Journey North: Tracking the Stories of Survival with Citizen Science

By Ian Vorster March 22nd, 2015 at 9:00 am | Comment

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A group of Gray Whales Count volunteers count gray whales at Coal Oil Point in Santa Barbara. (ianvorsterphotography.com)

 

It was a crisp morning following a cold night in Goleta’s Coronado Monarch Butterfly Preserve. As Luke crossed a beam that had been dropped across a swampy area, he looked up at the Eucalyptus grove and sighed quietly. “Where are the butterflies Dad,” he asked me—with one part expectation and one part disappointment.

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“What’s in store for citizen scientists this spring,” WHYY’s The Pulse

By Darlene Cavalier March 20th, 2015 at 1:24 pm | Comment

Credit: Sarah Newman

Credit: Sarah Newman

As part of SciStarter’s regular radio series with WHYY’s The Pulse, we highlight new developments in citizen science and a few projects ripe for spring!

As the weather starts warming up and we all begin shedding our thick, winter coats, a crop of new citizen science projects are enticing us to get outdoors in the name of science.

Darlene Cavalier, founder of the citizen science website SciStarter and regular Pulse contributor, says a top project this spring involves paying attention to phenology, or the life cycle changes of plants and animals.

“This might be changes in the nesting habits of birds, certainly in the leafing cycle of plants near you and, specifically, looking at the timing that your lilacs bloom and when they die,” says Cavalier.

All of that information is connected in the sense that birds tend to time their nesting habits to when insects will likely be around to feed their baby birds. And those insects are dependent on certain plants to be around to survive.

Cavalier says the information that’s collected through this phenology project will eventually help inform climate assessment acts in the U.S.

As part of the Philadelphia Science Festival in April, the SciStarter crew will be at the Schuylkill Nature Center in Roxborough to get people involved in the Zombee Watch project.

“We have zombie flies that actually infect honeybees and we’ll tell you how to look for that,” says Cavalier. “It’s pretty disgusting and it’s also eerily attractive for some reason.”

But Cavalier says not all scientific research has to happen outdoors.

Read the rest of this post and listen to the radio segment.

Finding our origins: The Genographic Project uses genetics to map the past

By Carolyn Graybeal March 20th, 2015 at 9:00 am | Comment

Ancient human migration patterns. Source: National Geographic.

Ancient human migration patterns. Source: National Geographic.

Have you ever tried tracing back your family tree only to get stuck at great great Grandpa Jim? Are you curious about who your ancestors were and where they might have come from? If so, you’ll definitely want to check out National Geographic’s The Genographic Project. Not only will you learn about your lineage but you’ll have the opportunity to contribute to our scientific understanding of the human story.

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The Next Big Drug Discovery Could Come From a Scoop of Soil in Your Backyard

By Arvind Suresh (Editor) March 18th, 2015 at 4:00 am | Comment

Scoop it up for Citizen Science! (Image Credit: Pat Dumas / Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Scoop it up for Citizen Science! (Image Credit: Pat Dumas / Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Dr Robert H. Cichewicz. Director of the University of Oklahoma, Institute for Natural Products Applications and Research Technologies (INPART). Dr Cichewicz leads the Citizen Science Soil Collection Program which is focused on translating natural products into therapeutic leads to combat cancer, infectious diseases, and other unmet medical needs. Visit the project page on SciStarter to start participating and join thousands of other citizen scientists! You can also find other projects in our database through the project finder!

Do you remember what is was like to be five years old? I don’t, but I get a pretty good idea from watching my children.

There are two things that strike me when watching them. First, we all start off as a scientist at heart. There are innumerable questions to be asked and answered. Each day is filled with question marks, big and small, about how and why the world works that way that it does. Second, at some level, we all love dirt. More than just the opportunistic digging and poking of fingers into the dirtiest possible places, children embrace dirt and regularly don it like an essential fashion accessory. At some level, I believe that we have all retained some aspect of those characteristics in our grownup selves. And although adult society (and our mothers) might chide us for being too nosey with endless questions and too messy based on the dirt under our fingernails, there are simple ways that we can still embrace our inner child. Read the rest of this entry »

Are Food Deserts also Food Monocultures? Proposing a Citizen Science Project in Urban Ecology

By Ariel Simons March 16th, 2015 at 10:31 pm | Comment

Corn - King of Crops. But is it good for a healthy food distribution ecosystem? Image: Pixabay (Public Domain CC0)

Corn – King of Crops. But is it good for a healthy food distribution ecosystem? Image: Pixabay (Public Domain CC0)

Editor’s Note: This is a two-part post, a version of which first appeared on the author’s blog.

Drive through the United States, and one thing you will notice is a high degree of repetition in the scenery. Highways cross through large fields of near-identical corn and soy crops, punctuated by towns containing a similarly small set of franchises. This is not an easy knock on the cultural blandness of contented societies but rather, I suspect, two factors deeply connected with our path to near-limitless calories.

For the first time in history our species has achieved the feat of having more overweight people than those who go hungry. How we got here is an interesting story combining the rise of the technology needed to run large-scale farms with agricultural policies geared towards the production of cheap staple crops (For a good introduction to the topic my favorite is the documentary King Corn.). What sounds strange, at least at first, is that the issue of malnourishment has not declined in a similar fashion. This is an immediate result of improvements made in the availability of cheap, though not necessarily nutritious, calories. Read the rest of this entry »