Archive for the ‘guest post’ tag

Why do some tree leaves turn red?

By September 17th, 2013 at 11:43 am | Comments (4)

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.

Publish your citizen science data, transparently, with F1000Research

By August 8th, 2013 at 10:15 am | Comment


citizen science scistarter f1000
It’s not always easy for citizen scientists to see what happens with the data they collect. Not all projects are published, and those that are may not be open access and often only include a summary of the findings.

I work at F1000Research, and one of the key points of this open access journal is that all papers include all original data. It makes it easier for others to reproduce the work, and it makes science more transparent. In the context of citizen science projects, it lets all participants see their data in the context of the overall study.

No fee for ecology papers until 2014
At the moment, F1000Research is waiving the article processing charge on ecology papers, as long as that’s the first paper you’ve ever submitted to the journal, and you submit it before the end of the year, using code ECOL17. This would be a perfect opportunity for citizen science projects in ecology to try out the journal.

Observation articles
We’re also launching a new type of paper, which might also be useful for citizen science projects. Observation articles are papers that describe serendipitous observations that researchers have not been able to study systematically, but that offer a starting point for further exploration. With many people taking part in data collection for citizen science projects, you’re bound to come across something interesting! A famous example from astronomy is Hanny’s Voorwerp, but we suspect that a lot of ecology projects also bring up some interesting observations.

Ecology-themed observation articles are also free until the end of the year. Normally, publishing an observation article in publication in F1000Research costs $500, compared to $1000 for a full-length article).

Rapid publication and transparent peer review

Besides including all data, F1000Resesarch also includes all referee names and referee reports, and anyone who has an account can leave a comment on the article itself, or in response to a referee report. Like the articles themselves, the referee reports are all open access.

Articles on F1000Research are published online before peer review, after a quick in-house editorial check. That means that we can publish papers within a matter of days. F1000Research publishes all valid science.

This is a guest post from Eva Amsen of F1000 Research.

For any questions about our peer review model or the journal in general, please see our FAQ page.

For more info about this opportunity, see this blog post.

To submit a free ecology paper before the end of the year, use code ECOL17.

For any other questions, find us on Twitter at @F1000Research

Photo: F1000 Resaerch

Citizen Science Academy: Bunny Slippers Optional

By February 18th, 2013 at 12:49 pm | Comment


Project Budburst Citizen ScienceWhen 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 ( Bunny slippers optional.

This is a guest post from Sandra Henderson, Director for Citizen Science at the National Ecological Observatory Network.

On this, National Squirrel Day, we feature Craig Newmark and squirrelly citizen science.

By January 20th, 2013 at 6:19 pm | Comment 1

western-gray-squirrel-citizen-science-scistarter 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., 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.

This was originally published on Huffington Post.

Join the international star hunt!

By January 3rd, 2013 at 5:08 pm | Comment

Less of our light for more star light!
What would it be like without stars at night? What is it we lose?

Starry night skies have given us poetry, art, music and the wonder to explore. A bright night sky (aka “light pollution”) affects energy consumption, health and wildlife too.

Spend a few minutes to help scientists by measuring the brightness of your night sky. Join the GLOBE at Night citizen-science campaign! The first campaign starts January 3 and runs through January 12.

GLOBE at Night is a worldwide, hands-on science and education program to encourage citizen-scientists worldwide to record the brightness of their night sky. During five select sets of dates in 2013, children and adults match the appearance of a constellation (Orion or Leo in the northern hemisphere, and Orion and Crux in the southern hemisphere) with seven star charts of progressively fainter stars. Participants then submit their choice of star chart with their date, time and location. This can be done by computer (after the measurement) or by smart phone or pad (during the measurement). From these data an interactive map of all worldwide observations is created.

Over the past 7 years of 10-day campaigns, people in 115 countries have contributed over 83,000 measurements, making GLOBE at Night the most successful, light pollution citizen-science campaign to date. The GLOBE at Night website is easy to use, comprehensive, and holds an abundance of background information. Guides, activities, one-page flyers and postcards advertising the campaign are available. Through GLOBE at Night, students, teachers, parents and community members are amassing a data set from which they can explore the nature of light pollution locally and across the globe.

There are 5 GLOBE at Night campaigns in 2013:
January 3 – 12
January 31 – February 9
March 3 – 12
March 31 – April 9
April 29 – May 8

Make a difference and join the GLOBE at Night campaign.

Guest post by Dr. Constance E. Walker, director of GLOBE at Night