This summer, we want you to become a scientist. You can do it from your cubicle at work, or by going out into the woods and counting frogs. No matter what your scientific passion is, we've got a way for you to help scientists do cutting edge research on it. Join the citizen science revolution!
For the next three months, we'll be posting a series of stories about citizen science, and how members of the general public can help make important scientific discoveries. You don't have to have a fancy degree or research job to contribute. You don't even have to be over the age of eighteen. Citizen science is for everybody!
There have been amateur scientists dating back hundreds of years, and many of our greatest discoveries were made by people like a gardener who got interested in heritable traits in plants, and a teacher who got interested in converting sound waves into electricity. (Bonus points if you can identify the scientists I'm talking about!)
But the citizen science movement as we know it started in 1999 with SETI@Home, a cool screensaver that crunches radio data for the nonprofit Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, sifting through the galaxy's signals for signs of intelligent communication. The screensaver caught on, effectively turning millions of desktop PCs into a massive computer cluster — and becoming the first wildly popular crowdsourced scientific experiment. After that, scientists began calling on the public to help them sift through all kinds of data, from protein folding to weather patterns.
Now, fourteen years later, citizen science has become a social movement. From the makers who engineer next-generation electronics in their garages, to the amateur astronomers who help CalTech professors map galaxies, these citizen scientists are changing the way we make discoveries.
So this summer, get involved in a citizen science project. We've rounded up just a few of our favorite projects for you, but there are thousands out there you can find on your own, too. We also encourage you to post about your progress by creating a commenter account on io9, which comes with its own Kinja blog. You can turn the Kinja blog into your science notebook! (Here's how to do that.) Let us know if you've created a science notebook and we'll share some of your best work on io9.
Already, we've got a team of synthetic biology students at UC Berkeley who have created a Kinja and are recording their progress this summer with an experiment they will enter in the annual iGEM competition. Create yours and tell us about it in comments below!
Here are a few citizen science projects to get you started.
Image by Suzanne Tucker via Shutterstock
This is a social site for sharing and recording what you see in nature, but it's also a place to pool information about habitats, species and more. Several citizen science projects use it for organizing their data. Check over this list to see if there is a group or project you'd like to contribute to!
Participants observe fireflies in their backyards or nearby fields. Data will help scientists track populations of fireflies and determine whether they are really disappearing.
The goal is to map the distribution of Sudden Oak Disease in California. Participants collect oak leaves and send them off to UC Berkeley diagnostic laboratory.
This project sets out to improve water quality of streams, etc. Various activities, from taking simple photos/videos, to biological monitoring or chemical testing that may require to people to purchase equipment.
Participants use simple test kit to sample local water bodies for basic water quality parameters, including temperature, acidity, turbidity, and dissolved oxygen.
Participants take ecological observations of the timing of leafing, flowering and fruiting of plants, to help scientists better understand climate change.
Participants measure precipitation every time rain, hail or snow storms cross their region. Data used by variety of organizations, including NWS, USDA and mosquito control researchers.
Find and photograph ladybugs. Goal is to understand the rapidly changing ladybug species distributions.
After taking a training course in a local chapter, participants will identify and report calls of local frog and toad species, to help with amphibian conservation. The project has been going on for many years.
Not your typical bird watching project. Participants find bird nests and visit it every 3-4 days to record observations, including how many eggs are laid, how may eggs hatch, how many hatchlings survive, etc.
Participants help map earthworm distribution and species richness to see . Several ways to help: collect and send earthworm specimens with location info, collect habitat data or conduct soil surveys.
Hundreds of camera traps in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, are providing a powerful new window into the dynamics of Africa’s most elusive wildlife species. Biologists need your help to classify all the different animals in millions of images from these hidden cameras.
Help scientists group similar sounding whale calls together, to help understand how these sea mammals communicate.
Collect dead cockroaches and send them in to this project, which is tracking the genetic diversity of this urban pest.
Image via Shutterstock
Space and Planetary Observation
Identify species and ground cover in images of the seafloor, and help create a library of seafloor life in the habitats along the northeast continental shelf.
Help scientists classify over 30 years of tropical cyclone satellite imagery. The climatology of tropical cyclones is limited by uncertainties in the historical record. Patterns in storms imagery are best recognized by the human eye, so we need your help analyzing these storms.
Did You Feel It?
Help scientists gauge earthquake strength with this app.
[Old Weather] seeks to gather and study information from ship's logs as a means of better understanding historical weather patterns worldwide. The goal isn't to prove or disprove global warming but rather to gather information about historical weather variability in an effort to improve the ability to predict weather and climate in the future.
Help astronomers by counting and analyzing craters and boulders on the moon (via videos/photos online).
Help the New Horizons Mission find Kuiper Belt Objects
Help astronomers come up with better simulations of galaxy mergers by playing this simple game.
Help astronomers find exoplanets around other stars!
Help spot explosions on the surface of the sun. This can help warn us about upcoming solar storms.
Help scientists understand the geology and geography of the Vesta asteroid by tagging these images.
Play this first-person shooter to help scientists find supernovae.
You'll look through tens of thousands of images of our galaxy from the Spitzer and Herschel telescopes. By describing what you see in this infrared data, scientists can better understand how stars form.
Take and upload astrophotographs to a database of outer planet images. (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune.)
Build a working radio astronomy receiver and record Jupiter and solar emissions.
There is a treasure trove of other space-related citizen science projects via The Planetary Society.
Molecular Biology and Genomics
EteRNA is one of many great games you can play to contribute to citizen science projects. Here the goal is to coax RNA molecules into specified shapes. The player is presented a chain of circles representing nucleotides and has to swap their colors. These are shapes the researchers would like to learn to make in reality. The best designs are then synthesized in the lab and scored.
A puzzle game where the data you generate can help cure real diseases.
Help decode ancient Egyptian texts by playing this simple game.
Field Expedition: Mongolia
Tag satellite photos to conduct a non-invasive exploration of the region around the ancient tomb of Genghis Khan.
If you want to keep up with new citizen science projects you can also check the Citizen Scientists League blog.
If you have any favorite citizen science projects, you'd like us to cover, pipe up in comments or email email@example.com.
Reporting by Keith Veronese and Joseph Bennington-Castro