By Lily Bui March 5th, 2013 at 6:19 pm | Comment
Imagine something more mysterious than the trenches of the deep sea, more convoluted than the intricacies of the human genetic code, possibly even more infinite than the vastness of outer space. Meet the human brain.
Memories, mental disorders, language capability, motor skills, and so much more are encoded in this singular organ. Yet, neuroscientists don’t even know precisely how many different types of cells are in the brain. It is truly a modern mystery. (See all the currently unsolved questions in neuroscience.) There are numerous plausible theories about how the brain works, but solid evidence is sorely lacking.
“The brain is probably the most complex biological structure on the planet,” says Joy Hirsch, professor of functional neuroradiology, neuropsychology, and psychology at Columbia University. Hirsch’s research includes the development of brain mapping procedures for neurosurgical planning. “A complete understanding of the brain and its function is an ambitious goal that requires our best combined technologies, computational facilities, and neuroscientists.”
The Obama administration announced a decade-long scientific effort to examine the human brain and build a map of its activity, a project that seeks “to do for the brain what the Human Genome Project (begun in 1990) did for genetics.” This $3 million undertaking comes from the Brain Activity Map (BAM) project spearheaded by the Kavli Foundation. As science journalist John Rennie shares here, some in the neuroscience community harbor doubts about whether the time is right for a high-profile, inevitably politicized project like this one. Science takes time, and data analysis on this scale would certainly not happen overnight. Some say that the Human Genome Project left us realizing there is still so much more to learn. Will the Brain Activity Map and projects like it encounter the same challenges upon completion, whenever that may be?
The Challenges of Brain Mapping
The tricky part is that scientists have yet to find a way to record the activity of more than a small number of neurons simultaneously without invasive physical probes. New technology enables us to provide the right kinds of images to “map” the brain, but the volume of images that come through would be so overwhelming that it would take an insurmountable amount of time to process the data. Even today’s leading technology, from neuro-nanotech to optobiology to synthetic biology sensors, is limited when it comes to such a large undertaking.
Here’s where projects like EyeWire come in.
EyeWire is an online community of “citizen neuroscientists” who map the retinal connectome (neurons in the retina) by playing an online game. Because the feat of mapping the human brain solo (or even as a small team) would be infinitely large, EyeWire has made use of crowdsourcing strategies to collect data.
“Researchers have calculated that with today’s technology it would take one person 100,000 years to map one cubic millimeter of the brain without the aid of artificial intelligence,” says Amy Robinson, who works on the EyeWire team. (Just to give you a scale, an entire human brain is roughly 1,000,000 cubic millimeters.) “It takes a researcher at our lab…upwards of 50 hours to map an entire cell, depending on its size…and there are over 80 billion neurons in the brain.”
Rules of the Game
For EyeWire, over a time span of seven days, teams on Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, Google+, and a formidable-sounding Team X (veterans) competed in the games. Each day, the EyeWire team gives updates on the project’s progress via their blog. “Players” who participate in the game trace neurons based on images of the retina acquired at the Max Planck Institute of Medical Research in Heidelberg, Germany (see below). The data directly contribute to neuroscience research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
It’s competitive, accessible to the masses, and even–for lack of a better word–fun. No game would be complete without a prize, however, so EyeWire has that covered too. The team that maps the most 3D neuron volume in this time frame receives neuron naming rights.
The genius of this project is in the gamification of the scientific process. By tacking on a time limit, assigning teams, and offering a prize, EyeWire spurs competition in potential “players.” Not only are players contributing to scientific research in the long run, but they can also see their contributions directly in front of them in the game in more-or-less tangible form. The gaming aspect of this citizen science project is what sets it apart from many others like it. Projects like the Human Connectome and Blue Brain have similar objectives but very different plans for execution. “When gamified, crowdsourced science is more than expediting data collection and analysis–it helps communicate science with the world,” states Robinson.
The EyeWire team comprises of members hailing from notably impressive backgrounds–game design, software development, community outreach, artificial intelligence, data structures, in addition to neuroscience. This notable cross-disciplinary approach has resulted in a project that brings the best of these worlds to the citizen science constituency.
Benefits of Crowdsourcing
Robinson goes on to explain why crowdsourcing is an ideal strategy for the future of scientific research: “Labs can no longer continue to work in academic isolation. If we hope to expedite our progress, we need to find ways to invite the world to help make discoveries…Not to mention crowdsourcing brings citizens into the heart of the scientific process.”
If nascent neuro-mapping projects like EyeWire fare well in the long run, it could mean that crowdsourcing will play an even more significant role in larger scientific research projects. Joy Hirsch adds, “We need to think outside the box. Outsourcing part of the task to individuals who may not be card-carrying scientists, but [who are] capable and willing to do some parts of the project, could become a major component of the success of [projects like this].”
Amy Robinson humbly quotes Sebastian Seung, the creator and director of EyeWire: “To understand how our knowledge machine works is more than just meta–it’s epic.” The EyeWire Games are simply a precursor to larger crowdsourced scientific research projects to come. If the greater scientific community chooses to participate, the odds just may be in our favor.
Sebastian Seung’s TEDTalk:
Lily Bui is a senior contributor at SciStarter. Although she holds dual bachelors’ degrees in International Studies and Spanish from the University of California Irvine, Lily has long harbored a proclivity for the sciences. Lily has worked on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.; served a year in AmeriCorps in Montgomery County, Maryland; worked for a New York Times bestselling ghostwriter in California; and performed across the U.S. as a touring musician. She currently works in public media at WGBH Boston and the Public Radio Exchange (PRX). In her spare time, she thinks of cheesy science puns (mostly to entertain herself). Tweets @dangerbui.
By Darlene Cavalier February 28th, 2013 at 3:17 pm | Comment
Here’s a link to a television news segment that aired this week on Minneapolis/St.Paul NBC affiliate Kare11’s. http://www.kare11.com/news/article/1013296/16/Scientists-call-for-your-good-germs-to-send-to-space
Nice shout out to the SciStarter, Science Cheerleader, UCDavis citizen science project we are launching. It’s called Project MERCCURI! Sign up to get involved and send us microbes from your touchscreen device so we can compare patterns to other locations and to what the astronauts find on the International Space Station! We’ll send 40 samples to the ISS in September!
By Darlene Cavalier February 26th, 2013 at 10:55 am | Comment
By Carolyn Graybeal
Hummingbirds are mesmerizing. Their iridescent feathers. How they hover in the air. But these tiny birds are not just eye candy. Hummingbirds play a critical role in the ecosystem. They help keep insect populations in check. They pollinate flowers as they roam for nectar.
Unfortunately scientists are observing that migration patterns are changing, a presumed result of global climate change. A study released last month reports the migration patterns of the ruby-throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris), the most common hummingbird in North America, has shifted by about two weeks earlier than usual. This is bad news for both the birds and ecosystem in general. These birds are arriving at their northern breeding grounds while food may be scarce.
Recognizing the critical nature of these birds, the National Audubon Society has launched Hummingbirds@Home. Starting March 15th, the Audubon Society invites you to help track and report hummingbirds you see using their free app. Learn more about Hummingbirds@Home and how to join here.
If you need a little help spotting these birds, Cornell University published this handy how-to guide for attracting hummingbirds to your property and learning more about hummingbird behavior such as nesting, feeding, and migration patterns.
Be sure to check SciStarter for more hummingbird-related projects and for opportunities to help other feathered friends. Until then, happy (humming)bird watching!
By Darlene Cavalier February 18th, 2013 at 12:49 pm | Comment
This is a guest post from Sandra Henderson, Director for Citizen Science at the National Ecological Observatory Network.
When I first became involved in online professional development (PD) courses about 10 years ago, the casual approach to participation in terms of time and attire were often noted as desirable features. An often-touted advantage to online PD was that individuals could participate at 3 a.m. wearing pajamas and bunny slippers. Over the years, as the boon in online PD has expanded, I sometimes wonder if the sale of bunny slippers has kept pace with the expansion of online PD opportunities for educators.
Online education has gone mainstream, as evidenced by the large number of colleges and universities providing accredited online courses as part of their degree programs. Powerhouse universities like Stanford and Yale helped lead the way a few years back by offering their courses online and attracting hundreds of thousands of students. The widespread acceptance of top-notch universities provided an endorsement of sorts for the effectiveness of online education. The demand for online education continues to grow and this includes PD opportunities for educators.
Traditionally, PD for educators was synonymous with face-to-face classes, workshops, and seminars. Face-to-face PD, while valuable, is generally location- and time-limited which can exclude many educators who have other obligations or do not have flexible schedules outside of teaching due to family, extracurricular obligations, or other time constraints. Online PD courses that are self-paced are very appealing because individuals can chose when to participate based on their unique situation. One of the most appealing aspects of online PD is that it can be a great equalizer, providing PD for educators at all stages of their lives and careers.
As online PD has gained popularity, citizen science (CS) has also enjoyed a time of rapid growth. In recent years, CS programs and activities have proliferated, and many are Internet-based. Examples include Project BudBurst, Project Feederwatch , and The Great Sunflower Project It is widely known that effective PD results in better implementation of programs and activities. In the case of CS, effective PD may also help with data quality.
CS programs that are entirely online — such as the NEON’ s Project BudBurst – may not have the opportunity to offer face-to-face PD or employ the old tried and true “Train the Trainer” model. We decided to test online PD using Project BudBurst and created our first course Introduction to Plants and Climate Change for Educators. In January, 2012, we informally put out the word that we had a pilot online PD course for educators hoping to register about 15 people. Within a week, we had over 200 registrants and had to close registration as we could not meet demand. That is when it became clear that online PD was needed and that NEON could fill this important niche through the development of an online academy devoted to citizen science professional development – the NEON Citizen Science Academy (CSA).
NEON’s Citizen Science Academy Mission Statement: Provide online professional development resources for educators to support effective implementation of Citizen Science projects and activities that focus on ecology and environmental sciences.
The NEON CSA is intended to be a complete online PD resource for educators and will include online courses, modules, tutorials, and a virtual community of practice. Initially, I had been concerned that sharing and communication, a hallmark of face-to-face PD, would be sacrificed for the convenience of online courses. I have been pleasantly surprised to observe the exchange of ideas and thoughts in our virtual classrooms via discussion forums. Perhaps wearing bunny slippers encourages these informal exchanges.
As CSA develops, we intend to partner with other online CS programs and partner to offer a full suite of online courses and resources that support all aspects of CS for educators. Further, through a partnership with the National Geographic FieldScope program, CSA will also include innovative, free online mapping, analysis and data visualization tools that facilitate data analysis.
In the case of Project BudBurst, we now offer several courses for a wide variety of educators. One of our educators used her online PD participation to write a successful grant to engage her students in making observations of trees in their schoolyard. Another educator shared her efforts to have students in her art class take photos of plants as the seasons change. Several informal educators have designed exhibits and displays that feature Project BudBurst.
We hope you will join the growing CSA community by signing up for one of our online courses (citizenscienceacademy.org). Bunny slippers optional.
By Lily Bui February 13th, 2013 at 11:05 am | Comment
You’re familiar with this scene: a dog and its owner walk side by side down the street, and you can’t help but smirk that the dog is dressed up just like its owner. It’s undeniable–people often view their dogs as extensions of themselves. The marked bond between people and their dogs is one that often surpasses that with other domesticated animals. You can look at dogs as providers of companionship for humans.
On the other hand, this same bond has given dogs a special kind of social intelligence that is truly unique in the animal kingdom. Enter Dognition, a new citizen science project that aims to contribute to research that furthers the study of dog cognition—the way your dog’s mind processes the world around it.
Although only in its beta phase, Dognition has gained an enthusiastic following in over 38 countries. (Dog lovers, unite!) The project involves engaging your dog in science-based experiments that assess its cognition based on independent problem solving and social problem solving.
Here’s an example of a simple Dognition experiment you can perform with your dog:
Keep in mind—these experiments don’t measure your dog’s IQ. Rather, they assess how your dog navigates the world around it. The data that you collect from these experiments helps deepen the empathy that you share with your dog just as much as it helps researchers understand all dogs as a whole. At the end of your experiments, Dognition provides a platform that allows you to profile your dog based on its results. Is your dog an Einstein? A stargazer? A Renaissance dog? Participants have the potential to gain valuable insight on their dog’s personality through this project.
Dognition is the brainchild of Dr. Brian Hare, who co-authored the book counterpart to this project with his wife. The Genius of Dogs – How Dogs Are Smarter Than You Think hit the shelves on February 5, 2013. The book delves into these as well as some other curious topics. (I’m excited for my copy to arrive! It’s the perfect supplement to this already fascinating citizen science project.)
•How we came to know that dogs can retain hundreds, even thousands of words and gestures;
•How “survival of the friendliest” led dogs to domesticate themselves;
•The truth about dogs and physics (and how they’re lousy at it).
Caveat emptor, though. This nifty service comes with a price tag. With a base fee of $60, participants can get started. “Owners tell us that Dognition is helping them understand their dogs better,” says Dr. Hare. “This is a wonderful–and very distinctive–offering. Making it possible has required bringing to the table years of research and expertise, one-of-a-kind technology, plus service and support. This service allows us to make these things available.”
Dedicated to all dogs, Dognition is an ideal project for owners who treasure a deeper relationship with their dogs and are excited about gaining an intimate understanding of dog behavior–perhaps unearthing what exactly it is that makes dogs man’s (and woman’s) best friend.
Dr. Brian Hare himself sat down with SciStarter for a brief Q&A session. He tells us firsthand what inspired his research, what the study hopes to learn about dogs, how he assembled his team, and more.
1. How and when did you discover that dogs can read human gestures?
I was a 19 year old undergraduate at Emory University and I was working with an amazing Psychology Professor Mike Tomasello. Mike was one of the first to realize that human infants develop powerful social skills as early as nine months. This is when infants begin to understand what adults are trying to communicate when they point. Infants also begin pointing out things to other people. Whether an infant watches you point to a bird or the infant points to their favorite toy, they are beginning to build core communication skills. By paying attention to the reactions and gestures of other people, as well as to what other people are paying attention to, infants are beginning to read other people’s intentions.
Mike knew that our closest living relatives, the great apes, could not use human gestures, so he thought that perhaps this ability was unique to humans.
But like many dog owners, I’d spent countless hours playing fetch with my childhood dog, Oreo. If he lost a ball, I’d help him find it by pointing in the right direction. When Mike told me that a chimpanzee couldn’t follow a human point to find food, I blurted out ‘my dog can do that!’ and it all began from there.
2. Apart from helping people learn more about their dogs through science-based games/exercises, what do you hope to learn about dogs as a whole from the collected data?
There are so many fascinating questions people have about dogs that, at the moment, we can’t answer with science – we just don’t have enough time or enough dogs. For example, to answer which breed is the best communicator or the most empathetic, I’d need at least 30 dogs from each breed. If you took the AKC breeds or all breeds worldwide, you would need between 6,000 -12,000 puppies, decades of work, millions of dollars, and about a thousand graduate students. It is no wonder no one has done it. But with Dognition.com, we could do exactly this and more. Questions that we could only dream of answering are now becoming a distinct possibility.
3. Your team seems to come from various backgrounds. How did you assemble the team, and how does it function for this project? How is it managed from different locations?
I was kicking around the idea around the Business school at Duke of a company where people could use science to find out the unique genius of their dog. One of the students of entrepreneurial law said to me, ‘You’ve got to meet Kip Frey’. Besides being a Professor at the Law School, Kip is also an incredibly successful entrepreneur and venture capitalist. We had coffee one day and that’s how it started.
From there, we hand-picked a team to do two things: build a company that would serve the needs of dogs and their owners. And, just as exciting, contribute to the greater good of dogs, through discoveries that could not otherwise be pursued.
We built an advisory board that includes world-leading experts in canine cognition, as well as veterans in the media and technology space — Mark Benerofe, founder and advisor to successful startups including Sony Online Entertainment and Match.com; Web innovator Thede Loder, who was part of the original technology team that created Match.com; Marshall Brain, a leading entrepreneur and founder of HowStuffWorks.com — plus nationally renowned advertising agency, McKinney. They have helped create a rich consumer-facing experience and provided market research, brand development and marketing.
Additionally, we’ve enlisted a panel of highly respected thought leaders from a broad spectrum of dog-oriented disciplines, for the purpose of sharing ideas and providing feedback on Dognition’s mission, products and practices. They contribute their expertise in areas like canine health and well-being, training, service, and behavior. This includes world renowned dog trainer and best-selling author, Victoria Stilwell, and Paul Mundell, National Director of Canine Programs for CCI, Canines Companions for Independence. This unique assembly of experts will help inform our programming and services to meet our over-arching goal of servicing the greater good of all dogs, even while we help individual owners understand and nurture their own dogs in new ways.
4. What inspired you to create a citizen science counterpart to your book?
The whole point of the book, as the title suggests, is to uncover the genius of all dogs. The point of Dognition.com, is to allow people to uncover the genius of their dog, and in doing so, help us better understand all dogs.
Interested in other dog behavior citizen science projects? Worry not—we’ve got others for you too! Check out Play With Your Dog from the Horowitz Lab.
By Darlene Cavalier February 7th, 2013 at 10:24 am | Comment
From Carnegie Mellon University
Research could ensure that crowd work becomes a career option, not a dead end Carnegie Mellon scientists and other crowd work researchers issue call to action.
PITTSBURGH—Crowdsourcing is an effective way to mobilize people to accomplish tasks on a global scale, but some researchers fear that crowd work for pay could easily become the high-tech equivalent of a sweat shop. Trivial work for rock bottom pay isn’t inevitable, however, and they’ve outlined a research agenda to make crowd work both intellectually and monetarily rewarding.
Leading researchers in crowd work from Carnegie Mellon University and other institutions will present their plan, hashed out in a special workshop last spring, at the Association for Computing Machinery’s Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing, CSCW 2013, Feb. 27 in San Antonio, Texas.
Finding ways to enhance collaboration, incorporate artificial intelligence and create ways for workers to build reputations are among the research challenges ahead.
“When my baby daughter was born I asked myself, ‘would I be proud to see her grow up to be a crowd worker?’” said Aniket Kittur, assistant professor in Carnegie Mellon’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute.
Co-authors with Kittur of the research strategy include Jeffrey Nickerson, director of the Center for Decision Technologies at Stevens Institute of Technology, and Michael Bernstein, assistant professor of computer science at Stanford University. Other leading crowd work researchers from Carnegie Mellon, Northwestern University and the University of Texas, Austin also contributed to the report, which is available for download.
The crowd work industry has expanded rapidly in recent years, with a number of vendors now offering work for people who get paid per task or who compete for prizes. A prominent vendor is Amazon Mechanical Turk, which claims more than 500,000 workers in more than 190 countries who complete tasks that, in some cases, may take only seconds to perform. Another, CrowdFlower, says it can access more than 2 million contributors worldwide. Others, such as oDesk, provide skilled labor, including web developers, designers and translators. Platforms such as Innocentive invite people to invent solutions to problems in hopes of winning a prize.
The still-young industry could grow very large because portions of almost any job — perhaps as much as 20 percent — potentially can be sent “down the wire,” Kittur said. Many crowd workers are paid substantially less than U.S. minimum wage, however, and, left to market forces, the crowd workforce could remain stigmatized and exploited.
“What if I want access to the best people in the world, but for only five minutes of their time?” Kittur said. As beneficial as that might be for some businesses, that possibility will not be achieved if the crowd workplace isn’t attractive for the very best workers and thinkers, he added. The call for action by Kittur and his colleagues, also discussed in a recent post on the Follow the Crowd blog, envisions three major research steps:
Create career ladders. Research is needed in how to structure teams so that skilled workers can train novices, as well as help design jobs and catch problems. Mechanisms are needed for credentialing workers. A better understanding of worker motivations could lead to better job designs.
Improve task design through better communication. Research suggests that some quality problems in crowd work have more to do with poorly designed tasks than with unskilled workers. Artificial intelligence could be used in complex tasks to identify work products that might still need improvement and assign workers accordingly. The crowd itself also may be used to train the computer programs, helping them support a broader range of tasks. Improved instructions and feedback mechanisms likewise could improve the work product.
Enable learning. Quality assurance assessments can identify skills that workers need to polish or learn to tackle new work tasks. Online tutoring, combined with tracking of work history, could support personalized instruction and feedback. The work platforms themselves will need mechanisms for learning what kinds of work requests attract talented workers, recognizing the patterns of learning and skill building among workers and determining what tasks are appropriate for which types of workers.
This work was supported by the National Science Foundation, a DARPA Young Faculty Award, a Temple Fellowship, Northwestern University and the Center for the Future of Work in Carnegie Mellon’s Heinz College.
Follow the School of Computer Science on Twitter @SCSatCMU.
Contact: Byron Spice
By Nick Fordes February 4th, 2013 at 8:47 am | Comment
Scientific research aims to answer questions, progress disciplinary knowledge, and ultimately better society by providing new applications of technology and ideas toward common problems. But, over time, the products of our countless research projects, while potentially still useful, go unutilized, and can be forgotten in the basements of University libraries or the dusty archives of journal collections.
This perhaps all too common problem is exactly the motivation behind an new exciting project called Marblar.
The premise: Marblar provides you with the overlooked technologies and ideas, and you – the citizen scientist – provide the applications. Non-traditional, yes, but it’s challenging, engaging, and a fun game where citizen scientists can compete with other across the globe.
I recently spoke with co-founder Dan Antonio Perez to find out his hopes for the project and what he thought of Marblar’s role in citizen science.
“Collaboration is the focus,” Dan said.
The Marblar team spends a lot of time identifying the most interesting technology that can inspire Marblars and generate the most useful applications. Current technologies include a a microchip that can harness the power of motion, ‘Super Foams’ made from emulsions, and a brand new desalination device.
Marblars are given three weeks to post their ideas, discuss with other players, and even collaborate with the inventors to arrive at a final solution. While there are some small cash rewards and other small prizes for top entries, the real reward, Dan says, is that users have a chance to participate in meaningful science and help create ideas with potential.
Through the amazingly easy-to-use Marblar interface, I was also able to speak with several of the top Marblars who have been involved in this process.
Dave, a Biochemistry Ph.D. student studying at The University of Oxford, claimed that the prizes were not important to him. Rather, he was excited to collaborate with people from diverse scientific backgrounds.
After years out of the lab, a top Marblar user, Maria, was excited to get back into the thrill of scientific discussion.
Juan Carlos, a University researcher, was most interested in the fact that in discussing ideas, he was able to get feedback from users outside of his discipline.
This type of broad, multi-discipline collaboration is what makes Marblar such a unique citizen science activity. There is really something for everyone who is interested in science. And they are only getting started. Dan sees Marblar as having great potential for engaging the public and offering a fun way for citizens to engage with some really great minds in science.
It’s science. I’ts a game. And it’s fun. Marblar has some lofty goals, but from my first impressions, they have already achieved quite a bit. I can’t wait to see what’s next.
By Lily Bui January 29th, 2013 at 9:19 am | Comment
Pilot Joe Kittinger once said, “You can’t get any real fun things unless you volunteer.” At the time, he was referring to things like voluntarily jumping out of planes at extremely high (and low-oxygen level) altitudes to help NASA conduct research on zero-gravity environments. Maybe it was his unbridled enthusiasm for precarious work. Or maybe it was just the 1960s. Either way, Kittinger’s volunteerism was instrumental to NASA during its pre-Apollo days. Whether or not he knew it, Kittinger was a citizen scientist.
The Changing Face of Science
A citizen scientist is an individual who, more often than not, voluntarily contributes his or her time, effort, and/or resources to formal or informal scientific research without necessarily having a formal science background.
It used to be that a citizen scientist referred to a bird watcher or an amateur astronomer, but today, citizen scientists come from all walks of life. This includes current and former NFL and NBA cheerleaders who are tuning non-traditional audiences into citizen science; online gamers who lend their skills to specially designed programs to analyze folding protein structures; and students who want a more hands-on experience outside the classroom. Retirees, community organizations, and even prison inmates are getting in on the action.
Formalizing the field
“Amateur science,” “crowdsourced science,” and “public participation in scientific research” are some common aliases for citizen science. Though the monikers suggest an element of novice, the fields that citizen science advances are diverse: ecology, astronomy, medicine, computer science, statistics, engineering and many more.
“There’s a need to get beyond unique terminology and jargon,” says Meg Domroese, coordinator of the Public Participation in Scientific Research conference. “We want to talk about how to formalize as a field so that people can share it, can enter it.”
The Public Participation in Scientific Research Conference was the first of its kind. Science researchers, project leaders, educators, technology specialists, evaluators, and more sat down together to engage in dialogue and exchange ideas. The cross-disciplinary event unveiled the publication of the first journal issue exclusively devoted to citizen science.
With today’s increasingly connected world, we can share collected data for research as instantaneously as we tell our Twitter followers what we had for lunch. Many citizen science projects enable mobile technology to connect with volunteers, collect data, and share results. The opportunities to participate in citizen science are no longer limited by access to tools. Mobile technology makes it possible to help the USGS measure and record earthquake tremors, join NASA’s effort in counting passing meteors, or even help monitor noise and light pollution in our communities. Citizen scientists can help solve the mystery of ZomBees (bees that have possibly been infected by the larvae of parasitic flies), help astronomers classify galaxies, and discover moon craters. Projects like SciSpy and iNaturalist provide a mobile app with which participants can share photos and observations of wildlife in their backyards, cities, and towns.
The idea behind these diverse projects is that anyone, anywhere can participate in meaningful scientific research. For some projects, volunteers literally don’t have to go farther than their own backyards to contribute!
It’s time to bridge more gaps by harnessing the power of people who are motivated by a desire to advance research, a connection with nature, and a goal to improve human health and communities. It’s not difficult to imagine how an informed public can, in turn inform policymakers. In fact, there are national and international groups pushing for this right now.
Citizen science also brings together a range of disciplines. From chemistry to biology to data science to astronomy to archiving sheet music, the spectrum of projects is diverse and manifold.
We may not all be as stoked as pilot Joe Kittinger was to jump out of a plane for the sake of science, but there are thousands of opportunities for us to nurture our curious, scientific minds with our feet firmly on terra firma.
To learn more about citizen science, check out the following sites, articles, and blogs.
Citizen science definition on Wikipedia
Searchable list of 500+ citizen science projects
Cornell Citizen Science Toolkit
Citizen Science | Scientific American
Citizen Scientists League
Lily Bui is a senior contributor at SciStarter.com, a website that connect regular people to real science they can do. Although she holds dual nonscience bachelors’ degrees, served in AmeriCorps, worked on Capitol Hill, and is a touring musician, she has long harbored a proclivity for the sciences. She now works in public radio. In her spare time, she thinks of cheesy science puns.
By Darlene Cavalier January 20th, 2013 at 6:19 pm | Comment
This was originally published on Huffington Post, by George Zaidan.
SciStarter asked Craig Newmark (of Craigslist fame) why he likes squirrels. He told us that it all started with a simple desire to feed birds. But the suet palaces he was using to dispense the raw, fat-based bird food were constantly getting hacked by squirrels. He tried everything; he even upgraded to “squirrel-resistant” models, to no avail.
It was then that Newmark really began to appreciate the rascally rodents. “Squirrels are smart, tough and athletic, real survivors, and that’s very impressive,” he says. “They’re a candidate to replace humanity if we don’t work things out.”
Newmark, who regularly tweets about squirrels and is a religious observer of National Squirrel Appreciation Day (Jan. 21), has his house wired with “squirrel cams” and was even able to capture — on video — a female entering his house to explore.
But most squirrel observation is low-tech, involving a pair of binoculars and a notebook. These observations eventually work their way into peer-reviewed science.
SciStarter.com, which I like to think of as the Craigslist of science, has a list of squirrel-related citizen science projects here. You can participate for free, and finding squirrels (especially the eastern grey) is about as easy as falling over. They dominate this area, and they’re not shy!
Our citizen science projects are not limited to the East Coast, or even the U.S. There’s the Black Squirrel Project in the UK and the Western Gray Squirrel Project out in the state of Washington.
If you think you’re sly enough to outsmart squirrels, we have a limited-time competition just for you! In partnership with instructables and Discover Magazine, SciStarter is looking for safe and effective ways to keep squirrels and other ravenous vegetarians and omnivores from eating sunflowers. Why? Because sunflowers play a crucial role in citizen science bee observation projects. No sunflowers, no bees. And that would… bee bad. But hurry! Not only is January 21 National Squirrel Day, it’s also the last day you can submit an entry to the Citizen Science Contest!
Some species of ground squirrels hibernate, but tree squirrels don’t. The eastern grey and other tree dwellers ride out the winter in tree hollows and holes, but you can still see them as fall turns to winter. So sign up for a squirrel project here at SciStarter, grab your coat and head out to the nearest deciduous forest, rooftop or really just about anywhere, and start observing!
Or just hang a birdfeeder outside your window.
By Lily Bui January 17th, 2013 at 4:37 pm | Comment
This post was originally published on CitizenSci, a PLOS blog about the projects, people, and perspectives fueling new frontiers for citizen science.
Hear ye, hear ye! This is an open call to artists, engineers, filmmakers, scientists, hobbyists, lobbyists, foodies, gamers, musicians, photogs, techies, adults, kids, dreamers, schemers, hackers, slackers, athletes, and everyone in between. This is a call to all—SciStarter needs you (yes, you)!
In case you haven’t heard yet, SciStarter has partnered with Instructables and Discover Magazine to help researchers find solutions to real problems that they encounter in their projects. The Citizen Science Contest is your opportunity to help contribute to scientific discovery. (Prizes include a Celestron telescope, DISCOVER subscriptions, and time-lapse cameras!)
We’ve interviewed four citizen science project organizers and asked them to identify the greatest challenges in their work—challenges that you can help them overcome. Perhaps you’re a seasoned gardener and have tips for The Great Sunflower Project on how to prevent critters from eating plants before they flower. Have some ideas about how to use odds and ends around the household to construct inexpensive hail pads? The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network (CoCoRaHs) could use your help! Think your tech savvy is up to par? Maybe you can come up with suggestions for Project Budburst and Wildlife of Our Homes, both of which are looking for ways to improve the way their volunteers record and submit collected data.
The Instructables DIY community spans an unimaginably vast spectrum of disciplines. We’re hoping that this contest will help these citizen science project managers find creative, interdisciplinary solutions that come from outside of the box. We can’t do it alone, though. You can help make their experiences better by submitting a new citizen science project you’ve developed, present a tool that may be used for current/future citizen science projects, or help spark questions they might not have thought of by participating in discussion.
Here’s the thing, though. The contest ends this upcoming Monday, January 21st! If you have some ideas, navigate to the contest page to take a look. The clock is ticking!