I know I said in a previous post, that scientists aren’t really out to convert everyone else into professional scientists, but honestly we could use your help. We’re trying to answer larger questions. This means we need more data than we are able to gather and process all by ourselves. As a way of addressing this problem, there is a growing trend of citizen science projects in which scientists advertise their projects and enlist the help of the general public in collecting the data they need.
The power of the internet is making this possible. Through specific project websites and hub sites like Scistarter, scientists describe their projects, the observations they would like you to help with, along with how and when to submit that data to them. It is a win-win situation. Scientists get the help and data they need, and the citizen participants gain a new level of connectivity with science that would otherwise be largely invisible to them. In this model, science stops being mere facts about our physical world and turns into an active process of which we are all a part.
Here are a few example projects from Scistarter:
“By playing EteRNA, you will help extend and curate the first large scale library of synthetic RNA designs. You play by designing RNAs, tiny molecules at the heart of every cell. If you win the weekly competition your RNA is synthesized and scored by how well it folds. Your efforts will help us understand, dissect, and control the functional properties of real and designed RNAs from bacteria, viruses, and our own cells. Join the global laboratory!”
“Some bee populations have experienced severe declines that may affect food production. However, nobody has ever measured how much pollination is happening over a region, much less a continent, so there is little information about how a decline in the bee population can influence gardens. The Great Sunflower Project makes it easy to gather this information. Plant a seed or two, spend 15 minutes watching your flowers for bee visits, and send in your data. You can make as many observations as you want while your flowers are in bloom. Plant, Watch, Enter. Repeat. That’s it. And, who doesn’t like sunflowers?!”
“Project Squirrel is calling all citizen scientists to count the number of squirrels in their neighborhoods and report their findings. The goal is to understand urban squirrel biology, including everything from squirrels to migratory birds, nocturnal mammals, and secretive reptiles and amphibians. To gain data on squirrel populations across the United States, citizen scientists will also be asked, when possible, to distinguish between two different types of tree squirrels – gray and fox.”
Here are some links (also cross-listed and curated under the ‘Resources’ page) to lists of projects looking for scientists like you. For home-school parents that may be reading this, these might be something to work into your science curriculum. These projects are great for anyone else out there looking for additional science enrichment for scientists of all ages. You can find projects on all kinds of subjects. These can be done inside on rainy days, on your phone, in your backyard, or beyond. Many sites listed below have blogs or eNewletters to stay up to date with new projects.
Science is a team sport. The great thing is that we are all on the same team. Welcome to the team. Here’s your jersey- let’s work together.