Archive for the ‘nasa’ tag

The Citizen Cyberscience Summit: Science for all, and all for science

By February 27th, 2014 at 1:01 pm | Comment

A synopsis of and key takeaways from the Citizen Cyberscience Summit 2014 in London


As some of you may already know, SciStarter presented at the Citizen Cyberscience Summit in London this past weekend (2/20 to 2/22). In a nutshell, the conference was a place where a multitude of organizations and groups could convene to discuss the most pertinent issues regarding citizen science today and for the future.

The first day revolved around listening–the schedule comprised of back-to-back 30-minute sessions focused on stories from practitioners about their experiences. For a session called “It Takes a Village: Engaging Participants Beyond Clickwork,” founder Darlene Cavalier spoke about SciStarter’s  Project MERCCURI, a citizen science research project in partnership with UC Davis, Science Cheerleader, Space Florida and NanoRacks to crowdsource the collection and study of  microbe samples to examine the diversity of microbes on Earth and on the International Space Station. Cavalier centered her discussion on Project MERCCURI to illustrate the benefits of working with partners to reach new communities. Project MERCCURI works with Pop Warner little scholars, Yuri’s Night, NFL, NBA and MLB teams and other nontraditional partners to activate collection activities and amplify results.

The second day was one of discussion, during which groups that attended held workshops or panels to gain insight on topics spanning policy, publishing, data gathering, sensor technology, mapping, and more. The diversity of these topics was a testament to the depth and breadth of citizen science itself.

On this day, a session called “Connecting Communities to Citizen Scientists” addressed some of the challenges experienced by citizen scientists participating in multiple projects across different platforms. This workshop, convened by Darlene Cavalier at SciStarter and Francois Grey at NYU’s Center for Urban Science and Progress, was made possible with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. During the discussion, we heard from project managers from Public Lab, Project Noah, iNaturalist, EyeWire, Zooniverse, and a representative from Mozilla about various models for managing projects and their progress. “There is a diverse ecosystem of citizen science projects on the Web,” says Cavalier. “We are working work with stakeholders to explore ways to improve the experience for participants who want to move between different projects running on different platforms, both in terms of identity management and tracking contributions to different citizen science initiatives. The idea is to rise the tide for all involved in citizen science.”

And finally, the third day was all about doing. This open “Hack Day” allowed groups and individuals to propose sessions based on problems that they’ve identified in the work that they do. Then, the entire day allowed attendees to cross-pollinate ideas, offer their expertise, and hopefully help contribute to the solution.


SciStarter’s Hack Day Challenge explored the idea of building a dashboard to help citizen scientists track and manage their projects. We invited anybody and everybody to our workspace (two wooden tables pushed together donned with laptops, post-its, butcher paper, candy, and SciStarter swag) to give us input. As a result, we heard from a plethora of stakeholders within the realm of citizen scientists–researchers, journalists, project managers, citizen scientists, educators, and more. We asked, how can we improve the experience for participants who want to move between different projects running on different platforms?

After a lot of conversations, a lot of scribbling, and, well, a lot of post-its, SciStarter was able to fine tune a plan for a dashboard that helps connect more people to projects and people to people, something that will truly guide us through the next year.

You can find the full program schedule and list of presenters here, and if you’re interested in looking up social media posts from the conference, follow the #CCS14 hashtag.

Have any questions for SciStarter about the conference? Do you have writing, programming, development, or organizational skills you’d like to contribute to our community effort? Please feel free to leave your comments below or e-mail us at We want to keep this conversation going!

Images: Courtesy of Jonathan Brier & Lily Bui

Citizen Science in the Classrom: Mapping Mars and Be a Martian with NASA

By February 4th, 2014 at 12:00 pm | Comment

Students Explore the Surface of Mars and Contribute to Citizen Science From Their Classroom

Mars Rover main page


1st -12th


The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is asking for help in processing data collected on Mars, in the form of pictures taken by the Mars Rovers, Spirit and Curiosity. On the “Be a Martian” home page there is a dashboard where teachers or students may create an account with a Martian profile, complete with choosing your alien. Each action, associated with a profile, is given points or virtual badges for participating. Creating a profile is not necessary, you may also participate as a “Martian tourist.”  After registering (or not) you will be taken to their Citizenship Hall, which has links for pages with polling, a “theater” with video clips about the rovers, the ability to create a post card to send to the rover Spirit, and an Atlas with geographic information about Mars. Accessed from the Citizenship Hall is the, the second major page of their website, the “Map Room.”  In the map room there is an introductory video about the program and students have the opportunity to try their hands at three types of lunar mapping. These include aligning photos to match topographic images, counting craters, and tagging physical features of the landscape.

Materials You’ll Need:

  • Computer or computers with internet access.
  • Projector or smart board may be useful for working as a class.
  • Color printer

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

  • This project can be done in any setting, rural or urban.
  • No special tools are required outside of a computer with internet access.
  • Students gain a “sense of place” through learning about space and other planets.
  • NASA provides a great deal of supporting curriculum, hand-outs, posters, and multi-media resources.

Teaching Materials:

Teaching materials that are supplied on Citizenship website, for the “Be a Martian” project, include a Mars atlas with descriptions of different parts of the planet’s surface and the “Two Moons” theater. There are eight different videos in the theater, ranging from testing the Curiosity’s parachute to students designing human settlements on Mars.

There is also an Educators Page, accessed from the Mars Exploration home page.  However it has an extensive curriculum for K-12 as well as supporting resources. Here are just some of the lessons included:

  • Reflect on Your Community- Design a plan for an Earth community and discuss how it would be made on Mars.
  • Solar System Scale and Size- Create a model of the solar system that compares size and distance.
  • Soda Straw Rockets-creating rockets from soda straws.
  • Marsbound-Using a card game to design a mission and get everyone home safely.
  • Lava Layering-Modeling lava flow and layering using play dough.
  • Rover Races-Drawing and designing a rover to meet challenges on the surface of Mars.
  • Mars Image Analysis-using images to analyze Mar’s surface environment.

NASA also provides resources for the classroom including the “Mars Activity Book.” This is a 131 page document which is full of even more activities and lesson plans K-12. You can also find coloring pages and posters. For 5th-12th grade there is even the option of joining the Mars Student Imaging Project and which would allow your class to actually take pictures from the Mars Odyssey orbiter.

Mars tagging screen shot

In the Mars Mapping room students can tag topographic features of the surface of Mars.

Online Safety for Children

The Mars Mapping project allows students and teachers to create their own accounts or to use an “Anonymous Tourist Visa.”  The account website sorts students into 0-13 years or 14+ years. For the 0-13 yr. old students, they must provide a parent or guardian’s e-mail. In the sign up process they are also required to take an “oath” that they won’t give out information about themselves, treat others nicely, and not use bad words or say means things. For older participants they can use their own e-mail but they also agree to respect everyone and follow their code of conduct. The use of accounts appears designed to encourage student challenges for obtaining points and badges which may encourage participation. Learn more about children’s online privacy and citizen science.


Common Core and Next Gen. Standards Met:

First Grade

Next. Gen. Science: 1-ESS1-1 Use observations of the sun, moon, and stars to describe patterns that can be predicted. The curriculum activities provided by NASA about Solar System Scale  & Size may give students a frame of reference for comparison of the brightness of the sun compared to other planets and stars, and why the sun and moon appear to rise and set. Students may make predictions regarding the movement of Mars and Earth relative to other stars and planets.

Common Core:

Literacy:  W.1.7 Participate in a shared research and writing projects. W.1.8 with guidance and support from adults, recall information from experience or gather information from provided sources to answer a question (See Next. Gen. activities listed above).

Math: MP.2 Reason abstractly and quantitatively (See Next. Gen. activities listed above).

Second Grade:

Next. Gen. Science: K-2-ETS1-1 Ask questions, make observations, and gather information about a situation people want to change to design a simple problem that can be solved through the development of a new or improved object or tool. Using the “Imagine Mars” lessons and support materials provided on the NASA website students should create design solutions for humans to live on Mars. These designs should be a group collaboration using research about the planet. Students should write a report about their design solution.

Common Core:

Literacy:  W.2.6 with guidance and support from adults, use a variety of digital tools to produce and publish writing in collaboration with peers (See Next. Gen. activities listed above).

Mars counting craters

Counting and Mapping craters in the Martian Map Room.

Fourth Grade:

Next. Gen. Science: 4-ESS2-2 Analyze and interpret data from maps to describe patterns of Earth’s features. Students may make observations about bodies of water, craters, lakes, volcanoes, and other topographical features of Earth, and then compare these features using the Mars Mapping activities to make inferences about the similarities and differences between the two planets. The NASA images database of Mars may be useful, as well as the 3 D images, as well as the information provided for characterizing the climate and geology of Mars.

Common Core:

Literacy:  W.4.7 Conduct short research projects that build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic. W.4.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research. (See explanation of activities for Next Gen. above)

Math: MP.2 Reason abstractly and quantitatively (See explanation of activities for Next Gen. above).

Fifth Grade:

Next. Gen. Science: 5-ESS1-1 Support an argument that differences in the apparent brightness of the sun compared to other stars is due to their relative distance from the Earth. 5-ESS1-2 Represent data in graphical displays to reveal patterns of daily changes in length and direction of shadows, day and night, and the seasonal appearance of some stars in the night sky. The curriculum activities provided about Solar System Scale  & Size may give students a frame of reference for comparison of the brightness of the sun compared to other planets and stars. Students may make predictions regarding the movement of Mars and Earth relative to other stars and planets. Graphs may be constructed of constellations and where they may be seen at different times for both Mars and Earth.

Common Core:

Literacy:  RI.5.7-Draw on information from multiple print or digital sources, demonstrating the ability to locate an answer to a question quickly to solve a problem efficiently. W.5.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research. SL.5.5 Include multimedia components and visual displays in presentations when appropriate to enhance the development of main ideas or themes. (See explanation of activities above for Next Gen).

Math: MP.2 Reason abstractly and quantitatively, MP.4 Model with mathematics. (See explanation of activities above for Next Gen).

Middle School

MS-PS2-4 Construct and present arguments using evidence to support the claim that gravitational interactions are attractive and depend on the masses of interacting objects. MS-ESS1-2 Develop and use a model to describe the role of gravity in the motions within galaxies and the solar system. Teachers may have students use the resources from NASA’s website with quick facts to research the properties of the planet Mars, from density to orbit, conjunction, and retrograde. The curriculum activities provided about Solar System Scale  & Size may give students frames of reference for comparison. Students may make mathematical predictions regarding the movement of Mars and Earth relative to the data collected.

MS-ESS1-3 Analyze and interpret data to determine scale properties of objects in the solar system. The curriculum activities provided by NASA about Solar System Scale  & Size may give students frames of reference for comparison. Students may make mathematical predictions regarding the movement of Mars and Earth relative to the data collected.

MT-ETS1-1 Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that might limit possible solutions.  MS-ETS1-2 Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem. Using the “Imagine Mars” lessons and support materials provided on the NASA website students should create design solutions for humans to live on Mars. These designs should then be compared and the solutions assessed using a rubric which the students develop.

High School

HS-ESS1-4 Use mathematical or computational representations to predict the motion of orbiting objects in the solar system. Common Core (WHST.9-12.2) (SL 11-12.4) (MP.2) (MP.4) (HSN-Q.A.1-3). Teachers may have students use the resources from NASA’s website with quick facts to research the properties of the planet Mars, from density to orbit, conjunction, and retrograde. The curriculum activities provided about Solar System Scale  & Size may give students frames of reference for comparison. Students may make mathematical predictions regarding the movement of Mars and Earth relative to the data collected.

When not writing her blog The Infinite Spider, Karen McDonald is a guest blogger, curriculum developer, science content editor, and outdoor educator with over thirteen years in informal science education. She has an MS in Biology and a BS in Environmental Science and Philosophy. Currently she works for Smithsonian and contracts for Discovery Channel. 

Proceed to the Perseids with NASA’s Meteor Counter

By August 10th, 2013 at 9:31 am | Comment


The first time I ever saw the Perseids, I was 15 years old.

I snuck out of the house in the middle of the night (without telling my parents, of course) and found the darkest spot at the park nearby. What followed was one of the most awesome sights I had witnessed up until then: hundreds of staggered streaks of light, tearing through an ink-black sky. Part of me knew it was strict science. Another part of me was convinced it was magic. Who knew that a phenomenon that happens every day could resonate so profoundly?

Every day, on average, more than 40 tons of meteoroids strike our planet.  Most are tiny specks of dust that disintegrate harmlessly high up in Earth’s atmosphere, producing a slow drizzle of “shooting stars” in the night sky. Meteors (what they’re called before they enter our atmosphere) are made of cosmic material–silicate rock, iron, and metals–left over from the early formation of our solar system.

Where do the Perseids come from?

As the Earth rotates around the sun this weekend, it will pass through the debris field of the comet Swift-Tuttle, a dirty snowball of remnants that never became planets nor stars. The comet takes about 133.2 years to orbit the sun. As it moves, a tail of gas, ice and dust is left behind it.

Each year, from mid-July to early August, the cosmic debris in this comet’s tail culminate in an evening spectacular called the Perseids.

When and How to View

This year, the meteor shower peaks late Sunday (8/11)  into early Monday (8/12) just before dawn.

Find a dark field away from any light pollution. Look for the constellation Perseus, where the Perseids derive their name. It should be observable in the northeastern sky. During a Perseid meteor shower, you can expect to observe up to 100 meteoroids in an hour.


What to Bring

What’s nice about the Perseids is you don’t need any special viewing equipment. The naked eye is adequate. Grab a blanket and/or lawn chair, a cup of warm liquid, some snacks, and sit back to wait for the forthcoming light show.

NASA has a Meteor Counter app that iPhone users can download. Viewers of the Perseids can help report how many they see within a particular time frame. The app’s “piano key” interface allows you to tap keys as you view meteoroids. It records critical data for each meteor: time, magnitude, latitude, and longitude, along with optional verbal annotations. Afterward, these data are automatically uploaded to NASA researchers for analysis.

While you’re out there, you might as well turn an otherwise passive (albeit amazing) viewing experience into a participatory one in the name of citizen science.

SciStarter wishes you a happy viewing for this year’s Perseids. If it doesn’t make you feel too cheesy, make a wish when you see your first meteoroid. I know the fifteen year old in me won’t forget to.

If you live in Alabama, you can participate in the Alabama Meteor Tracking Project.



Lily Bui holds dual (non-science) bachelors’ degrees in International Studies and Spanish from the University of California Irvine. She has worked on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.; served in AmeriCorps in Montgomery County, Maryland; worked for a New York Times bestselling ghostwriter; and performed across the U.S. as a touring musician. She currently works in public media at WGBH-TV and the Public Radio Exchange (PRX) in Boston, MA. In her spare time, she thinks of cheesy science puns. Follow @dangerbui. 



Citizen Science: Creating a Culture of Curiosity

By January 29th, 2013 at 9:19 am | Comment

This post originally appeared on PLOS blogs.

Curious about citizen science?

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

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.

Opportunities Abound

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!

Bridging gaps

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, 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.

NASA Wants You to Share Your Out-of-this-World Creativity

By October 16th, 2012 at 8:54 am | Comment

NASA JPL wants your out-of-this-world creativity!

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!

Be sure to check out JPL on Facebook and follow them on twitter @NASAJPL.