By Darlene Cavalier November 23rd, 2012 at 8:50 am | Comment
Mark Kinver, an environment reporter at BBC News, reports on a review of more than 230 citizen science projects. The authors of the review concluded involvement of volunteers offers “high value to research, policy and practice”. They also published a Guide To Citizen Science offering advice on how to set up a successful citizen science project.
The review and guide was commissioned by the UK Environmental Observation Framework (UK-EOF).
From the BBC report:
The review reached a number of conclusions about the value of data collected by volunteers:
The development of technologies was “revolutionising citizen science”, for example through online recording and smartphone apps;
Data quality could be excellent, but was not fully recognised by all researchers or policymakers;
It is a cost-effective way of collecting environmental data
There was potential to make considerably more use of citizen science that currently was the case.
Read the full BBC article here
By Darlene Cavalier November 16th, 2012 at 11:02 am | Comment
Millions of everyday people are helping scientists discover galaxies, measure climate change, track species, monitor air and water pollution, and more through citizen science projects featured on SciStarter. However, like all scientific research, project organizers and participants often run into challenges that can slow progress or limit data collection. Now, you can help!
SciStarter, in partnership with Instructables, and Discover Magazine, invites YOU to come up with solutions to the challenges faced by our community of citizen scientists, researchers and project organizers. Help make their experiences better by coming up with solutions to some real annoyances: stop critters from eating sunflowers planted to observe pollinating bees, help remind volunteers to reset rain gauges and report measurements, link activities to social experiences. Or, dream up your own home-based research project that involves public participation to advance a field of scientific research.
Entries will be accepted on the Instructables Contest Page now through January 21. Winners have a chance to win a variety of prizes listed below.
- Grand Prize (1 winner): Celestron Telescope, published in an issue of Discover Magazine, subscription to Discover, SciStarter Tshirt, Instructables Prize Pack
- First Prize (5 winners): Bird Cameras, Timelapse Camera, subscription to Discover, SciStarter Tshirt, Instructables Prize Pack
- Runners Up (10 winners): Hi capacity rain gauge,subscription to Discover, SciStarter Tshirt, Instructables Prize Pack
To get you started, we’ve listed four specific–and very real–challenges sent to us by project organizers. These problems impact the experience of the participants, and/or the ability of the project to reach its full potential. Select one or more to solve or come up with your own creative solution to a challenge you face as a citizen scientist! If you are the organizer of a citizen science project, you can post your own challenge to your SciStarter Project Page (see “Discussion” tab on the Project Pages). We’ll encourage communities to post their creative solutions to your challenges right on your SciStarter Project Page!
Create inexpensive hail pads
Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) volunteers take and submit measurements of rain, hail, and snow precipitation. These observations are made available for use by the National Weather Service, meteorologists, emergency managers, and others.
The Problem: Hail pads are essential to the CoCoRaHS mission to measure, map, and study hail. Each pad consists of a 12″ by 12″square of Styrofoam covered in Heavy Duty Aluminum foil. However, in recent years, these materials have tripled in cost, which has greatly reduced the number of hail pads that can be produced and distributed.
The Challenge: Create a cheaper hail pad that can measure the number, size, and orientation of hail stones.
Stop critters from eating sunflowers
The Great Sunflower Project uses data collected by citizen scientists to create an online map of bee populations. Participants grow sunflowers, observe how many bees visit those flowers, and then submit their observations.
The Problem: Critters, like mice and birds, often eat the sunflower seedlings before the bees are able to visit. As a result, some volunteers are unable to collect and submit data.
The Challenge: Create a safe, simple way to ensure the sunflowers are protected from critters and reach maturation.
Help participants submit their data
Project BudBurst engages the public in making careful observations of phenophases, such as first leafing, first flower, and first fruit ripening. Scientists compare this valuable environmental information to historical records and learn about the prevailing climatic characteristics in a region over time.
The Problem: Prospective and current volunteers are often unsure if they have correctly identified plants and phenophases. This may lead to them not submit the data they’ve collected. Other volunteers simply forget to add their data.
The Challenge: Find a way to encourage and remind participants to submit data after making field observations.
Provide 1000 cheap, wireless climate data loggers
Wildlife of Our Homes provides an opportunity for citizen scientists to help researchers study the species that live alongside us everyday – bacteria, fungi, and insects. By using a sampling kit and answering a few questions, volunteers help researchers create an atlas of microbial diversity in homes across the country.
The Problem: Project organizers would love to collect climate data in each of the 1000 homes where volunteers are sampling microbes from 4 common surfaces. Unfortunately, climate sensors are expensive, and more importantly, project organizers don’t have an easy way to transfer data from those home sensors (temperature, humidity, etc) to an online database. Currently, they must physically retrieve and download the data.
The Challenge: Find a way to log climate data and wirelessly transmit the data to the project organizers.
Remember to submit ideas for solutions to these and other challenges on the SciStarter Citizen Science Contest Page!
By Lily Bui November 14th, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Comment
Have you ever thought of yourself as the sum of your actions? What about the sum of years you’ve been alive, the number of hairs on your head, or how many times a day you brush your teeth? Think about the text messages you send each day, the places you check in on Foursquare, your Google search history, or your Facebook wall posts.
Our lives can be broken down into endless categories of quantifiable data. With these tiny, incremental details, what could an outside observer piece together to learn about the big picture that is your life?
On Wednesday, November 14, TedxYouth is launching a brand new project called Data Detectives: The Human Face of Big Data. This project is aimed toward teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18 to teach them about the applications of Big Data. Former TED speaker Rick Smolan is the man behind the mission to make Big Data both accessible and fun.
By answering a 20-question online survey, you’ll be helping to build a data set that will allow teens to compare themselves to other teens all over the world. Some sample questions from the survey: “Are you more like your mother or father?”, “How do your parents discipline you for bad behavior?”, and “How do you get to school: by bus, public transportation, limo, donkey, or skateboard?” –TED blog, 10/25/12
As more people participate in the survey over time, the data will be compiled in an increasingly larger set. Participants can check in and see how the information grows. Jennifer Chapin, one of the project organizers, predicts participants “will see the world in which the collection, analysis, and visualization of data is empowering the human race across geographic, economic, and cultural barriers.”
What’s amazing about this project is that modern technology makes data accessible in ways that simply didn’t exist 10 to 15 years ago. We can broadcast, conduct, and answer surveys from the comfort and safety of our own computer chairs as opposed to approaching strangers on the street or organizing focus groups.
By studying crowdsourced data on a large scale, participants will be able to observe significant trends within the data collected as well as determine what different sets mean in relation to each other. Gathering information is one thing, but analyzing it and deciding what to do with it is another. The latter is perhaps the most exciting part and leaves plenty of room for creativity.
The vast amount of data that we’re able to collect in real-time by satellites, mobile phones, RFID tags, GPS-enabled cameras, and computers from around the world allow us, Chapin posits, “to sense, measure, understand and affect aspects of our existence in ways our ancestors could never have imagined in their wildest dreams.”
The site officially launches on November 14th, and the project will be presented at TEDxYouth in New York on November 17th, where 400 local high school students will gather for speaker sessions featuring 20 scientists, designers, technologists, explorers, artists, and performers that will share short lessons on what they do best. More than 100 parallel independently organized TEDxYouthDay events will take place in 42 countries around the world. TEDxYouthDay’s are planned by TEDx organizers worldwide, with the idea to inspire and engage youth.
Be sure to stop by our Project Finder to sift through a database of over 500 citizen science projects!
Statistics and Data: TEDxYouth
By Darlene Cavalier November 10th, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Comment
At SciStarter, we’re see exciting new citizen science opportunities with the development of new online tools and platforms. We’re trying to understand and map out the useful features of different platforms, and know that many of you have questions, experiences, and insights about this topic as well. Over the next few days, we’re interested in your thoughts on the software tools you’ve tried and the tools you’re dreaming about.
With your help, we are brainstorming a list of software tools, platforms and sensors for citizen science. Please join the week-long discussion hosted on Cornell’s Citizen Science Community Forum and tell us about the software tools you are using, plan to use, or think should be used. This may include software specifically created to support citizen science projects or custom tools you are developing or are aware of. Your contributions will help build a list of ideas for others to consider, and help support research about these tools*.
Some questions we ask you to consider:
If you are launching a new project, what sorts of technical resources do you have at your disposal (e.g. access to server space, developer time)?
Would needing such resources pose a barrier?
How well have existing platforms been able to support your projects? What additional tools or features would you find helpful?
What strategies have you found to be most useful in recruiting participants, motivating them and keeping them engaged? Are there particular technologies that support these strategies?
Software and hardware developers:
What tools, platforms, sensors can or should be leveraged to improve citizen science projects?
How have you attempted to incorporate or repurpose such tools, platforms or sensors?
What tools and features would you like to see used to advance your citizen science activities?
*With support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, we are working with Azavea, a geospatial software engineering firm, to evaluate a representative set of online citizen science software tools, but we need your help to identify that set of tools. The evaluation effort will analyze existing online citizen science tools and platforms for their technology, extensibility, visualization, and engagement features in order to better understand their ability to support a diverse and growing catalog of citizen science projects. The results of this research will be made available to the public as a report in January 2013.
By Lily Bui October 29th, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Comment
With Hurricane Sandy looming large, weather’s the nation’s top news story. In case you’re at home sitting out the storm like the bulk of the SciStarter team, we’ve got you covered (no pun intended) with plenty of weather-related citizen science opportunities to help researchers and advance science.
Bonus: here’s a weather-appropriate, musical supplement to your citizen science project browsing below, an oldie-but-goodie from classic BBC.
While Sandy is currently moving across the east coast, it presents an opportunity for citizen scientists to help researchers at the University of Utah. Scientists studying the isotopic composition of rainwater and snow are enlisting the help of volunteers to develop an unprecedented spatial and temporal dataset documenting the isotopic composition of rainwater (and snow) associated with this major storm system. You can study the storm while it’s happening (with safety in mind first, of course!) by collecting rain and/or snow samples and logging information in a spreadsheet that you can download on the WaterIsotopes.org website!
This citizen science project allows you to help scientists recover Arctic and worldwide weather observations made by United States’ ships since the mid-19th century. Browse through online archival data of ship logs from decades past, then help transcribe and digitize them so that researchers can access them more easily. These transcriptions will contribute to climate model projections and will improve our knowledge of past environmental conditions. Historians will use your work to track past ship movements and tell the stories of the people on board. This nascent nautical venture is only 4% complete, so there’s plenty of work to be done!
The gorgeous, interactive website includes helpful tutorials on the transcription process and invites you to linger, browse, and imagine the history behind the documents you will be analyzing. Pick a vessel that suits your fancy, and dive into the vast sea of archives that come from it.
Beautiful videos like the one below illustrate the anthropological fingerprint and relevance in all the data:
Still craving more weather citizen science projects? Our SciStarter Project Finder is a library of hundreds of citizen science projects! Here are more of our favorite weather-related projects also featured on our home page today.
SkyWarn: During hazardous weather, SKYWARN volunteers report what is happening at their location. Reports arrive at the forecaster’s office via the telephone, fax, Internet, and amateur radio. The reports are combined with radar and satellite data to determine what the storms will do next.
CoCoRaHS: Rain, Hail, Snow Network: Each time a rain, hail, or snow storm occurs, volunteers take measurements of precipitation from their registered locations (reports of ‘zero’ precipitation are encouraged too!). The reports are submitted to the website and are immediately available for viewing. The National Weather Service, meteorologists, hydrologists, emergency managers, city utilities, insurance adjusters, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, engineers, mosquito control, ranchers and farmers, outdoor and recreation interests, teachers, students, and neighbors in the community use the data.
SatCam: SatCam lets you capture observations of sky and ground conditions with a smart phone app at the same time that an Earth observation satellite is overhead. Observe the earth’s weather from above.
RainLog: Live in Arizona? All of this week’s excitement about the weather doesn’t just have to be for east coasters. Join RainLog’s network of over 1,000 volunteers that use backyard rain gauges to monitor precipitation across Arizona and in neighboring states. Data collected through this network will be used for a variety of applications, from watershed management activities to drought planning at local, county, and state levels.
SnowTweets: How much snow is on the ground where you are? Cryosphere researchers at the University of Waterloo want to know! The Snowtweets Project provides a way for people interested in snow measurements to quickly broadcast their own snow depth measurements to the web.
Students’ Cloud Observations Online (S’COOL): a citizen science project in which volunteers make and report cloud observations from sites of their choosing, such as a field trip, vacation, or even a backyard. The project aims to collect data on cloud type, height, cover, and related conditions from all over the world. Observations are sent to NASA for comparison to similar information obtained from satellite.
Citizen Weather Observer Program: Are you a ham? The Citizen Weather Observer Program is a group of ham radio operators and other private citizens around the country who have volunteered the use of their weather data for education, research, and use by interested parties. There are currently over 8,000 registered members worldwide and over 500 different user organizations. Their weather data are used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and distributed to user organizations.
Though it may be that these citizen science projects require more rain than shine for full effect, we’re sure that they’re likely to help brighten your day or, at the least, provide plenty of distractions from the gloomy news reports.
By John Ohab October 18th, 2012 at 8:43 pm | Comment
Here are ten ways you can help scientists advance fields of research while standing in line, downloading that much-hyped Netflix flick, or waiting for your pumpkin pie to warm up.
The Royal Society Laughter Project: The Royal Society has put together a playlist of different laughs that you can listen to. The tricky part is that some are real and some are fake. See if you can guess which laugh is real and which is posed. The results will help researchers at the University College of London learn how people react to different sounds. This is science that will make you LOL!
Age Guess: AgeGuess is a simple project in which you guess the age of other people by looking at their pictures. In just a few minutes, you can help create a first of its kind research data set for the study of human aging. The project is studying the differences between how old you look to others and your actual age.
EyeWire: Scientists need your help mapping the neural connections of the retina. All you have to do is color brain images! EyeWire is a fun way to learn about the brain and help scientist understand how the nervous system works.
Digital Fishers: Are you one of those people who loves the ocean but doesn’t want to deal with the sunburns, parking, or other unpleasant aspects that come with the territory? Here’s a project that puts you in touch with the ocean and saves you the extra costs in suntan lotion. Digital Fishers allows you to help scientists identify different species of fish. You can assist with research by watching 15-second videos from the comfort of your own computer and click on simple responses.
Musical Moods: Musical Moods is a sound experiment that aims to find out how viewers categorize the mood of certain TV theme tunes. The goal is to find out whether there are new ways of classifying online TV content through the mood of the music rather than the program genre itself. The whole experiment takes about ten minutes and is incredibly easy. You listen to themes and answer a few questions about each theme afterward.
Citizen Sort: Video games have the potential to do more than entertain. Citizen Sort is taking advantage of this potential by designing video games that make doing science fun. Citizen Sort is a research project at the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University in New York.
Project Implicit: Project Implicit offers the opportunity to assess your conscious and unconscious preferences for over 90 different topics ranging from pets to ethnic groups to sports team. In 10-15 minutes, you’ll report attitudes toward or beliefs about these topics. It’s that easy! The experience is both educational and engaging, and you get the chance to assist psychological research on thoughts and feelings.>
Be A Martian: NASA’s Be A Martian is an interactive Mars science laboratory that allows visitors to help scientists learn about the red planet. You can help identify important features in images returned from previous Mars rovers, ask and vote on questions for NASA Mars experts in a virtual town hall, explore a Mars atlas to learn more about the planet’s terrain, send postcards to Spirit (another Mars rover), and watch educational videos in the Two Moons theater.
Clumpy: When plants experience bacterial infections, the chloroplasts inside the plant cells appear to “clump” together. This can be a bad sign for plants. To help understand these bacterial infections, scientists need help classify images of clumpy chloroplasts. All yo have to do is arrange the images from least clumpy on the left to most clumpy on the right.
MAPPER: Help NASA find life on Mars by exploring the bottom of the lakes of British Columbia, Canada. The Pavilion Lake Research Project has been investigating the underwater environment with DeepWorker submersible vehicles since 2008. Now with MAPPER, you can work side-by-side with NASA scientists to explore the bottom of these lakes from the perspective of a DeepWorker pilot.
By Nick Fordes October 16th, 2012 at 8:54 am | Comment
Remember those old diagrams in your grade school science text books? I used to flip through each chapter trying to find the coolest images, but was continually disappointed when I was forced to squint at tiny illustrations. As I continued through school, however, I found myself drawn to large illustrations that conveyed information effectively and in plain language. I read The Way Things Work every night before bed. The blend of science, art, design, and communication, was intriguing, and I suppose part of why I entered the field of GIS and mapping.
From subway maps to government information pamphlets and all across digital and print media, illustrations are an engaging way to convey information.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) agrees, and their new citizen science project, JPL Infographics, calls on you to be the scientist-artist in charge of communicating their cutting edge science. NASA provides a huge library of amazing high-resolution space images, 3-D models, and lists of interesting facts for you to piece together into your very own Infographic. You can browse other user submissions for inspiration and then upload your finished image easily online.
Head to the JPL Infographics project to learn more. It is free to join, and registration is easy! This is a really fun and challenging project, and your work will be used to educate and inform others about cutting-edge space exploration.
Fire up both sides of your brain and create some educational space art!
Photo: NASA JPL
By Lily Bui October 9th, 2012 at 9:13 am | Comment
“Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” –Victor Borges
Aristotle posed that laughter is what sets humans apart from other species. Think about it. We love to laugh—at jokes, movies, at each other. We laugh to ease tension, because others are laughing, or simply just because. All right, Aristotle may not have been completely accurate in his theory (given that other species like rats have been discovered to laugh), but there’s something embedded in the human spirit that thrives off of giggles, chortles, and chuckles.
“Scientists have also found a neural signature for laughter – when you hear a laugh you activate the same brain regions that you would use to move your own face into a smile. These ‘mirror’ responses to laughter reflect the fact that when we hear someone laugh, we are primed to join in (even during a brain scan, which is not very amusing!).” –Science Live 2012, Laughing Brains
I present to you The Laughter Project. The Royal Society has put together a playlist of different laughs that you can listen to. The tricky part is that some are real and some are fake. See if you can guess which laugh is real and which is posed. The results will help researchers at the University College of London learn how people react to different sounds.
Professor Sophie Scott, Chair of Cognitive Neuroscience, talks about laughter.
This project is part of the Royal Society’s Summer Science Exhibition, which showcases a plethora of exhibits ranging from animal vision to epigenetics to robotic soccer. If you love the Laughter Project, you’ll also want to check out Musical Moods, where you can listen to various songs and decide which mood it best conveys.
Photo: Library of Congress
By Lily Bui October 1st, 2012 at 7:02 pm | Comment
We couldn’t have asked for a better citizen science project to start off October, a month often associated with Halloween and all things spooky.
Introducing Bat Detective, a project that enlists citizen scientists to screen sound recordings of bats to classify their distinct calls. Bats are nocturnal, making them very difficult to spot with the naked eye, so a growing number of bat surveys are being done acoustically instead. Bat calls “leak” information into the environment each night through echolocation, which bats use to sonically navigate, socialize, and locate prey in the dark.
Citizen scientists from all over the world have already recorded about 3,000 hours of acoustic surveys. Bat Detective has split the surveys in 4-second snapshots, so there are actually millions of files to be sorted. With only a few scientists, it would be an incredibly tedious, perhaps even impossible task. However, with the help of citizen scientists like you, the job will get done much more quickly!
These classifications will be used to create a new algorithm to help researchers easily extract information from their sound recordings and more closely monitor threatened bat populations. Bats are an integral part of their local ecosystems, but one in every five species of bat will face extinction over the next 50 years.
“Bats carry out lots of ‘ecosystem services’ like pollination and seed dispersal,” said Kate Jones, Professor of Ecology and Biodiversity at University College London and Zoological Society of London. “They also eat masses of insects. Losing bats means that all those services are degraded,” added Jones, whose Bat Detective project was made possible through Zooniverse , a popular online citizen science platform.
“The idea of Bat Detective really caught the imagination of the Zooniverse team, and when we heard the bat calls we were sold,” said Chris Lintott, director of Zooniverse. “The rapid sequence of calls that make up a feeding call, and which means the bat has found its prey, is once heard and never forgotten.”
Bats are also incredibly vulnerable to climate change, since their hibernation and migration patterns depend largely on weather patterns, so the success or failure of their local populations often serve as a early warning sign of the failing health of the local ecosystem as a whole. Need we say more?
Be sure to sign up for this sonically exciting and scintillating citizen science scheme! While you’re at it, check out our other bat-related citizen science projects in our Project Finder. You can help the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources with acoustic bat monitoring or identify Indian flying fox bats with the South Asian Bat Monitoring Program.
Coming soon: a collection of Halloween-themed citizen science projects. Keep your eyes (and ears) peeled!
By Lily Bui September 28th, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Comment 1
A painter cannot paint without brushes. Similarly, a scientist cannot work without tools.
PLOTS, the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science, is dead set on carrying out a mission to equip people with the proper tools for research. SciStarter and PLOTS are working together to help connect PLOTS tools and innovations to the growing community of citizen scientists and formal researchers. We had an opportunity to speak with Shannon Dosemagen, the Director of Outreach and Partnerships for PLOTS, about this exciting initiative in the world of citizen science.
“[PLOTS] is a community that incorporates a diverse set of participants from various backgrounds including social and natural sciences, community organizing, technology and design.”
The organization’s aim is to include community members in every step of the research process, from problem identification, to tool design & development, to data collection, to analysis and advocacy. It began in May 2010 during the infamous BP oil spill along the Gulf Coast. Two existing groups – the Grassroots Mapping Community and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade – joined forces and implemented the use of a balloon mapping kit to monitor environmental conditions along the coast. (The data have even made it as far as the New York Times!) From this initial group of collaborators came the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science. Since then, with the help of Shannon Dosemagen, the group grew to over 1,000 people on and offline across the U.S.
What makes PLOTS unique is that they recognize the importance of making scientific tools accessible and affordable at the community level. Whether it’s a spectrometer or an infrared camera, PLOTS believes in democratizing scientific tools on a grassroots level. This year, they hope to expand the toolkit of open source software tools that they offer and will be adding two brand new projects to SciStarter’s Project Finder:
PLOTS ran two very successful Kickstarter campaigns (funded by remote supporters and fellow citizen scientists) to create tools that their citizen scientists would end up using. The initial aerial mapping Kickstarter ran in spring of 2010 and raised approximately $8,300. The Kickstarter for balloon mapping kits in January of 2012 raised approximately $35,000.
The current Kickstarter campaign for a DIY spectrometer is supported by 1000+ backers who aren’t necessarily from the PLOTS community but instead are people who are learning about PLOTS for the first time.
Dosemagen calls this a “reversal of traditional practices” wherein citizen scientists are not simply pawns for data collection; instead, they are able to take ownership over environmental problems they have identified. The many tools that PLOTS offers allow room for citizen scientists to discover new research directions.
“Having accessible, available tools allows us all to think through the process of data gathering and also allows us to work in areas that we have personal connections to,” says Dosemagen. True to this sentiment, other citizen science projects have leverage the use of mobile technology for citizen science research.
“While these big Kickstarters have been central to our organizational growth, we hope to see crowd funding of kits become a routine part of our development process, and not just at the stage where a product is ready for retail.”
Garnering support and attention from key players in the growing open-source information and resources movement, such as the Knight Foundation and MIT’s Center for Civic Media, PLOTS is just getting started. We can expect great things from this organization in the future, and not just because of the tools they are developing for citizen science. Rather, it’s about one very important thing. PLOTS understands that’s it’s not just about the science and the data, but it’s also about the community that grows around the scientific research and finding collaborative ways that we can contribute to science, together.
Join PLOTS today by signing up on their website and contributing to their movement!
Stay tuned for more exciting news from SciStarter as it relates to strengthening connections between DIYers and citizen scientists!