesontherise.org will include more than 190 students and educators from the Climate Leadership Engagement Opportunities (CLEO) Institute, and representatives of the local tech community. Members of the public and media are invited to attend the Sept. 29 rally held in the Wolfe University Center ballroom at FIU’s Biscayne Bay Campus in North Miami. For more information, contact Dr. Robert Gutsche, Jr. at rgutsche@fiu.edu and visit eyesontherise.org.

***

Eyes on the Rise is part of the SciStarter project database of more than 800 citizen science projects. Use our project finder today to participate in one that interests you!

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Stewards of the Stream: When Citizen Science Meets Water Qualityhttp://scistarter.com/blog/2014/09/stewards-stream-citizen-science-meets-water-quality/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2014/09/stewards-stream-citizen-science-meets-water-quality/#comments Thu, 25 Sep 2014 09:42:35 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=10454 Keep track of water quality and learn about environmental stewardship with Stream Team. Looking for more water monitoring projects?  We’ve got you covered! Spencer Towle is a senior at Cate School in Carpinteria. As we walk down to a bioswale on the campus, this San Francisco native with a head of unruly brown hair describes […]

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Keep track of water quality and learn about environmental stewardship with Stream Team.

Looking for more water monitoring projects?  We’ve got you covered!

From left: Joshua Caditz, Amanda Ebling and Spencer Towle collect samples at the Cate School bioswale.

From left: Joshua Caditz, Amanda Ebling and Spencer Towle collect samples at the Cate School bioswale.

Spencer Towle is a senior at Cate School in Carpinteria. As we walk down to a bioswale on the campus, this San Francisco native with a head of unruly brown hair describes his first year as a member of the Cate School Stream Team, “A senior took us through all the instruments and showed us how to work them, and what we were sampling for. That made Stream Team a lot more real for me. We weren’t just dipping instruments into the water and reading the numbers—I really learned the purpose behind it.”

Joshua Caditz, an environmental lawyer turned science teacher, leads the group and is proud of his band of water-monitoring geeks. “The students for the most part run this watershed monitoring project with the guidance and assistance of Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, and they’re doing an outstanding job. We currently manage the entire watershed except for the summer when Channelkeeper sends in a few interns to take over.” Caditz founded the Cate Stream Team in 2010 with the two-fold objective of conducting a long-term study of water quality in the Carpinteria watershed, and engaging students in a combination of field and laboratory work. He lodged the program under the oversight of the non-profit group Santa Barbara Channelkeeper.

Santa Barbara Channelkeeper operates similar programs to keep tabs on water quality in Ventura, Santa Barbara and Goleta. Jenna Driscoll, Watershed and Marine Program Associate at Santa Barbara Channelkeeper says, “It’s really rewarding to see people connecting with their watershed. When I first started working for Channelkeeper I was shocked to learn how many streams there are in our area. Santa Barbara Channelkeeper is a “watchdog” organization. Often times government agencies do not have the resources to do all the monitoring that they are mandated to do by law. When this is the case, Channelkeeper steps in to fill the monitoring gap.”

Data collected by the team is used by government agencies to inform pollution prevention programs and water resource management decisions. “We’ve identified numerous pollution hot spots and sources through Stream Team sampling, and have worked cooperatively with the relevant government agencies to get these problems cleaned up,” says Driscoll. The students repeatedly test water samples for signs of contamination, relying on indicator species like E. coli, and they annotate their observations to create a data-snapshot of the local watershed.

From Left : Pharibe Pope, Amanda Ebling and Spencer Towle begin to process the samples in the lab.

From Left : Pharibe Pope, Amanda Ebling and Spencer Towle begin to process the samples in the lab.

An important part of the program for Caditz is the opportunity for his students to fulfill what amounts to Cate School’s mission—service and the teaching of leadership. He says, “ I was looking for an opportunity for students to do meaningful science that would contribute to their community, getting them out and about, and getting them involved in an environmental issue.” That sounds like another definition for citizen science. Caditz continues, “Developing student leadership was also important. The first year I did everything, but over time I gradually transferred responsibility to the students—as the program matured, seniors began taking control, and they’re now coaching all newcomers.” In the process the team has helped Santa Barbara Channelkeeper achieve an important objective—establish a comprehensive baseline of ambient water quality for the Carpinteria watershed—the initial goal is to span a decade and the program has been running for a little over five years.

Volunteers receive training in scientifically-sound water sampling techniques, gain knowledge in ecology, chemistry, hydrology, and environmental policy, and learn about the specific water quality issues that are impacting their watershed as well as solutions to address those impacts. Driscoll notes, “Our volunteers become watershed stewards and educate their peers about local water quality issues, causing a ripple effect that creates heightened environmental awareness, more environmentally conscious practices and behaviors, and support for stronger environmental policies, all of which contribute to a stronger and healthier community.” To date, Channelkeeper has trained over 1,000 Stream Team volunteers.

Pharibe Pope, a senior from Baltimore and a student leader in the group says, “Once a month, usually on Saturdays, we split up into two teams and visit seven sites around Carpinteria to take our water samples. We eat pizza, drive home and complete the lab work over the following two days.”

Another senior, Amanda Ebling is soft spoken but purposeful as she displays the leadership she is learning when she says, “Last year I was a co-head, and we were transitioning in learning how to organize the test dates, getting other students to participate, do all the calibrations of the meters, and even arrange the cars and drivers. And this year it’s all up to us.” Caditz will be melting into the background as his students take the lead.

This water quality citizen science program is growing up with about 10 Cate students every year. Along with purposeful science and pollution prevention efforts, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper is fostering environmental stewardship, while Cate School nurtures leadership. This seems to be an alchemy from which both crowdsourced science and young lives are bubbling—the perfect way to celebrate World Water Monitoring Day.

Image credits:
Ian Vorster


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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Wisconsin’s Water Action Volunteers – Making Waves for Action [GUEST POST]http://scistarter.com/blog/2014/09/wisconsins-water-action-volunteers/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2014/09/wisconsins-water-action-volunteers/#comments Tue, 23 Sep 2014 01:39:01 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=10440 Monitor the quality and quantity of Wisconsin’s streams with Water Action Volunteers. Interested in water monitoring projects? We’ve got you covered!   Human uses of the land impact the quality and quantity of waters in local streams, which in turn, can affect our recreational activities such as fishing, boating and swimming, and our drinking water quality. […]

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Monitor the quality and quantity of Wisconsin’s streams with Water Action Volunteers.

Interested in water monitoring projects? We’ve got you covered!

 

A Water Action Volunteer checking a local stream.

A Water Action Volunteer checking a local stream.

Human uses of the land impact the quality and quantity of waters in local streams, which in turn, can affect our recreational activities such as fishing, boating and swimming, and our drinking water quality. If we understand where, how and to what extent our streams are impacted, we can take steps to protect and improve them.

Citizen scientists in Wisconsin’s Water Action Volunteers (WAV) program assess the quality and quantity of water in their local streams. Their monitoring helps natural resource professionals understand the extent of non-point pollution in the state. Non-point pollution comes from sources across the landscape and is the primary source of pollution in Wisconsin’s (and our nation’s) waters. It includes sediment and nutrients, such as phosphorus and nitrogen, which enter streams from agricultural and urban lands. Volunteer monitors also help track streamflow over time, since urban and agricultural land uses can significantly increase or decrease flows. For example, in urban areas, increased impervious surfaces result in less infiltration of rainwater into the ground and change baseflows and stormwater runoff. Also, where there is groundwater pumping, streamflow can be drastically reduced, which can endanger fish and other aquatic life.

WAV, sponsored by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) and the University of Wisconsin-Extension, has three levels of participation: Introductory; Status and Trends; and Special Projects Monitoring. Anyone interested in learning more about his or her local stream is encouraged to participate. Although methods are targeted towards adults and middle and high school students, younger children can participate in many of the activities with assistance. Everyone must begin with introductory monitoring unless they have previous experience. Each spring, trainings are held in various locations in Wisconsin for new volunteers to learn monitoring methods. The time commitment is one hour per month from May through October for Introductory and Status and Trends monitoring, while the time commitment varies for adults who participate in Special Project Monitoring. Some Special Project volunteers monitor for just a few minutes per month to assess phosphorus. Others monitor year around, sometimes several times per month, to assess impacts of road salting on streams. Those interested in joining WAV can visit the program website to find contacts and a calendar of upcoming events.

Incorporate water monitoring into school curriculum through Exploring Streams.

With assistance, children can participate in WAV.

For teachers interested in incorporating stream monitoring into their activities, WAV’s methods have been assimilated into a middle and high school curriculum, called Exploring Streams. It can be downloaded from the program website. An added bonus is that the activities in Exploring Streams are applicable no matter where in the world you are located!

Each year since its inception in 1996, volunteers have monitored more and more stream sites, reaching 565 sites in 2013. Volunteers enter their data into an online database, and results are accessible to anyone with web access. Their efforts have helped to identify 17 streams that are not meeting water quality standards for chloride. In addition, they have monitored more than 200 stream sites to assess if phosphorus levels are safe. WDNR staff will analyze their results to determine if stream segments should be listed as impaired due to phosphorus. If they are listed, additional financial and professional resources will likely be accessible to local communities to help clean them up.

An additional success of the WAV program is that participants increase their personal and community networks and become civically engaged in natural resources issues. A 2003 study of new and experienced WAV volunteers found that after only an average of 18 months, experienced volunteers had larger personal networks, and more frequently engaged in civic activities related to natural resources [1]. This study was repeated in 2011 and similar results were found.

Recently, signs were placed at 19 long-term stream monitoring sites located in parks and along trails. The signs allow passers-by to learn about watersheds, non-point pollution and how volunteers monitor stream health. Tours of these sites allow visitors to see the beauty of these streams and to compare land use alongside them.

The Water Action Volunteers program is engaging citizen scientists across Wisconsin to assess streams. As natural resource managers face increased budgetary shortfalls, citizens are stepping up to assist in building a picture of watershed health. The ultimate goal is to improve and protect the water quality and quantity in Wisconsin, as well as in the Mississippi River, Lake Superior and Lake Michigan Watersheds, for present and future generations.

Reference:
[1] Overdevest, C., C. Huyck Orr, and K. Stepenuck. 2004. Volunteer Stream Monitoring and Local Participation in Natural Resource Issues. Human Ecology Review. 11(2): 177-185.

Resources:
Exploring Streams Curriculum
Long Term WAV site tours

Photo credit:
Kris Stepenuck


Kris Stepenuck is the Water Action Volunteers Stream Monitoring Program Director.

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Your Citizen Science Idea Could Fly to Mars and Win You $20,000 from NASA!http://scistarter.com/blog/2014/09/citizen-science-idea-fly-mars-win-20000-nasa/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2014/09/citizen-science-idea-fly-mars-win-20000-nasa/#comments Tue, 23 Sep 2014 00:09:34 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=10432 Buckle up folks, ‘cause NASA is coming to you with a challenge. On Saturday, NASA announced at the World Maker Faire in New York that it has opened up registration for the ‘Mars Balance Mass Challenge’. The space agency has had a history of engaging citizen scientists through online crowdsourcing initiatives such as Target Asteroids!, […]

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mars balance challenge

Rack your brains for a chance to win cash from NASA (Image Credit: NASA)

Buckle up folks, ‘cause NASA is coming to you with a challenge. On Saturday, NASA announced at the World Maker Faire in New York that it has opened up registration for the ‘Mars Balance Mass Challenge’. The space agency has had a history of engaging citizen scientists through online crowdsourcing initiatives such as Target Asteroids!, Planet Mappers and Be a Martian and on the ground challenges such as its annual Sample Return Robot Challenge. In August this year, they partnered with ECAST (Expert and Citizen Assessment of Science and Technology) for the ‘Informing NASA’s Asteroid Initiative’ which invites the public to discuss and comment on how NASA is tackling asteroid exploration, potential asteroid threats and planetary defense.

So what is the Mars Balance Mass challenge all about? The exploration of Mars is one of the agency’s major projects. Since its inception, the Mars Exploration Program (MEP) has conducted extensive studies in an effort to understand its climate, natural resources and importantly the possibility of life on Mars. In one such mission in 2012, NASA landed the robotic space probe Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) on the surface of Mars. To accurately land at a predetermined site the probe used a precision guided system which included two ejectable ‘balance masses’ made of tungsten weighing 150 kg (approximately 330 lb) each. The first balance mass comprising of two 165-pound weights was ejected before entering the atmosphere of Mars to offset the spacecraft’s center of gravity during entry. The second balance mass, made up of six 55-pound weights was expelled after atmospheric entry and rebalanced the center of gravity of the craft just before the parachute was deployed 1,2. (You can even see images of the impact craters created by these balance weights on the surface of Mars. Pretty cool huh?)

Positioning of the ejectable tungsten balance weights on the MSL. Two blue lines represen the 150 lb balance masses ejected before entry and six 55 lb masses ejected after entry are represented by the blue circles. (Image Credit: NASA2)

Positioning of the ejectable tungsten balance weights on the MSL. Two blue lines represen the 150 lb balance masses ejected before entry and six 55 lb masses ejected after entry are represented by the blue circles. (Image Credit: NASA2)

So how does this relate to the challenge? In the 2012 mission, these balance masses were simply tungsten dead weights. For the challenge, the question that NASA wants your help to answer is

“If you had up to 150 kg of ejectable mass prior to entry and another 150 kg during the entry and landing phase of a Mars mission, what could you do with it that was useful and advances knowledge in a scientific or technological way?”

In other words, by replacing the balance masses in future missions with a useful payload, NASA is hoping to kill two birds with one stone. Perform the function of the balance masses and acquire additional knowledge. Partnering with Innocentive Inc., NASA is offering a prize of $20,000 to the winning proposal. According to their website, this is a “Theoretical Challenge” which means that citizen scientists need only to submit a written proposal, though “ideas, drawings, and detailed procedures are required.”

In an official press release by NASA, Lisa May, lead program executive for NASA’s Mars exploration program said, “We want people to get involved in our journey to Mars. This challenge is a creative way to bring innovative ideas into our planning process, and perhaps help NASA find another way to pack more science and technology into a mission.” The challenge already has garnered significant interest with 215 226 active participants and counting (at the time of writing) within only two days since it was opened to the public. Participation can be on an individual basis or a team effort. For teams, Innocentive offers online workspaces known as Team Project Rooms to collaborate efficiently and document the process.

The Mars Balance Challenge is part of the launch of a larger initiative known as NASA Solve, an online platform which lists all the opportunities available to the general public. These challenges are ones that NASA needs the help of citizen scientists in solving. “NASA is committed to engaging the public, and specifically the maker community through innovative activities like the Mars Balance Mass Challenge, and NASA Solve is a great way for members of the public, makers and other citizen scientists to see all NASA challenges and prizes in one location,” said NASA Chief Technologist David Miller in the press release.

Ideas for the Mars Balance Mass Challenge are not limited to any specific discipline so the (Mars) sky is the limit. Fire up your imaginations, hone your google search skills and start cracking!

***

Interested in citizen science projects from NASA? Search for them using the project finder on SciStarter!

Sources

1. Harwood, William “Curiosity relies on untried ‘sky crane’ for Mars descent” CBS News 30 July 2012 (Link)
2. Brugarolas Paul B.,  Miguel San Martin A. and Wong Edward C. “The RCS 3-axis attitude control system for the exo-atmospheric and guided entry phases of the Mars Science Laboratory” NASA.gov (Link to PDF)

Editors Note: This post was also published on the Discover Magazine Citizen Science Salon blog and the PLoS CitizenSci blog.

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