SciStarter Blog http://scistarter.com/blog Covering the people, projects, and phenomena of citizen science Sun, 28 Jun 2015 07:41:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.2 When disaster strikes, strike back with citizen science!http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/06/when-disaster-strikes-strike-back-with-citizen-science/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/06/when-disaster-strikes-strike-back-with-citizen-science/#comments Sun, 28 Jun 2015 07:41:13 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=11458 Natural disasters can be devastating and terrifying but in some cases, there are things we can do to take control. Here are a selection of citizen science projects designed to inform rescue efforts and related research. Cheers! The SciStarter Team Geotag-X   After hurricanes, earthquakes, and other disasters, many people photograph the destruction and the […]

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Photo: USGS

Photo: USGS

Natural disasters can be devastating and terrifying but in some cases, there are things we can do to take control.

Here are a selection of citizen science projects designed to inform rescue efforts and related research.

Photo: FEMA

Photo: FEMA

Geotag-X

 

After hurricanes, earthquakes, and other disasters, many people photograph the destruction and the rescue efforts. Geotag-X asks volunteers to record important details from photographs that recovery teams can use to plan their efforts. Read our latest blog entry to see how Geotag-X is being used.

did you feel it

Did You Feel It? 

The United States Geological Survey tracks earthquakes across the country. If you feel an earthquake, report the time, location, and details of the experience using an easy online form.

Get Started!

Photo: USGS

Photo: USGS

Did You See It?

Have you seen a landslide near you? In the United States, report these dangerous occurrences to the United States Geological Survey. The information helps scientists understand the causes and effects of landslides.

Get Started!

Photo: Nerds for Nature

Photo: Nerds for Nature

Monitor Change: Fire Monitoring 

A simple picture can help track wildfires and fire recovery. If you’re planning a trip to Stanislaus National Forest or Mount Diablo State Park in California, check out how you can help this citizen science project.

Photo: NOAA

Photo: NOAA

Skywarn

This National Weather Service Project relies on specially trained volunteers from across the United States to report on severe weather conditions in their area. There are over 120 training locations throughout the country; find the one closest to you today! Check out our blog entry about how storm spotters are making a difference during severe weather.

Get Started!

We have some very exciting announcements coming up! Sign up for a SciStarter account today to get a sneak preview!

myObservatory, a citizen science platform,  is offering project owners $2,000 in free data services! Find out more.

Contact the SciStarter Team

Email: info@scistarter.com
Website: http://scistarter.com

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Did you know ‘storm spotters’ in your community help keep you safe during inclement weather?http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/06/did-you-know-storm-spotters-in-your-community-help-keep-it-safe-during-inclement-weather/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/06/did-you-know-storm-spotters-in-your-community-help-keep-it-safe-during-inclement-weather/#comments Fri, 26 Jun 2015 13:44:59 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=11447 Civic minded citizen scientists in your community help meteorologists and the National Weather Service stay abreast of inclement weather with on-the-ground data. Earlier this week, the Midwest and Northeast were slammed with tornados and thunderstorms that grounded planes and held up trains. Thousands of people along the Northeast corridor lost power as a result. During […]

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"Atlanta Lightning Strike" by David Selby Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Atlanta Lightning Strike” by David Selby – CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Civic minded citizen scientists in your community help meteorologists and the National Weather Service stay abreast of inclement weather with on-the-ground data.

Earlier this week, the Midwest and Northeast were slammed with tornados and thunderstorms that grounded planes and held up trains. Thousands of people along the Northeast corridor lost power as a result.

During such hazardous weather, we rely on the knowledge, skill and expertise of meteorologists and designated emergency personnel to keep us safe and in the know. They in turn rely on data supplied by not just satellites and doppler radars but also – a network of citizen scientists.

But wait. With all our sophisticated technology, what could a few volunteers possibly contribute?

“Radars can tell us that there is heavy snowfall, but radars don’t tell us how much, or if rain is mixing with the snow, or what damage is occurring. Our spotters do,” explains Tanja Fransen Warning Coordination Meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Glasgow, Montana.

The ‘spotters’ she is referring to, also Skywarn’s ‘storm spotters’ are a national network of over 350,000 volunteers who work with their local emergency and weather centers to monitor and report inclement weather.  Skywarn was a response to the Palm Sunday Tornado Outbreak a particularly devastating series of tornadoes that ripped through Midwestern states in 1965[1] Overseen by NOAA’s National Weather Service, the Skywarn program trains citizens to identify severe storms and provide accurate reports of storm developments and effects.

During a storm, volunteers send in reports to National Weather Service forecaster offices about what is happening locally. Meteorologists use this valuable ‘ground truth’ to validate data from their instruments and fill in information gaps, enabling them to make better predictions about what the storm might do next.

“Reports from our spotters can be the basis for issuing severe weather warnings. For the recent floods in Houston we received flooding reports from a variety of sources including Skywarn spotters,” says Dan Reilly, Warning Coordination Meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Houston-Galveston. The Fort Worth National Weather Service office estimated that those floods dropped about 35 trillion gallons of water [2].

Manning the desks during a severe weather event, Skywarn volunteers help keep their communities safe. Source Skywarn/NOAA

Manning the desks during a severe weather event, Skywarn volunteers help keep their communities safe. (Source: Skywarn/NOAA)

Skywarn storm spotters are a diverse group of people varying in age, background and skill level. What they do have in common is an interest in weather and public service. To be a Skywarn storm spotter, volunteers must attend free training courses which cover the basics of storm formations, accurate reporting techniques and of course, storm safety. Last year alone, NOAAA trained over 70,000 storm spotters.

And with the ubiquity of social media, having a pool of trained volunteers is ever more important.

“These days it is so easy to send in a picture or phone in an event. Our offices can gather a lot of information. But it also increases the possibility of false reports,” says Fransen. “Now more than ever, it is critical to have trained personal who can critically think and evaluate what they are seeing. They are reliable resources, giving us information we can trust.”

In addition to on the ground storm spotters, the Skywarn network includes a subset of licensed amateur radio operators who provide additional assistance during storms. The National Weather Service forecast offices utilize amateur radio to maintain communication between on the ground storm spotter and forecasters. And during especially large storms which can knock out phone service, amateur radio volunteers help keep their communities informed of new warnings and other critical information.

But the contributions of Skywarn volunteers doesn’t stop when the storm ends. The National Climate Data Center archives all severe weather reports and the data is used by insurance companies, researchers and other government agencies. You can check out recent reports on this map or access the archived data.

If you want to help your community the next time a storm hits, NOAA now provides online training modules. So with just a few clicks you can be on your way to becoming a Skywarn storm spotter.

And the folks at NOAA will certainly appreciate the help of their volunteers.

“In the community I work with, we have a lot of repeat volunteers,” says Fransen. “It is really good to see how civic minded and dedicated our volunteers are.”

Talk to those in your community and find out if there is a storm spotter among you! Are you a storm spotter or training to be one? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!


 

Skywarn is featured as part of SciStarter’s newsletter about citizen science projects that help during times of crisis. Learn more about other featured projects in the newsletter including GeoTag-X, Did You Feel It?, Did You See It? and Monitor Change: Fire Monitoring, and sign up to receive cool citizen science projects curated by SciStarter in your inbox!

References

  1. http://www.weather.gov/lot/Palm_Sunday_Outbreak
  2. https://twitter.com/NWSFortWorth/status/604311802214670338/photo/1

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Citizen Scientists Like You Could Change How We Handle Iraq’s Humanitarian Crisishttp://scistarter.com/blog/2015/06/citizen-scientists-like-you-could-change-how-we-handle-iraqs-humanitarian-crisis/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/06/citizen-scientists-like-you-could-change-how-we-handle-iraqs-humanitarian-crisis/#comments Wed, 24 Jun 2015 13:26:34 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=11439 By analyzing images taken during times of humanitarian crises, citizen scientists can help refine a tool for data analysis improve relief efforts. A guest post by Megan Passey and Jeremy Othenio. Edited by Arvind Suresh In August 2014, following the fall of Mosul in Iraq, the UN declared the situation a level 3 crisis, the […]

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

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

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

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

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

During such disasters, there is a massive surge of time-sensitive information that needs to be sifted through. Having a system that quickly examines and produces pertinent data sets from this information could greatly aid humanitarian response efforts.

As part of its humanitarian relief and coordination efforts, the United Nation’s Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) and its Operational Satellite Applications Program (UNOSAT) introduced the GeoTag-X platform: a pilot project designed to research novel and viable means of data collection, while raising awareness to the rather harsh conditions of people caught up in disaster situations. GeoTag-X aims to open the analysis of this information to a wide audience of participants with an interest in humanitarian relief efforts, hoping to minimise the time it takes to find, analyse and provide data with real value.

“Emergency Shelter Assessment in the Middle East” is a Geotag-X project that has been developed in collaboration with REACH, a joint initiative of UNOSAT and two non-government organisations, ACTED (Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development) and IMPACT, a Geneva based think tank focused on issues related to humanitarian and development policy. Since June 2014, when the surge in violence caused a fresh wave of mass internal displacement across Iraq, REACH has been collecting and analysing primary data on displacement trends, needs and intentions of displaced families in order to inform the humanitarian response.

REACH has been conducting regular mapping of displacement sites, which as of February 2015 housed an estimated 226,000 displaced persons in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq alone. While 149,000 of these individuals were staying in formal camps, a further 77,000 were living in informal settlements, staying in tents, makeshift shelters or unfinished buildings. Lacking the financial resources to rent accommodation in the host community, and often without the support from friends or family, displaced families in camps and informal sites represent a particularly vulnerable group.

Data collected by REACH includes the mapping of key facilities and evaluating the functioning of basic services within the sites. The information is recorded in camp profiles which provide an overview of conditions in the camp, highlight key gaps in the response, and have already been used to successfully advocate for improved conditions.

 

You can help us test GeoTag-X

Mapping displacement in Iraq (Photo Credit: REACH Initiative)

Mapping displacement in Iraq (Photo Credit: REACH Initiative)

The Emergency Shelter Assessment project on the GeoTag-X platform allows volunteers to evaluate the suitability of emergency shelters in camps and informal settlements. Its aim is twofold: first to see whether the GeoTag-X platform can provide reliable responses to these assessment questions, and second to raise awareness of the difficult situation of those affected by disasters and the work undertaken to help them. The project is comprised of a set of simple questions about photographs taken by REACH data collection teams in Iraq and Jordan. These observation-based questions — an important component of humanitarian assessment — are used to understand people’s needs and vulnerabilities, and are based on global indicators used by shelter actors in a humanitarian response. Data collected from needs-assessments like this help local populations, governments and humanitarian actors plan an emergency response for the benefits of the displaced population.

All you need to participate is a PC or tablet connected to the internet. No particular skills are required, just make sure you take the tutorial before starting the analysis. On­e photo takes about 1-3 minutes to complete, therefore analysing photos can take as little or as much time as you want.

So when you have a moment, head to GeoTag-X and analyse a couple of photos. Your contribution will help us determine if GeoTag-X could one day become an operational tool for use in field assessments during humanitarian crises like the on-going situation in Iraq.

 


Megan Passey is a program analyst at the REACH Initiative in Geneva, where she provides information about humanitarian needs in conflict and disaster situations worldwide. Megan trained as an architect in the UK and has previously worked with the Norwegian Refugee Council and UN Refugee Agency.

Jeremy Othieno is a GeoTag-X volunteer who has been an active contributor to the GeoTag-X project since March 2015, both as an end-user as well as a software engineer. Jeremy Othieno has a background in Computer Sciences and a love for all things unconventional.

 

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Celebrate the Summer Solstice with Citizen Science!http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/06/celebrate-the-summer-solstice-with-citizen-science/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/06/celebrate-the-summer-solstice-with-citizen-science/#comments Sun, 21 Jun 2015 06:37:08 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=11422 Our editors have selected some sizzling citizen science projects in celebration of Summer Solstice on June 21. Several are also appropriate for kids of all ages (keep those minds sharp over the summer break!). And…our friends at Mental Floss featured“15 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the Summer Solstice,” including this fact: “The Earth is at its furthest […]

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AlastairG / Creative Commons

AlastairG / Creative Commons

Our editors have selected some sizzling citizen science projects in celebration of Summer Solstice on June 21. Several are also appropriate for kids of all ages (keep those minds sharp over the summer break!).

And…our friends at Mental Floss featured“15 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the Summer Solstice,” including this fact:

“The Earth is at its furthest from the sun during the Summer Solstice.The warmth ofsummer comes exclusively from the tilt of the Earth’s axis, and not from how close it is to the sun at any given time.”

Check out the SciStarter blog for updates on your favorite projects and find new projects in our Project Finder!

nova nasa

NASA

The NOVA Sun Lab
Help scientists predict solar storms with NASA’s data, images and tools. Or create your own research project using these tools and NOVA’s supplemental videos.

fireflywatch mos

Museum of Science

Firefly Watch

Count and track male/female fireflies in your back yard for 15 minutes a night and contribute to research on the geographic distribution of these favorite summertime insects.


dark sky meter

DDQ

Dark Sky Meter

As soon as the sun sets, the summer night sky offers an incredibly different, sublime experience. The Dark Sky Meter (available for iPhones) allows citizen scientists to contribute to a global map of nighttime light pollution.

Jellywatch MBARI

Jellywatch MBARI

Jelly Watch

Have you seen a jellyfish on the beach yet? Report it to Jellywatch – a public database documenting ocean conditions. These researchers are especially interested in jellyfish washing up, but they also track red tides, squid and mammal strandings, and other indicators of ocean health.


myObservatory, a citizen science platform,  is offering project owners $2,000 in free data services! Find out more.

Contact the SciStarter Team

Email: info@scistarter.com
Website: http://scistarter.com

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Can You Name this Paw Print?http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/06/new-mexico-wildlife-tracking-citizen-science/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/06/new-mexico-wildlife-tracking-citizen-science/#comments Tue, 16 Jun 2015 12:00:22 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=11401 A citizen science program documents the movement of six species in the mountain ranges and river valleys of northern New Mexico helping create wildlife corridors. For more wildlife related citizen science projects, visit SciStarter. by Sharman Apt Russel   Wild animals glide so easily through the landscape, into bushes and leaves, up trees, around corners, even […]

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Paw print (Credit: Andrew Mace/FlickrCC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Paw print (Credit: Andrew Mace/FlickrCC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

A citizen science program documents the movement of six species in the mountain ranges and river valleys of northern New Mexico helping create wildlife corridors. For more wildlife related citizen science projects, visit SciStarter.

by Sharman Apt Russel

 

Wild animals glide so easily through the landscape, into bushes and leaves, up trees, around corners, even diving into the earth, so that you often wonder: was that a fox or a wish? Did I really just see a bobcat? Is that whoofing noise a black bear, startled now and galumphing down the hill?

That’s the great thing about tracks. They stay there. You can admire them for long minutes, imagining the animal who made them. There’s no mistaking, really, the roundness and size of this bobcat’s paw, the leading toe and absence of claw marks. Or this black bear. Like a barefoot human footprint, with five toes, except that the big one is on the outside. Or this raccoon. A track that resembles a human handprint but with pinpricks of claws in the dirt.

The skill of identifying animal tracks may seem arcane—or at least relegated to hunters and game wardens. But citizen scientists across the country are learning the tracks and signs of wild animals for programs like Pathways: Wildlife Corridors of New Mexico, who has taken on the task of documenting the movements of six species—black bear, elk, mule deer, bobcat, pronghorn, and mountain lion—between the mountain ranges of northern New Mexico and their river valleys. Using tracking teams to monitor specific transects, as well as camera “traps” that take pictures of animals in the wild, the program provides scientific data to local, state, and federal agencies.

A larger goal of Pathways is to help these agencies create wildlife corridors through which animals can move freely and safely through rural and urban communities. In this, the program is joining other citizen scientist tracking projects in the American West.

In Arizona and southern New Mexico, Sky Island Alliance has been training volunteers since 2001. They now monitor 50 1.5-mile long transects within 7 priority wildlife corridor areas and have conducted over 1,000 track count surveys, with over 4,000 records for more than 40 different animal species. Their data is regularly used in county development and state transportation plans and has helped win approval for three wildlife underpasses and three overpasses across highways near Tucson. Construction of the first overpass has just begun.

Image of a mountain lion caught by a camera trap (Credit: Richard Mahler)

Image of a mountain lion caught by a camera trap (Credit: Richard Mahler)

Elsewhere, in California, the San Diego Tracking Team has a ten-year record of observations, with volunteers committing over 1500 hours per year to monitoring some 50 locations around San Diego County. In Washington, the Cascades Citizen Wildlife Monitoring Project finished their ninth winter of combining snow tracking with year-round camera traps. Meanwhile, resources like the iNaturalist project The North American Animal Tracking Database are being expanded and improved as important tools in the field.

As with many citizen science programs, the value of the work cannot be measured in numbers alone. Peter Callen, director of Pathways says, “As encouraging as the successes of these tracking programs are, the payoff comes to us as individuals as well, each time we step into nature as an honest student, ready to learn the day’s lesson.”

A star tracker with Pathways, Casey McFarland, explains further that at a certain point in tracking you begin to “see the animal you’re trailing, more than just a set of prints on the ground, but visualizing the size, gait, and speed; the starts and stops, turns and movements of not only that animal, but of the ones whose trails you cross and contact along the way, and now you’re seeing a movie, a video, of what just happened here.”

One of the lessons of identifying animal tracks usually involves humility. In my first tracking workshop in southern New Mexico, sponsored by Sky Island Alliance, I was pleased to learn the basics–the difference, say between a feline and canine print. Both have four toes. But cats—domestic, bobcat, mountain lion—have a leading toe, their claws rarely show, and the three lobes at the bottom of the pad are usually distinct. The overall print is round. Typically, the claws of a canine—dog, coyote, fox, or wolf—do show, and the three lobes of the pad may be blurred into a single line. Often a dog track has a mound of dirt in the center. The overall print is rectangular, and an X can be drawn through the print without crossing any of the pads.

All this is less obvious in a partial print. And then there are back legs and front legs and soil surface and erosion and multiple tracks and the way the light is falling on the tracks and a dozen other circumstances and vagaries. As with most new skills, what increased first was my level of uncertainty. I soon learned to say with confidence, “I don’t have enough knowledge or information here to tell you who made this track.”

Later I spent some wonderful afternoons with my local tracking team from Sky Island Alliance, as well as hours looking at tracks on the trails near my house. Yes, here was another “barefoot human” footprint with the big toe on the outside. And another. And another. A lot of bear (or possibly hobbits) seemed to use my favorite trail, too.  And here was the print of a coati. And here—and this was a memorable moment—a mountain lion print.

Soon I was on my hands and knees and then eye-level to the ground, trying to decide how fresh this mountain lion print might be. A few days? A few hours? A few minutes? I stood up and turned in a slow circle, newly-aware of my surroundings. Newly present in the world! Mountain lions are cautious when it comes to attacking prey. Much like you and me, they don’t want to get hurt and evaluate carefully how much trouble this meal might cause them. (I feel the same way about French cooking.) Now I made myself look too big and too much trouble to eat. I began talking loudly to myself—feeling only slightly silly. I was, of course, thrilled. I share this planet with mountain lions. This was today’s lesson.


Sharman Russel SciStarterSharman Apt Russell’s Diary of a Citizen Scientist: Chasing Tiger Beetles and Other New Ways of Engaging the World (Oregon State University Press, 2014) was named by The Guardian as a top ten nature book of 2014 and listed as recommended reading by the Sigurd F Olsen Nature Writing Award. For more information, visit her website.

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Dragonfly Watch – Find Those Fast and Furious Insects!http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/06/dragonfly-watch-find-those-fast-and-furious-insects/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/06/dragonfly-watch-find-those-fast-and-furious-insects/#comments Fri, 12 Jun 2015 04:12:30 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=11394 “I’m an aquatic entomologist, and dragonflies and damselflies are the most colorful and noticeable insects in the habitats in which I work,” says Dr. Celeste A. Searles Mazzacano, a staff scientist and Aquatic Conservation Director at the Xerces Society. In her role as the project coordinator for the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership, she continues to add […]

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A tandem pair of Common Green Darners (Anax junius) laying eggs. © Dennis Paulson.

A tandem pair of Common Green Darners (Anax junius) laying eggs. © Dennis Paulson.

“I’m an aquatic entomologist, and dragonflies and damselflies are the most colorful and noticeable insects in the habitats in which I work,” says Dr. Celeste A. Searles Mazzacano, a staff scientist and Aquatic Conservation Director at the Xerces Society. In her role as the project coordinator for the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership, she continues to add acclaim to these fast and furious little critters, “The nymphs are amazing predators with extremely cool adaptations for feeding—hinge-toothed lower lips that shoot out faster than the eye can see—and respiration rectal gills that double as a jet-propulsion chamber!”

The Migratory Dragonfly Partnership (MDP) is a collaborative partnership that was set up between experts, nongovernmental programs, academic institutions, and federal agencies from the United States, Mexico, and Canada, in which citizen scientists play an integral role. There are many questions currently surrounding dragonfly migration that MDP is trying to answer. For example, says Dr. Mazzacano, “What is the southern extent of migration, what is the relationship between resident and migratory members of the same species at the same site, and do all individuals that migrate south from a single place, go to the same destination in the south, or do individuals drop out and overwinter at different latitudes?” The primary goal of the project is to answer some of these questions and to provide information needed to create cross-border conservation programs to protect and sustain this amazing migratory phenomenon.

The Project has enjoyed an extremely positive response from the citizen science community. “Because the adults are so lovely, I consider dragonflies to be the poster children of aquatic invertebrates. They are much easier to see and care about than the equally important but less obvious mussels, stoneflies, and mayflies,” adds Mazzacano. Many people are fascinated by dragonflies but don’t really know anything about them, and consequently want to learn more, and find good places to observe them. “Interestingly, many birders are also getting into dragonflying.”

There are five dragonfly species that are the most regular annual migrants in North America. The Migratory Dragonfly Partnership collects data on them in two ways, via two different but connected citizen science projects. For the Migration Monitoring project, citizen scientists report dragonflies heading south in the late summer and fall (these may be in the tens of thousands, thousands, or a steady trickle of individuals—it varies); and the Pond Watch project, where the local life history and the relationship between resident and migrant dragonflies of the same species in the same habitat is investigated. Here citizen scientists are asked to report on the presence or absence, abundance, and behaviors of migratory species at their Pond Watch site on a regular basis throughout the year.

Green Darner on the finger of a course participant. Courtesy Xerces Society.

Green Darner on the finger of a course participant. Courtesy Xerces Society.

The project has only been running for three years, which means that MDP is just now beginning to accumulate enough data to publish findings. “One of the first products was a comprehensive review paper by steering committee member and [retired Rutgers University] odonate expert Dr. Mike May ,” says Mazzacano. “And we have a paper in the works about the results of the stable hydrogen isotope studies done on wings of migrating dragonflies to determine how far they traveled from the site where they developed and emerged as adults.” That paper should be out later this year.

With current emphasis on the unique ability of citizen science projects to meet Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) by providing opportunities for inquiry, MDP is now partnering with Dr. Karen Oberhauser at the University of Minnesota, who is working on dragonfly-based curriculum for school children. “And more immediately, we are beginning to work now with local organizations that focus on environmental opportunities for Hispanic youth in the Portland Oregon area to offer dragonfly-based environmental education in Spanish,” notes Mazzacano.

As with many hobbies, after all the inquiry has been satisfied, it comes down to enjoyment and recreation. The most exciting thing about the project for Mazzacano is that it gets more people outdoors interacting with insects in a positive way, and  connects those people to their local ponds and wetlands. “Freshwater is the most threatened resource we have, and when people learn about and start to love the creatures in local waters that they might not even have known existed prior to this, they will become more engaged in trying to protect those resources,” says Mazzacano with enthusiasm. And of course it has also been exciting for her, thanks to the data collected by citizen scientists, to be able to answer some of the many questions that exist about dragonfly migration. “I think this connection to freshwater is a benefit that will go on long after individual citizen scientists learn about, and help with MDP projects.”

Would you like to become a citizen scientist in this project? Connect to the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership here, register your local pond, pack a picnic hamper and head out to monitor the timing, duration, and direction of travel of migrating dragonflies. Note any additional behaviors, such as observed migratory flight, feeding or mating, and you are encouraged to take photos or record video coverage.

When gathered across a wide geographic range and throughout a span of years, these data will provide answers to questions about which species are regular migrants; the frequency and timing of migration in different species; sources, routes, and destinations of migrants; and the health of their environment.


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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DIYBio and Open Science Changed My Life (And Could Change Yours)http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/06/diybio-and-open-science-changed-my-life-and-could-change-yours/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/06/diybio-and-open-science-changed-my-life-and-could-change-yours/#comments Wed, 10 Jun 2015 05:21:44 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=11380 Milo Toor, a software engineer writes about his experience with DIYBio and Counter Culture Labs. You can find more information about Counter Culture Labs and search for other DIYBio projects on the SciStarter citizen science project database. Counter Culture Labs is a 100% volunteer-run, membership funded organization, and is currently running a Kickstarter campaign, funds from which will […]

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Milo Toor, a software engineer learns to sequence DNA at Counter Culture Labs. Source: Counter Culture Labs

Counter Culture Labs belongs to a network of community labs in which professional and amateur scientists come together to pursue authentic scientific research. Source: Counter Culture Labs.

Milo Toor, a software engineer writes about his experience with DIYBio and Counter Culture Labs. You can find more information about Counter Culture Labs and search for other DIYBio projects on the SciStarter citizen science project database. Counter Culture Labs is a 100% volunteer-run, membership funded organization, and is currently running a Kickstarter campaign, funds from which will be used to help support infrastructure and grow their collection of science toys. Help keep science accessible by donating!

 

I have two families. There’s the one with two parents and two sisters, with whom I share DNA and have Thanksgiving dinner. And then there’s the one with several dozen science fanatics, with whom I design DNA and craft vegan cheese to one day accompany that turkey. I would like to share my experience with the latter of these beloved families, Counter Culture Labs.

Located within Oakland’s Omni Commons, Counter Culture Labs (CCL) is both a physical space and a community. CCL is a self-supervised playground for science enthusiasts of all ages and abilities, a breeding ground for curiosity, and a proud part of the burgeoning global DIY Biology community.

A Moment About Me

I’m a young, curious guy. A couple years ago I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer science. I realized in my latter years as an undergrad that genetics is a fascinating topic, but at that time in my career as a student it was far too late to radically change direction. I grabbed my diploma and skipped gleefully away from academia.

But genetics didn’t leave my mind. The thought of going back to school for a degree in molecular genetics was tempting but daunting. Instead, I was lucky enough to find work at a bioinformatics startup in Oakland, where I have continued to learn about the state of genetics today.

Still, there is a big difference between learning and doing. It was a full year and a half after graduation that I learned about the DIY Biology scene, but when I did, I was in for a ride.

Counter Culture Labs

I learned of Counter Culture Labs through Meetup.com. They were hosting an interactive lecture on bioluminescence. Located in Oakland’s Temescal district, just two miles from my work, I couldn’t say no.

What I saw astounded me. It wasn’t merely the glowing algae they had been culturing—the entirety of the space was jaw-dropping. Here, in a community space open to the public, were microscopes, pipettes, centrifuges, a PCR machine, an industrial freezer, an enormous tesla coil, and a few dozen exuberant people delighted to show me around and teach me. Without intending it, I had struck a gold mine.

Soon I learned of the Real Vegan Cheese project. The team was attempting to engineer yeast to produce proteins involved in cheese making. Typically cows or goats provide these proteins in their milk; the goal of the project was to remove the animal from the equation by instead having a fungus make the proteins. The end result (ideally): cheese created without animal involvement, a vegan foodie’s dream.

I was intrigued, and began to attend meetings. Despite having minimal experience in the field, I was wholeheartedly welcomed by the team. I was invited to participate in experiments. My every question—and there were many—was patiently answered. All that was asked of me was my interest.

Over the next several weeks, I met the rotating cast of CCL’s volunteer members. Alan, a mycology hobbyist, showed me his collection of mushroom samples—some he collected, some sent to him by fellow fungi fans from around the country—and how he extracts their DNA, sequences them, and uses their genetic data and online databases to identify them. Rebecca, a Stanford PhD student working on her dissertation in speculative science fiction, helps me orient myself in the imaginative yet soon-to-be-real world in which biology is an exploitable medium. And Patrik, computational biologist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and spiritual leader of CCL, has educated me on innumerable topics including microbial gene networks, protein expression assays, synthetic biology programming languages, and molecular chemistry. If you have no idea what any of that means, don’t be intimidated. Neither did I.

Before long I became a member at CCL. Paying a small monthly fee for the boundless scientific intrigue that the organization encourages seemed a fair trade to me. I am still attending the Real Vegan Cheese meetings, and am now embarking on an entirely new venture: CCL’s 2015 iGEM project to biosynthesize UV protective compounds.

Counter Culture Labs Has Changed My Life

Seriously. That’s not hyperbole. With minimal monetary investment and using only my spare time, I have gone from total layman to an active participant in the biosynthesis revolution. That’s a testament to the power of open educational opportunities. I truly can’t overstate the degree to which Counter Culture Labs has facilitated my ability to practice science and learn about genetic engineering. The experience I have gained at CCL has convinced me that a career in bioengineering is not beyond my reach. CCL has opened doors I thought were long since closed, and some I never knew existed.

And the thing is, there’s nothing special about me. I wanted to learn about genetics. That’s it. I had no special connections, I didn’t have to polish my CV and apply, I didn’t have to pawn my car to pay for membership. I just had to show up, to be curious and want to learn.

Undoubtedly my story is not unique. Dozens of people frequent CCL’s premises on a weekly basis, and what unites us is not a deep understanding of science, but a compelling curiosity. As an old adage goes: “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” And at CCL, learning is the raison d’être.

Please, come and behold.


This is a guest post by Milo Toor, a software engineer and apprentice biohacker working in Oakland, CA. His aspirations include climbing V5’s, gobbling Saturday NYT crossword puzzles, and becoming a full-time bioengineer so he can help change life as we know it.

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Celebrate World Oceans Day with Citizen Sciencehttp://scistarter.com/blog/2015/06/celebrate-world-oceans-day-with-citizen-science/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/06/celebrate-world-oceans-day-with-citizen-science/#comments Fri, 05 Jun 2015 08:24:36 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=11374 On June 8th, people across the world will celebrate World Oceans Day, a day set aside to honor and protect our oceans. To help you participate in World Oceans Day, we’ve put together a list of 7 ocean-based citizen science projects that need your help. We are partnering with The TerraMar Project to share SciStarter’s […]

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Photo; USFWS

On June 8th, people across the world will celebrate World Oceans Day, a day set aside to honor and protect our oceans.

To help you participate in World Oceans Day, we’ve put together a list of 7 ocean-based citizen science projects that need your help.

We are partnering with The TerraMar Project to share SciStarter’s “ocean and water” projects with their global community to transform the way we think about the ocean and the high seas.

Check out the SciStarter blog for updates on your favorite projects and find new projects in our Project Finder!

 

Photo: Michael Bear

Yukon Marine Life Survey (U.S.)

In 2000, a ship called the Yukon was sunk off the San Diego coast to make an artificial reef. Now divers are needed to record the marine life on and around the Yukon. Volunteers should be experienced diving at depths of 100 hundred feet.

 

Photo: WHOI

Our Radioactive Ocean (North America Pacific Coast) 

In 2011, a tsunami hit the Fukushima Nuclear Plant in Japan, causing radiation to leak into the ocean. Our Radioactive Ocean is monitoring the resulting radiation levels. Members of the public can suggest sites that should be tested, collect data on radioactivity, and raise funds to cover the cost of the research.

Get Started!

Photo: Gotham Whale/Phillip Ng

Gotham Whale (U.S.)

New York City borders ocean waters that are home to whales and dolphins, and Gotham Whale needs your help to monitor them. Residents and visitors to the city are encouraged to submit photos of marine mammals; the pictures allow scientists to identify and track individual animals.

Get Started!

Photo: Dr. Art Trembanis, U. of Delaware

Subsea Observers (U.S.) 

Scallop fishing is a major industry in the Northeast United States, and scientists closely monitor the scallop population to ensure it stays healthy. Subsea Observers uses underwater robots to take photos of the ocean floor, and then citizen scientists help track the size of the population by inspecting the photos for the presence of scallops.

Photo: NOAA

Redmap (Australia)

The Range Extension Database and Mapping Project needs citizen scientists in Australia to report marine species that are found outside their normal range. The reports help scientists understand how animals are responding to climate change.

Photo: Katrin Lohrengel

Welsh Sea Watchers Project (Wales) 

Dolphins, porpoises, and whales are often seen off the coast of Wales, and citizen scientists can help study these animals by regularly monitoring from the shore. Volunteers are also needed to educate others about marine mammals and the project.

Photo: ReefCheck

Reef Check (Global) 

Reef Check EcoDivers monitor marine life across the globe. In order to participate in this program, divers must complete the full EcoDiver training. Training costs and dates vary by location.

Get Started!

myObservatory, a citizen science platform,  is offering project owners $2,000 in free data services! Find out more.

Contact the SciStarter Team

Email: info@scistarter.com
Website: http://scistarter.com

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Growth Results for Microbes Collected by Citizen Scientists and Grown on the International Space Stationhttp://scistarter.com/blog/2015/05/growth-results-for-microbes-collected-by-citizen-scientists-and-grown-on-the-international-space-station/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/05/growth-results-for-microbes-collected-by-citizen-scientists-and-grown-on-the-international-space-station/#comments Sat, 30 May 2015 00:12:04 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=11371   Relative Growth Rates Documented by UC Davis Scientists for Project MERCCURI “Encouraging” for Long-Term Manned Spaceflight Do microbes grow differently on the International Space Station than they do on Earth? Results from the growth of microbes collected by SciStarter’s community of citizen scientists in Project MERCCURI indicate that most behave similarly in both places. […]

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patchRelative Growth Rates Documented by UC Davis Scientists for Project MERCCURI

“Encouraging” for Long-Term Manned Spaceflight

Do microbes grow differently on the International Space Station than they do on Earth? Results from the growth of microbes collected by SciStarter’s community of citizen scientists in Project MERCCURI indicate that most behave similarly in both places.

“While this data is extremely preliminary, it is potentially encouraging for long-term manned spaceflight,” said Dr. David Coil, Project Scientist in the Microbiology Lab of Jonathan Eisen at the University of California at Davis. “With this part of Project MERCCURI we hoped to shed light on how microbes associated with the normal, human and built environment behaved in space. Our focus was not on microbes that cause disease, but the many beneficial and neutral microbes that surround us on a daily basis.”

SciStarter and the Science Cheerleaders organized a community of thousands of people across the country to participate in the citizen science portion of the project, gathering samples from built environments such as chairs, doors, railings… even the Liberty Bell. Then the “microbiology team” in the laboratory at UC Davis grew up and examined hundreds of microbes. The team selected 48 microbes, which, with approval from NASA, rode the SpaceX Falcon 9 to the Space Station for further research. Of those 48, only a handful grew at all differently in Space, and the difference was significant for only one: Bacillus safensis. This microbe was collected on a Mars Exploration Rover (before it was launched) at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. It grew significantly better on the Space Station.

“We observed that the vast majority of the microbes we examined behaved the same on the Space Station as they do on Earth. In the few cases where we observed a microbe behaving differently in space than on Earth, we’d love to follow that up with further experiments,” said Dr. Coil.

In addition to comparing growth rates on Earth and the Space Station, UC Davis identified winners in three different categories for the “Microbial Playoffs” in space.

Best Huddle: the microbe that grew to the highest density, packing cells into the space allowed

  • Yuri’s Night, Los Angeles: Kocuria rhizophila was collected on a camera at a Yuri’s Night Party with Buzz Aldrin (the second person to walk on the moon).
  • San Antonio Spurs: Kocuria kristinae was collected on the court after a San Antonio Spurs game.
  • Discover Magazine: Micrococcus yunnanensis, collected from a dictionary at the offices of Discover Magazine.

Best Tipoff: the microbial competitor that took off growing like crazy from the start

  • Pop Warner Chittenango: Bacillus pumilus was collected on a Porta-Potty handle by Pop Warner Chittenango Bears cheerleaders.
  • Smithsonian Air & Space Museum: Pantoea eucrina was collected on the Mercury Orbitor at the Smithsonian Museum of Air and Space.
  • Pop Warner Saints: Bacillus horikoshii was collected on a football field by Pop Warner Saints cheerleaders from Port Reading, NJ.

Best Sprint: the microbe that grew the fastest during the sprinting portion of growth (technically known as the “exponential growth phase”)

  • Oakland Raiders: Bacillus aryabhatti was collected on a practice football field used by the Oakland Raiders.
  • Pop Warner Chittenango: Bacillus pumilus was collected on a Porta-Potty handle by Pop Warner Chittenango Bears cheerleaders.
  • Mars Exploration Rover (JPL): Paenibacillus elgii, collected from a Mars Exploration Rover before launch (2004) at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL- NASA, Pasadena, CA).

Find rankings of all 48 samples in these three growth categories on the Results page at the Space Microbes web site.

Other elements of Project MERCCURI are still in process. In addition to overseeing the microbial playoffs, astronauts also collected microbes on the Space Station and sent those back to Earth. The UC Davis team has analyzed the data from those and are preparing a scientific publication on the results. In addition, members of the public contributed 3,000 cell phone and shoe samples for an ongoing analysis of which microbes live where, and how that compares to the ISS.

“With this project, thousands of people contributed to research on the Space Station and at UC Davis, one of the leading microbiology research labs in the country,” said Darlene Cavalier, Founder of SciStarter and Science Cheerleader, which led the microbe collection effort. “Our goal is to spur even more people to get involved in significant science. Whether someone is a child or an adult, is interested in space or the ocean, in biology or chemistry, in the climate or computers – scientists are working on research and development that would benefit from more participation.” Learn about and sign up to help with more research projects at www.SciStarter.com .

Project MERCCURI is coordinated by Science Cheerleader (current and former NFL and NBA cheerleaders pursuing science and technology careers), SciStarter, and UC Davis, in conjunction with the Argonne National Laboratory. The Project is made possible by Space Florida, NanoRacks, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

 

 

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Nominate a Team or Individual for Citizen Science Awardhttp://scistarter.com/blog/2015/05/nominate-a-team-or-individual-for-citizen-science-award/ http://scistarter.com/blog/2015/05/nominate-a-team-or-individual-for-citizen-science-award/#comments Thu, 28 May 2015 17:13:20 +0000 http://scistarter.com/blog/?p=11368 The William E. Bennett Award for Extraordinary Contributions to Citizen Science was established by NCSCE and named in honor of its first recipient for his lifetime contributions to citizen science. The award is given annually to an individual and a team whose SENCER and other related activities have made exemplary and extraordinary contributions to citizen […]

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The William E. Bennett Award for Extraordinary Contributions to Citizen Science was established by NCSCE and named in honor of its first recipient for his lifetime contributions to citizen science. The award is given annually to an individual and a team whose SENCER and other related activities have made exemplary and extraordinary contributions to citizen science.

Past awardees include former Congressman Rush Holt, Dr. Gary Booth of Brigham Young University, Dr. Monica Devanas of Rutgers University, Dr. Marion Field Fass of Beloit College, Dr. Catherine Hurt Middlecamp of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and teams from the United States Military Academy at West Point, the University of North Carolina Asheville, Indiana State University, and Butler University. To learn more about past awardees, please go here.

To nominate an individual or a team, please write a letter providing your reasons for making the nomination in sufficient detail to enable the selection committee to assess the nominee’s contributions to citizen science. A CV or biosketch for the nominated individual or, in the case of team nominations, a CV/biosketch for each person to be named in association with the team effort, must be included. No more than two supporting letters may be submitted; however, such letters are not required.

Your nomination letter and supporting materials should be addressed to “The Wm. E. Bennett Award Committee” and e-mailed as a PDF to sencer@sencer.net with the subject line “Wm. E. Bennett Award Nomination.” The deadline for the 2015 Bennett Awards nominations is June 2, 2015.

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