Archive for the ‘education’ tag

Back to School with Citizen Science!

By September 8th, 2016 at 1:36 pm | Comment

As students head back to school, more and more teachers are using citizen science in their classrooms to give students authentic science experiences.
Below, our editors highlight some of the many excellent citizen science projects that work well in classrooms. You can find even more with the SciStarter Global Project Finder.
The SciStarter Team

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Categories: Citizen Science

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Enlisting youth citizen scientists to combat Zika

By September 1st, 2016 at 10:49 am | Comment

Going out of your way to attract mosquitoes seems like the last thing anyone would want to do, but that is exactly what the national Invasive Mosquito Project is hoping volunteers will do in the name of public health.

Managed through the United States Department of Agriculture, the Invasive Mosquito Project aims to track the spread of invasive container-breeding mosquitoes – those whose females lay eggs in the standing water that collects in containers such as vases, rain barrels, and even pool or boat covers. The introduction of many non-native species often coincides with the introduction of new pathogens, and mosquitoes are notorious for playing host to a number of these, including the viruses responsible for West Nile, dengue and most recently in the news, Zika.

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Why do some tree leaves turn red?

By September 17th, 2013 at 11:43 am | Comments (6)

SciStarter has a whole round-up of tree-related projects for you this season. Branch out into citizen science!


Walking around my neighborhood the other day, I was casually observing the local flora when I was struck by the redness of one particular set of leaves. While the tree pictured is not the exact one I spied upon, look at how vibrant these colors are! I began to wonder why this tree turned red while the others around it stayed orange and yellow. To begin, we must learn about why autumn leaves deviate from their greener shades in the first place.

As you probably already know, the color that most plants have is derived from chlorophyll, the yellow-green pigment found in chloroplasts responsible for allowing photosynthesis to take place. If you’ve forgotten how this process works, Crash Course Biology has a great video for this. While there are multiple forms of chlorophyll, it is generally true that most reflect green light, causing for plants to appear the way they do. (This raises the even better question of why aren’t plants black, but that deserves its own post.)

So, what happens to the chlorophyll as we approach the cooler months? When the temperature drops, deciduous plants slow the production of chlorophyll in preparation for the dormant period they will undergo during the winter. The plants will then be able to conserve energy by halting all photosynthetic processes during the lack of available sunlight. As this happens, orange and yellow carotenoids present in the leaves are exposed. These are pigments that are normally produced in leaves that help to absorb additional energy from the sun that is passed along to the chlorophyll and also to prevent auto-oxidation (basically the wear down of cells due to free radicals) from occurring. In addition to all of this, the plant begins to produce a cell wall between the stem and the leaf called an abscission layer. This will eventually cause for the leaf to be completely separated from the plant, allowing for it to fall to the ground.

Screen shot 2013-09-17 at 11.24.16 AM

Absorption spectrum of chlorophyll A & B

Okay. We’ve covered green, orange, and yellow, but what produced the scarlet beauty found above and why doesn’t it occur in all trees? The answer is anthocyanins. If you’ve ever eaten a blueberry, raspberry, pomegranate, or any other fruit that can stain your hands and clothes, you’re probably already familiar with these little molecules. These pigments are similar to the carotenoids mentioned above but serve a different purpose. In cases during the late summer when plants are beginning to slow their photosynthetic processes but there is still plenty of sunlight abound, the leaves can actually be harmed by receiving too much high-intensity light in the region of Photosystem II (photoinhibition). In order to prevent this damage, the plant begins to synthesize anthocyanins to permeate through the leaves’ surfaces. Because of its red color, the pigment absorbs a large amount of the high energy visible and ultraviolet photons striking the plant, basically acting as a “plant sunscreen.” (Check out how you can even build your own anthocyanin-based solar cell!) Additionally, anthocyanins are good indicators of plant stressors including freezing temperatures and low nutrient levels.

Next time you see a particularly red tree, make sure to think about its environment! Does it receive an abundance of light? Has it been particularly cold? Feel free to comment with links to your own pictures of vibrant trees and plants!

Just like leaves, citizen science also happens to grow on trees! Don’t believe us? Check out our tree projects round-up!


Why do leaves change color and turn red?

Carotenoid-to-chlorophyll energy transfer

Understanding Vegetation and Its Reflectance Properties

Winter Adaptations of Trees

Photo: Public Domain Pictures, Wikipedia

This was a guest post by Joe Diaz, a science educator and enthusiast. Follow @RealJoeDiaz. View the original post.

Know your numbers

By January 14th, 2013 at 7:44 am | Comment

Do you know your numbers?

Do you just “get” numbers? Or have they always left you a little baffled? Now you can test this observation and quantify your number sense.

Number sense is our “gut knowledge” of numbers’ magnitude, their relationships, and even basic arithmetic. Number sense is thought to be innate, potently present as early as infancy. But while we all have it, we are not made equal. Individuals vary in the accuracy of their number sense. In other words, some people are better at guessing than others. Scientists think that such differences could relate to an individual’s mathematical aptitude.

To explore this further, researchers at John Hopkins University developed a number discrimination test, available for free online. The 10 minute test is straightforward. Yellow and blue dots flash onto a screen and you have to guess if there were more yellow or blue dots. After, the program provides a report of your performance and a comparison to others in your demographic.

Already researchers around the world have used this tool to explore different aspects of and factors relating to number sense. The John Hopkins developers have also created a package for educators that includes instructions for administering the test and guides for data analysis.

Curious to learn more? Test yourself!

Photo: USAF

Categories: Tools

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Announcing the SciStarter kiosk interface for schools, museums and public areas.

By December 13th, 2012 at 5:21 pm | Comment

SciStarter Kiosk

Earlier today, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences hosted “E.O. Wilson’s Global Town Hall,” with biologist Edward Osborne Wilson, University Research Professor Emeritus at Harvard. In anticipation of this exciting event, the museum revamped its Citizen Science Center and added new features.

“I am especially pleased that we now offer a SciStarter kiosk in our exhibit as it will provide museum visitors access to hundreds of citizen science projects with a few clicks of the mouse,” said Chris Goforth, manager of Citizen Science at the Museum and the brains behind one of our favorite citizen science projects, the Dragonfly Swarm!
“SciStarter has an unparalleled ability to match the public with citizen science projects, regardless of their interests, and does a great job of highlighting how anyone, anywhere can become a citizen scientist. It is a most welcome addition to our citizen science exhibit.”

The SciStarter kiosk is designed to prevent random web surfing while enabling visitors to “shop” for their favorite citizen science projects from among the more than 500 curated projects featured in the SciStarter Project Finder. Visitors can simply email their “shopping cart” to themselves so they can get get started later!

If you would the SciStarter Kiosk interface in your school, science center or other public area, please email to learn more.