You don’t have to be a scientist to participate in scientific research. The crowd-sourcing phenomenon known as “Citizen Science” has boomed over the past several years.
Fueled by the connectivity made possible by the Internet, citizen science is about inviting the general public to collect data for professional scientists or scientific institutions.
Acting as the “eyes on the ground,” students, families, seniors, anyone can report observations of natural phenomena that are collected into massive databases. The data is used for a mind-boggling multitude of studies in areas such as climate change studies and species extinction. The possibilities for involvement are growing exponentially.
Following is just a sampling of the huge range of current opportunities for volunteers to collaborate and contribute to scientific endeavors:
Summer Solstice Snapshot This June and July, help monitor and report on plant life during the longest days of the year. The project is looking for data on wildflowers and herbs; deciduous trees and shrubs; conifers; and grasses. Part of Project BudBurst, the summer program is just one of several seasonal and year-round monitoring endeavors meant to add to the national database of ecological research.
Monarch Joint Venture To understand the monarch migration, citizen scientists collect data during all phases of the annual life cycle of monarch breeding, migrating and overwintering. The once common butterflies are now dwindling rapidly as their habitats are degraded and pesticide use rises. Activists consider the monarch a “flagship species” and see conservation as a way to sustain habitats for pollinators and other plants and animals as well.
Appalachian Mountain Watch Citizen scientists shoot photographs from a mountain view to help scientists study air quality and haze pollution in the Eastern United States. Poor air quality impacts hikers and outdoor recreationists by diminishing scenic views and negatively affecting respiratory and cardiovascular health.
Globe at Night To track the impact of light pollution, citizen scientists measure their night sky brightness and submit their observations from a computer or mobile devices. Light pollution affects energy consumption, interferes with astronomical research, disrupts ecosystems, and has adverse health effects.
Nest Watch is a continent-wide project to monitor bird nests. Designed to study how climate change, habitat loss, urban encroachment, and the impact of non-native plants and animals affect bird life, citizen scientists are invited to track the reproductive biology of birds. Reporting includes when nesting occurs, number of eggs laid, how many eggs hatch, and how many hatchlings survive.
“Citizen science is a great way for teachers to their involve students in the scientific process,” says Dr. Molli Logerwell, VISTA Secondary Teacher Program instructor at George Mason. “The VISTA philosophy hinges on real-world science, and there are all kinds of ways for teachers to find creative strategies to combine problem-based learning with citizen science.”
So look around. Find a project. Make a difference!