Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists –
Today there are a myriad of ways you can get involved in the scientific field. Modern technology lets us coordinate, putting brainpower and computing power to good use. Volunteer as a citizen scientists, and let’s get science done together.
Public participation in scientific research lends science new tools. The collaborative community effort can overcome obstacles like lack of funding and conquer tasks that would be impossible for a small research team. PlanktonPortal.org asks volunteers to classify microscopic sealife by browsing pictures taken by an underwater unmanned research vehicle. Automatic image recognition software isn’t nearly as good at classifying organisms as the human brain is. “In three days, we collected data that would take us more than three years to analyze,” explains graduate student Jessica Luo, but internet connectivity lets citizen scientists get involved.
Crowdsourcing enlists many people in gathering information for data monitoring and collection programs. It’s often the only feasible way researchers can carry out robust continent-spanning surveys or collect widespread on-the-ground environmental data. It’s not a new concept: the National Audubon Society has sponsored an annual Bird Count since 1900. Currently, over 2,000 teams of birders (called circles) deploy annually across North America to take a census of bird populations. The data they collect informs conservation efforts. Similarly, the National Geographic Society’s annual bioblitz asks volunteers to take a biological census, combing over a limited area to locate and identify as many species as possible over the span of a short period of time.
Public participation and collaboration in scientific research has many benefits. It makes possible otherwise overly-ambitious projects. It increases scientific knowledge. It gets scientists and the public working together, which can bridge gaps and make science better understood and more accessible.
It’s been suggested that to be effective citizens, people need a feel for science and scientific method, because science impacts everything from economics and politics to ethics. What I know is that becoming a citizen scientist can be a lot of fun.
Two great sites to browse for citizen science projects are:
Zooniverse - real science online https://www.zooniverse.org/
SciStarter - science we can do together http://scistarter.com/
And here’s a list of some current science projects:
(BUGS, BIRDS, CRITTERS)
Join a citizen-scientists project at The Cornell Lab of Ornithology to help to help out as a Birdwatcher and conservationalist.
Classify bats by their calls as a Bat Detective.
Report the mating calls of local frogs and toads for Frog Watch.
Participate in an annual Big Butterfly Count.
Keep an eye out for honey bees infected with parasite Zombie Flies. Zombee Watch.
Count healthy bees with the Great Sunflower Experiment.
Count urban squirrels for Project Squirrel.
Not afraid of bugs? Collect cockroaches for the National Cockroach Project.
Collect ants that live in urban area for the School of Ants.
Measure rain, hail, and snow for the CoCoRaHS Network.
Use a sample kit to test the microbes in ecosystems where you live: The Wildlife of Our Homes
Visit your local natural history museum and help museum staff and scientists by transcribing written data from museum specimens into digital data that will be freely available over the net. Zoonivers: Notes from Nature
Give The Ventus Project information about local power-plants that will help them map carbon emissions that add to global warming.
Help Roadkill Survey reduce animal road casualties by reporting kill sites, which can then be targeted for preventative measures.
Help scientists perfect a storable form of solar energy with the Solar Hydrogen Activity Research Kit, the SHArK Project.
Record data on your local tree species with Treezilla.
Monitor the leafing, flowering, and fruiting of plants to watch for climate change’s impact on vegetation for Project BudBurst.
Plants with bacterial infections have chloroplasts which clump together. Classify plant cell images to help botanists understand infections with project Clumpy.
Monitor the health of your local watersheds like creeks and wetlands by snapping pictures of pollution or water levels for Creek Watch.
Help Neptune Canada analyze sealife in underwater films as a Digital Fisher.
Aid NOAA in locating and tracking marine debris in waterways and on the coastline as a Marine Debris Tracker.
Become a Subsea Observer and monitor the health and abundance of the mid-Atlantic scallop fishery.
Protect the world’s water resources by helping the World Water Monitoring Challenge.
Listen to recorded laughter and decide whether you think it's real or fake with The Royal Society's Laughter Project.
Guess people’s ages with Age Guess.
Join The Verb Corner in analyzing our understanding of words’ relationships with other words.
Color in and connect brain images in an online game to help map the neural connections of the retina with Eyewire.
Invent strategies for nanobots to attack malicious tumors with NanoDoc.
Analyze real life cancer data with Cellslider.
Assemble RNA strands in an online game to help scientists assemble a library of possible synthetic RNA designs by playing EteRNA.
Help predict solar storms at the NOVA Sun Lab.
Combine Aurora sightings with social media by joining Aurorasaurus.
Classify galaxies according to their shape with Galaxy Zoo and images from the Hubble Space Telescope.
Turn beautiful NASA pictures into visual art to show the amazing possibilities of space exploration with NASA JPL's Infographic.
If you have a smartphone, use a free App to measure light pollution in the night sky with Dark Sky Meter.
Study pictures of Mars to help planetary scientists identify and measure features on the red planet with Planet Four.
Frontier Scientists: presenting scientific discovery in the Arctic and beyond
- ‘Encyclopedic Entry: Citizen Science’, National Geographic (2013)
- 'Guide to Citizen Science' UK Environmental Observation Framework (2012)
- ‘To be effective citizens, we all need a feel for science', Martin Rees, The Conversation (2013)