Research often involves teams of scientists collaborating across continents. Now, using the power of the Internet, non-specialists are participating, too. Citizen Science falls into many categories. A pioneering project was SETI@Home, which has harnessed the idle computing time of millions of participants in the search for extraterrestrial life. Citizen scientists also act as volunteer classifiers of heavenly objects, such as in Galaxy Zoo. They make observations of the natural world, as in The Great Sunflower Project. And they even solve puzzles to design proteins, such as FoldIt. We'll add projects regularly—and please tell us about others you like as well.
Formed in 2000, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade (LABB) is an environmental health and justice organization working with communities that neighbor the state's oil refineries and chemical plants. The group’s mission is to support communities' use of grassroots action to create informed, sustainable neighborhoods free from industrial pollution.
The EPA-approved "bucket" is an air-sampling device that people who live next to industry—“fenceline” neighbors—use to document pollution in their neighborhoods. Air is drawn into a 19-liter bucket and sent to a laboratory for analysis. Though the bucket is an important part of the assistance the LABB provides, it is only one part of a toolbox that includes education, assistance with organizing, media and other types of sampling (water, soil, seafood).
LABB programs include the Refinery Efficiency Initiative, Environmental Justice Corps, Fenceline Neighbors Networks and Oil Spill Response.
In association with the Human Food Project, researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder along with researchers at other institutions around the world are launching a new open-access project known as “American Gut” in which participants can get involved in finding out what microbes are in their own guts and what they are doing in there.
The project builds on previous efforts, including the five-year, $173-million NIH-funded Human Microbiome Project, to characterize the microbes living in and on our bodies. But unlike other projects that have focused on carefully chosen test subjects with a few hundred people, this project allows the public to get involved and is encouraging tens of thousands of people to do so.
The American Gut project is an opportunity for the citizen scientists working with a team of leading researchers and labs throughout the United States to help shape a new way of understanding how diet and lifestyle may contribute to human health through each person’s suite of trillions of tiny microbes.
Inside the retina, tucked away at the back of the eye, lies an incredibly dense tangle of interconnected neurons. If researchers can map the many connections between these cells, they will be closer to understanding how vision works. To achieve this, they need something more intelligent than even the most powerful supercomputer—citizen scientists.
By playing Eyewire, a game of coloring brain images, citizen scientists can help map the connections of a neural network. No specialized knowledge of neuroscience is required; citizen scientists need only be curious, intelligent and observant. Their input will help scientists understand how the retina functions. It will also be used by engineers to improve the underlying computational technology, eventually making it powerful enough to detect "miswirings" of the brain that are hypothesized to underlie disorders like autism and schizophrenia.
World Water Monitoring Day (WWMD) is an international education and outreach program that builds public awareness and involvement in protecting water resources around the world by engaging citizens to conduct basic monitoring of their local water bodies.
Water monitoring provides basic information about streams, lakes, estuaries and coastal waters to provide a better understanding of whether they are safe enough to swim in, fish from, or use for drinking or irrigation purposes.
A test kit enables children and adults to sample local water bodies for a core set of water quality parameters including temperature, acidity (pH), clarity (turbidity) and dissolved oxygen (DO). Results are shared with participating communities around the globe through the WWMD Web site.
WWMD organizers are the Water Environment Federation and the International Water Association. They publish program data annually.
Though it may appear to be just a game, Phylo is actually a framework for harnessing computing power to solve the problem of multiple sequence alignments. Citizen scientists play the game by arranging nucleotides. The goal of the game is to maximize the matches and minimize the mismatches between the DNA sequences on the digital game board.
A sequence alignment is a way of arranging the sequences of DNA, RNA or protein to identify regions of similarity. These similarities may be consequences of functional, structural or evolutionary relationships between the sequences. From such an alignment, biologists may infer shared evolutionary origins, identify functionally important sites, and illustrate mutation events. More importantly, biologists can trace the source of certain genetic diseases.
Traditionally, multiple sequence alignment algorithms use computationally complex heuristics—trial-and-error efforts—to align the sequences. This approach requires a lot of computing power given the sheer size of the genome, which consists of roughly three billion base pairs. Humans are good at recognizing patterns and solving visual problems efficiently, so adding citizen scientists to the equation is expected to optimize alignments in ways that the computer algorithm can't.
There is little solid scientific knowledge about how influenza, the common cold and stomach flu spread and how to protect against them because the necessary research has not been done, according to researchers at Interdisciplinary Scientific Research, a research and consulting firm in Seattle. As a result, in rigorous evaluations, strategies recommended by medical experts to avoid these illnesses have not consistently reduced rates of illness.
Interdisciplinary Scientific Research launched the Health Tracking Network in April 2011 with the following goals:
1) Identify factors related to common illnesses.
2) Promote members' health by enabling them to track their personal health, fitness, and other variables easily.
3) Generate donations to charities chosen by members.
4) Provide researchers access to a high-quality sample of respondents for scientific survey questions at low cost.
Participation is anonymous.
Researchers at Tel Aviv University have developed a Facebook application called PiggyDemic that allows users to "infect" their friends with a simulated virus or become infected themselves. The resulting patterns will allow researchers to gather information on how a virus mutates, spreads through human interaction, and the number of people it infects.
Scientists use mathematical algorithms to determine which virus will spread and how, but this method has some flaws. It assumes that a virus has equal distribution across populations, but that is simply not the case, the researchers say. Patterns of social interaction must also be taken into account.
Once added to a user's Facebook account, PiggyDemic follows the user's newsfeed to determine the people they interact with. Users are deemed "susceptible," "immune" or "infected" with various simulated viruses, and can pass them on to their online contacts. Researchers then follow these interactions using network visualization software, and watch the links between users as the "viruses" are passed on.
SoundCitizen was started in 2008 by a group of undergraduates from the University of Washington in Seattle. The students wondered whether it was possible to detect human-originated compounds in the water systems, and decided to find out by testing for cooking spices in local waters. The project has since grown and its scope has been broadened. The focus is still on scientific investigation and knowledge discovery of the chemical links between urban settings and aquatic systems. However, in addition to studying compounds like cooking spices, they also study more serious ones, pollutants in particular.
SoundCitizen is still staffed by undergraduate students at the University of Washington, whose individual research topics help define the overall scientific aims of the program. SoundCitizen encourages involvement with citizen volunteers and school groups, who voluntarily collect water samples from aquatic systems, perform a series of basic chemical tests, and then mail samples to the lab to be further analyzed for cooking spices and emerging pollutants.
Since the program’s inception in November 2008, more than 300 volunteers and 500 K-12 students have participated in the program. More than 1,000 kits have been distributed, and more than 95 percent of the returned samples have passed initial quality control screening and have been fully processed for emerging pollutants and cooking spices.
Deadline: Jul 25 2013
This challenge provides an opportunity for Solvers to build a web-based or mobile “app” to explore data relationships in scholarly conte
Deadline: Aug 31 2013
Reward: $100,000 USD
The Geoffrey Beene Foundation Alzheimer’s Initiative (GBFAI) is launching the 2013 Geoffrey Beene Global NeuroDiscovery Challenge whose
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