Archive for the ‘Citizen Science’ tag

Be Trendy and Hip and Use That Smartphone for Science

By June 12th, 2014 at 4:34 pm | Comment

In my last blog, I wrote about some science that I found to be fascinating, but also a little on the weird side. Remember the curious case of green poop? Beginning to notice the science that exists in our daily lives is a great skill to have, and I hope I have piqued your interest to begin wondering and asking more questions. Now I would like to show you how you can use your cell phone to begin doing science of your own. What do I mean, using cell phones for science? This is an idea becoming more common in the world of citizen science, which is something that more and more researchers and science centers are beginning to utilize as we move into the future.

Citizen science as a concept has been around for centuries, as it got its roots from science hobbyists like Gregor Mendel, Benjamin Franklin, and Charles Darwin. But what exactly is a citizen scientist? It has long been considered to be an amateur or nonprofessional scientist, and these types of scientists are proving to be quite useful with cutting edge research today. Without the typical training and science education that is required of university and other professional scientists, everyday people can foster the behavior of asking questions about the world around them, seeking out the answers to those questions, and documenting their own observations and conclusions.

This change in behavior to make wondering and asking questions a habitual experience is what I find to be the most important and beneficial aspect of this new age of citizen science. As opposed to just taking in the world around you, this form of science engagement encourages people to wonder the why and the how, and ultimately come to their own conclusions about how our world works. As another branch of hands-on learning, citizen science can have a greater impact on education by promoting the method of learning by doing. Through actually doing the science, people will feel more emotionally invested in the outcome of their project.

Now let’s face it, we live in a generation of screens and ever-evolving technology. So how do we avoid the common scenario of disengagement caused by the often perpetual need to be glued to our smart phones and our tablets? We transform these devices into tools of engagement. And citizen science is doing just that. As we continue to move in the direction of advanced mobile technology, citizen science is utilizing this by encouraging programmers to develop new apps that provide the everyday person with the tools they need to contribute to current research. Since its inception, the internet has provided a platform for such a high level of information exchange, and these growing mobile technologies act somewhat as a catalyst for this type of exchange. While I love the ease and accessibility of the internet, one of the biggest issues we face is simply that not everything is accurate, fact-checked, or even the truth. With opposing views and agendas so apparent in our media, it often seems that science is portrayed in a sensationalized manner, which can cloud the public’s understanding of necessary issues. This is where critical thinking skills truly come in to play. With hot topics like climate change, citizen scientists can participate in research and data collection, just by turning to their smart phones. Through their personal contributions with research, I strongly believe citizens will enhance and improve their ability to think critically about key issues, as opposed to making strong conjectures without seeking out all the necessary information.

In Phoenix, AZ, we have had and will continue to have projects focused on climate change. At Arizona State University, projects led by Dr. Kevin Gurney in the past have attempted to characterize fossil fuel CO2 emissions in North America through the use of crowdsourcing. And in our near future, the “Citizen Science to Forecast the Future of a Desert City” project is developing a citizen science and citizen engagement initiative called “MyFuturePhoenix”. This initiative aims to break down the barrier that prevents engagement with key issues in our city such as water management. By encouraging students to document their personal water usage and input their data into an online simulation model, they will be able to visualize the impact their decisions will have on sustainability in Phoenix in 2050. This form of involvement is crucial in order to increase science literacy among our future policy decision makers, and I am eager to see how this project unfolds. For more information, click here.

Related to the impacts of climate change, citizen scientists can also help monitor the happenings and changes of the natural environment in their area. This can help researchers keep an eye on the status of global biodiversity, among other things. How can you use your cell phone or other mobile device to help with this? For certain apps, like SciSpy, mobile devices allow users to take pictures of what they observe, stamped with the time, date, and even GPS coordinates. This is incredibly useful for researchers that need to compile large amounts of data for things like bird migration patterns, species concentration, and seasonal trends. Who knows, you may even discover a new species in your own backyard! With cool programs like this, everyone wins. You get the opportunity to get outdoors, have some fun taking pictures, and know that you’re making a contribution to the scientific community. For the scientists, it’s as if they have a bunch of volunteers and interns sprinkled around the globe that can help them with field work for their ongoing projects.

There are so many projects out there that can benefit from your help. For a good starting point, I suggest you visit SciStarter for a list of current projects that you can be a part of. Now let’s get you out there and put that smart phone of yours to good scientific use! Have fun, and as always, Never Stop Wondering.

Release Date: June 4, 2014

Follow Chevy Humphrey on Twitter.

This originally appeared in the Huffington Post Science Blog.

Learn how climate change affects plant life with AMC Mountain Watch

By May 19th, 2014 at 2:47 pm | Comment 1

Track phenology events in Appalachian mountains and contribute to climate change research with Mountain Watch!

Want more spring citizen science? We’ve got you covered through April showers and May flowers.

There is nothing more rewarding than taking in the view from above tree-line. A challenging hike always seems like a distant memory after gazing upon the landscape below, especially if it’s the White Mountains of NH. Now, the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) is calling on visitors of these Northeastern peaks to help them observe plant life through the Mountain Watch program. This citizen science initiative aims to investigate how the life cycles of alpine plants are affected by climate change.

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View from the Franconia Ridge Trail, one of the alpine sites on the Mountain Watch list.

To do this, Mountain Watch asks participants to record plant phenology, which is the study of how plant life cycle events, such as flowering or producing fruit, are affected by changes in environmental conditions, including temperature and precipitation. Plant life cycles are very sensitive to small variations, so even subtle changes across seasons can be observed. For example, a dry summer might cause the leaves on trees to change color earlier in the fall. When recorded over many years, these phenology records can start to uncover long term trends in the climate and help scientists to model the effects of climate change in a certain region.

Diapensia, one of the sensitive alpine flowers being monitored.

Since the AMC is based in the Northeastern portion of the Appalachian Mountains, the focus of Mountain Watch is on alpine plants that are found exclusively at high elevations in the north. The program is targeting these alpine species specifically because they have adapted to survive only in harsh, low temperature conditions and cannot thrive in warmer climates. As such, they are especially sensitive to climate change. Georgia Murray, a scientist a the AMC, describes that the Mountain Watch observations help to make up “really rich mountain data sets” that, paired with temperature observations from the Mt. Washington observatory, help to understand how climate change has affected the environment in the Northeast.

This year, the Mountain Watch program is joining an exciting new collaboration called A.T. Seasons (A.T. for Appalachian Trail), which is working to develop sites for citizen scientists to collect plant phenology data all along the Appalachian Trail. Mountain Watch joined this project to get more people involved, and as Georgia explains, to “utilize the A.T. as a north-south corridor in understanding phenology in climate change.” The goal of A.T. Seasons is to monitor the same type of plants along the whole Appalachian Trail to better understand the interplay of climate and phenology across geographical regions, as well as in relation to climate change. As alpine species only grow on the northern section of the A.T., they will not be included in this portion of the program; however, Georgia notes that Mountain Watch will still maintain the “alpine focus that is unique to the AMC and our region in the northeast” in addition to the A.T. Seasons plant list.

The incorporation of A.T. Seasons into the Mountain Watch program allows more citizen scientists to be involved, as the new initiative provides options for different levels of commitment – there is an Android app for easily making one-time measurements and more in-depth training courses for people who want to make long-term observations. The alpine flower portion of the Mountain Watch program does require more “dedicated volunteers,” as Georgia says, who can commit to regularly visiting the remote mountain sites, but there are many educational tools on the website for those who just want to learn more.

So grab those hiking boots and get outdoors! Spring and summer are the best times to observe plant phenology, and the sweeping views of the White Mountains await.

Top image: Sean O’Brien via Flickr

Bottom image: AMC Mountain Watch 


Emily Lewis is a PhD candidate in chemistry at Tufts University, where she analyzes industrially important catalysts on the nanoscale. She received her BS and MS degrees from Northeastern University, and her thesis work examined fuel cell catalysts under real operating conditions. She loves learning about energy and the environment, exploring science communication, and investigating the intersection of these topics with the policy world. When she’s not writing or in the lab, you’ll probably spot Emily at the summit of one of the White Mountains in NH. Follow her: @lewisbase, emilyannelewis.com

 

Citizen Science for Lovers of Birds and Bees!

By May 16th, 2014 at 10:43 pm | Comment

Let us tell ‘ya about the birds and the bees — for citizen science, that is! Here are just a few buzz-worthy projects to get you started.

Also, don’t forget to stop by DISCOVER Magazine and SciStarter’s online Citizen Science Salon; look for our new collaboration in the pages of Discover starting this month; or listen to beautifully produced citizen science stories from our partners at WHYY radio!

 

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The Great Sunflower Project

Help researchers create a national bee population map to study the decline of bees. Simply plant sunflowers and watch for bee visits a few times a month. Get started!

 

Celebrate Urban Birds

Help ornithologists learn about 16 key species of urban birds by tracking up to 16 species of birds for just 10 mins in a small area near you. Get started! (Photo: Louise Docker)

 

Bee Hunt

Use digital photography to help provide a better understanding of pollinators’ importance in growing food and maintaining healthy natural ecosystems. Get started!

 

 


North American Bird Phenology Program

Millions of bird migration records have been scanned. Care to illuminate almost a century of migration patterns and population status of birds? Transcribe records so they can be included in an open database for analysis. Get started!

 

ZomBeeWatch
The Zombie Fly has been found parasitizing honey bees in California, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont and Washington. Where else in North America are bees infected by Zombie Flies? Help solve the mystery by collecting honey bees and reporting easy-to-spot signs of infection. You’ll know it when you see it! Get started!


On Sunday, 5/18 at 9:26 am ET, the Space X Dragon Cargo will be released from the International Space Station to return to Earth. The Cargo will splash down into the Pacific Ocean returning our very own citizen science research project, Project MERCCURI, to Earth! You can watch this all take place, LIVE, on NASA TV: May 18, Sunday 9 a.m.

Learn more about Project MERCCURI at SpaceMicrobes.org.

Want your project featured in our newsletter? Contact jenna@scistarter.com

Citizen Science in The Classroom: Urban Birds

By May 12th, 2014 at 2:29 pm | Comment 1

Using Celebrate Urban Birds (CUB) to Meet Common Core and Next Generation Teaching Standards

CUB poto Judy Howle

The brown-headed cowbird is one of sixteen birds observed in the Celebrate Urban Birds project. (Photo: CUB website, by Judy Howle)

 

Grades:

K-12th

Description:

Celebrate Urban Birds (CUB) is a project through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It is a year round project specifically designed to engage classrooms with local urban birds and citizen science. Cornell offers a free classroom kit for you and your students when you sign up for the project. They cite that 88% of their partner organizations work with under-served audiences and 75% or more of the participants have little to no experience with birds. The project materials they offer are also bilingual. (Spanish) To participate you need a yard or open area that is about half the size of a basketball court. They are not strict on the size of this area or what is in it as long as you can look out and make observations. CUB focuses on sixteen specific urban birds, with observations lasting 10 minutes each. There is no minimum or maximum participation. These observations are supported with an easy-to-understand data sheet and a bird ID check-sheet with clear images. You can upload your information to the website and the site will show you a bar graph of your sightings. Cornell also offers mini-grants of $100-$750 to support community events and activities around urban birds (from arts and culture to science and nature) and your school.

urban birds project

Materials You’ll Need:

Why This Citizen Science Project is a Strong Candidate for the Classroom:

  • This project can be done in any urban environment.
  • The project is free and comes with free classroom materials supplied (including bilingual materials)
  • You do not have to be an expert bird watcher to help your students participate in this project.
  • Cornell provides training materials for you.
  • You can track your data and use it for classroom analysis.
  • Cornell strongly supports the “Zero Means a Lot”concept along with the idea that observations with zero birds are still valuable, which is an important lesson for students.
  • Students become aware of the wildlife in urban environments and more conscious of the life native to their surroundings.

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Citizen Science in the Classroom: School of Ants

By April 2nd, 2014 at 4:48 pm | Comment

Using School of Ants Citizen Science to Meet Common Core and Next Generation Teaching Standards in the Classroom

School of ants alex wild photos

Discovering Ants

Grades:

K-12th

Description:

School of Ants (SOA) is one of many urban wildlife citizen science projects hosted through the Your Wildlife project. Your Wildlife and School of Ants focuses on biodiversity and citizen-scientist driven inquiry in urban areas around schools and homes.  Dr. Andrea Lucky is the director of the SOA project out of the University of Florida’s Entomology Lab and the Nematology Lab at NC State. The idea behind the project is for citizen scientists to collect samples of ants from paved and green spaces around their homes and schools. They then send in the samples to the lab in Florida for identification. This data is used to generate a North American map of ant biodiversity and distribution.

SOA used to provide kits for ant collection but now they ask project participants to provide the supplies. As you can see from the list below these are limited to zip-lock bags, cookies, and index cards with some postal shipping. You can find step by step project instructions for the kits and collection in their free online PDF. Due to limited resources schools may participate by submitting one sample from each address or school location (no more than one). However you may submit multiple samples from different addresses (from the same person or class). Sampling takes exactly one hour. NOTE: as a caution be sure to have a minimal understanding of the biting and stinging ant varieties around your school. Do not collect ants that might cause harm to students.

Materials You’ll Need:

  • Computer with internet and printer
  • Instruction page for collecting ants
  • 8 white 3”x5” index cards
  • 2 Pecan Sandies Cookies (contains nuts, but must be used for standard protocol)
  • 8 small zip-lock bags (1 qt.)
  • 1 large zip-lock bag (1 gal.)
  • 1 envelope for mailing ants by US post, and postage
  • Freezer
  • Book
  • Magnifying glasses (optional)
  • Dr. Elanor’s Book of Common Ants PDF (free online through iTunes, optional)

ant capture alex wild

Why This Citizen Science Project is a Strong Candidate for the Classroom:

  • Ants are ubiquitous and the project can be done anywhere in the US around schools or homes.
  • Ants can be observed three seasons of the year in most locations.
  • There are minimal supplies required to participate in this project.
  • This project is a one-time activity, lasting one hour, so the time required is minimal.
  • The project can be a springboard for lessons focusing on arthropods and invertebrates around the school.

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