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.
Developed by Carnegie Mellon University, SENSR provides a way to obtain a custom data collection application running on mobile devices for your citizen science project or projects. If you are running a grassroots project for science, education, environmental conservation, community monitoring, or some other reason, and are seeking ways to expand citizen scientists' participation in contributing data, SENSR can help you create a mobile data collection tool for your project.
NoiseTube was created with the purpose of turning smartphones into mobile noise level meters. The app allows citizen scientists to participate in the collective noise mapping of their city or neighborhood. NoiseTube has three features: measure noise, localize it and tag it. Tags include the level of annoyance and the source of sound, such as an airplane. The collected data is wirelessly sent to the NoiseTube server in real time. Once the data has been uploaded to NoiseTube’s Web site, users can check their sound trajectory on Google Maps.
Did you know you can print live cells from an inkjet printer? Companies like Organovo are developing ways to 3-D print human tissues and organs. But the basic technologies are so accessible that we wanted to play around with them ourselves.
BioCurious has built its own functioning bioprinter from a couple of old CD drives, an inkjet cartridge and an Arduino. We probably won't be printing human organs any time soon, but how about printing a leaf from plant cells? Or add a BlueRay laser to turn it into a miniature laser cutter to print "lab-on-a-chip" microfluidic devices.
BioCurious community projects are open to anyone, and are driven entirely by whoever wants to show up and participate.
The inaugural Space Hacker Workshop on May 4-5, 2013, at the Hacker Dojo in Mountain View, Calif.—across the street (literally) from NASA Ames Research Center—will teach citizen scientists and hardware hackers how to do "space on the cheap." During the two-day event, participants learn how they can build and fly experiments in space, and even fly in space as citizen astronauts, through the Citizens in Space program.
The workshop is sponsored by Citizens in Space, a project of the United States Rocket Academy, and the Silicon Valley Space Center. Citizens in Space is dedicated to citizen science and citizen space exploration.
Citizens in Space has purchased 10 suborbital flights on the XCOR Lynx spacecraft, now under construction by XCOR Aerospace at the Mojave Air and Space Port, which will be made available to the citizen-science community. Citizens in Space will also select and train 10 citizen astronauts to fly as payload operators for up to 100 small experiments. For information on submitting payloads, see the group’s Call for Experiments.
Over the past several months, members of Sebastian Seung’s lab at M.I.T. have been taking its EyeWire game through its paces. During this beta testing period, an average of 30 to 50 people played EyeWire each day, collectively mapping more than 160,000 individual cubes.
The project is now ready for wider use, and the researchers are asking citizen scientists to help them make the great scientific leaps necessary for us to understand the brain’s higher functions. The project will also test whether citizen science can impact neuroscience in the same way that it has impacted fields like astronomy and biology.
In the coming months, the researchers will release new game features, including interactive updates and dynamics that will enhance the EyeWire experience. The researchers encourage citizen scientists to subscribe to their blog and connect with them on Facebook to be the first to get the latest EyeWire news.
The researchers’ challenge is to map a J cell, a particular type of retinal neuron. While this task would take weeks for a professional neuroscientist, EyeWire’s goal is to map a J cell in just one week. Mapping the J cell and its connections will help the researchers understand how the retina functions in visual perception. If successful, this will be the first example of a “neural circuit” mapped by an online community.
No specialized knowledge of neuroscience is required; citizen scientists need only be curious, intelligent and observant. Their input will 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.
uBiome has launched a citizen science effort to map the human microbiome, the microorganisms that inhabit every inch of our skin as well as our ears, mouth, sinuses, genitals and gut. The correct balance of microbes serves to keep potential pathogens in check and regulate the immune system. Microbes also perform essential functions such as digesting food and synthesizing vitamins.
The biotech startup from the University of California San Francisco branch of the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3) seeks to spark the era of personalized medicine by providing the public with easily accessible information about their own bodies using the latest in high-throughput DNA sequencing technology.
uBiome provides citizen scientists with a catalog of their own microbes; detailing the microbial composition of the body and explaining what is known about each genera of microbe. In addition, uBiome compares participants’ microbiomes with numerous past studies on the role of the microbiome in health, diet and lifestyle. uBiome also provides personal analysis tools and data viewers so that users can anonymously compare their own data with crowd data as well as with the latest scientific research. uBiome is HIPAA compliant and will not release personal identifying data or information to anyone.
The more people join the uBiome community, the more statistical power the project will have to investigate connections between the microbiome and human health. For example, with 500 people, uBiome will be able to answer questions about relatively common diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. With 2,500, the project can investigate connections to breast cancer. With 50,000 people, the project can begin to address multiple sclerosis and leukemia.
Transportation researchers are asking the public for help this weekend in studying post-Sandy traffic patterns in New York City. Anyone with a smart phone can collect traffic data on Saturday, anywhere in Manhattan, using an application developed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The researchers will analyze the data to learn about how traffic is affected by major disasters as part of the TrafficTurk project.
Researchers are hoping TrafficTurk can provide valuable, real-time information to police, emergency personnel, and the public, with the goal of helping traffic flow more smoothly during major events.
The University of Illinois team and transportation researchers from Columbia are collecting data in Times Square Friday afternoon, November 3. On Saturday, November 4, they will compile and analyze the data provided by volunteer members of the public.
The Citizen Sort Web site is designed to help biologists and ecologists with scientific classification tasks and to help information scientists and human-computer interaction researchers evaluate the role of motivation in citizen science. Citizen Sort needs the help of citizen scientists to classify species and aid the exploration of how motivation, citizen science and gaming all interact.
In the biological science space--particularly entomology, botany and oceanography-- experts, enthusiasts and curious members of the general public routinely collect and upload photographs of different living things. A photograph of an insect, plant or animal, tagged with the date and location where it was taken, can provide valuable scientific data, e.g., on how urban sprawl impacts local ecosystems or evidence of local, regional or global climactic shifts. However, to be useful, it is necessary to know what the picture is of, expressed in scientific terms, i.e., the scientific name of the species depicted. Some participants have the necessary knowledge (e.g., avid birders can generally identify particular bird species), but many potential participants do not. To support the biological science goal of image classification, we have developed several games and tools that let ordinary members of the public undertake to classify various photos of living things.
In the information science space, games have great potential as a motivator for participation and as a tool for producing high quality scientific data, so Citizen Sort lets us explore how different kinds of games and tools might make citizen science more fun for participants. In addition, Citizen Sort lets us explore how different kinds of players, games, and tools might produce different qualities of data in the biological sciences.
Zooniverse invites the public to help identify objects they see in images of the seafloor through a new interactive Web site called "Seafloor Explorer," the result of a collaboration between oceanographers studying seafloor habitats, Web programmers and social scientists.
Citizen scientists will indicate whether they see fish, scallops and other organisms in each image, provide basic measurements and describe whether the seafloor is sand or gravel, and whether they see boulders and other interesting objects in the frame.
The project's organizers have more than 40 million images, but have launched the site with a preliminary set of 100,000—all of them taken by HabCam, a habitat mapping underwater vehicle. HabCam was developed and built by the HabCam group, which comprises marine biologists and engineers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) as well as fishermen and other scientists. The Seafloor Explorer interactive Web site was funded by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and built in collaboration with the HabCam Group by the Citizen Science Alliance (CSA), the developers behind interactive sites found on Zooniverse.org.
CycloneCenter.org is a Web-based interface that enables the public to help analyze the intensities of past tropical cyclones around the globe. The global intensity record contains uncertainties caused by differences in analysis procedures around the world and through time.
Patterns in storm imagery are best recognized by the human eye, so scientists are enlisting the public. Interested volunteers will be shown one of nearly 300,000 satellite images. They will answer questions about that image as part of a simplified technique for estimating the maximum surface wind speed of tropical cyclones.
This public collaboration will perform more than a million classifications in just a few months—something it would take a team of scientists more than a decade to accomplish. The end product will be a new global tropical cyclone dataset that provides 3-hourly tropical cyclone intensity estimates, confidence intervals, and a wealth of other metadata that could not be realistically obtained in any other fashion.
The Geo-Wiki Project is a global network of volunteers who wish to help improve the quality of global land-cover maps. Because large differences occur between existing global land-cover maps, current ecosystem and land-use science lacks crucial accurate data (for example, to determine the potential of additional agricultural land available to grow crops in Africa).
Citizen scientists are asked to review hot spot maps of global land-cover disagreement and determine, based on what they actually see in Google Earth and their local knowledge, if the land-cover maps are correct or incorrect. Their input is recorded in a database, along with uploaded photos, to be used in the future for the creation of a new and improved global land-cover map.
The project works with a global network of volunteers to help classify land cover and improve satellite maps and data for research in climate, food security, and biofuels. The team has a number of related projects including a new mobile phone app, and a Facebook game, which function both as social networks and to provide data for the effort to improve land-cover data.
The Large Pelagics Research Center (LPRC), based in Gloucester, Mass., initiated its Tag A Tiny program in 2006 to study the annual migration paths and habitat use of juvenile Atlantic bluefin tuna. Through this co-operative tagging program, which uses tags from The Billfish Foundation (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.) recreational anglers and charter captains catch, measure and release juvenile bluefin with conventional "spaghetti"-ID tags.
To date, 885 recreational fishermen have helped LPRC to tag 1,006 bluefin, mostly juveniles from one to four years old, and some "medium" size fish, nearing 180 centimeters. All of the records are entered into the Billfish Foundation, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) databases.
LPRC was established in 2003 at the University of New Hampshire and, in 2010, joined the Department of Environmental Conservation at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and the Graduate School of Marine Science.
The Quake-Catcher Network (QCN) has renewed its call for citizen scientists to help its researchers capture key seismic data to improve scientific understanding of earthquakes, provide detailed information on how they shape Southern California and aid earthquake emergency response efforts.
Quake-Catcher Network is a collaborative project sponsored by the National Science Foundation in which earthquake scientists around Southern California enlist volunteers to deploy small, easy-to-install seismic sensors in their homes, offices and other locations that have a computer with Internet connectivity. The project is conducted by scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at U.C. San Diego, California Institute of Technology, Stanford University, U.C. Berkeley, University of Delaware and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
WildObs (from "wildlife observations") captures memorable wildlife encounters, and puts them to work. Record your encounters for your own studies, or enjoyment, via your smart phone (apps are available for iPhone, iPod Touch and Android devices). Use these records to develop your own wildlife calendar for the year. Maintain and grow your life-list, learn about new species and connect with nature.
As a wildlife community we help each other find the nature we want (for a photograph or close encounter), and we can learn about the species in our neighborhoods.
Additionally, WildObs is a partner of the National Wildlife Federation's Wildlife Watch, and works with a number of other scientific studies to extract citizen science from recorded encounters.
The University of Virginia (UVA) Bay Game is a large-scale participatory simulation based on the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The game allows players to take the roles of stakeholders, such as farmers, developer, watermen, and local policymakers, make decisions about their livelihoods or regulatory authority; and see the impacts of their decisions on their own personal finances, the regional economy, and watershed health. It is an adaptable educational and learning tool for raising awareness about watershed stewardship anywhere in the world; a tool for exploring and testing policy choices; and a tool for evaluating new products and services.
The UVA Bay Game provides players with a new sense of individual and collective agency, and game play records suggest new directions for research in behavior change and policy development. The UVA Bay Game also has a global reach, through development of simulations for other watersheds, such as the Murray-Darling Basin in Australia.
The Old Weather Citizen Science project continues to collect historical air pressure, wind speed, temperature and other atmospheric information from ships' logs in an attempt to better understand historical weather patterns worldwide. Now the Naval-History.net project wants to take advantage of this information gathered by citizen scientists to study the history of each ship, as told in their logs.
Naval-History.net archivist Gordon Smith is leading the process of converting the events records the Old Weather project has collected into ship histories. These ship histories include all the transcribed events day-by-day, and allow everybody to follow the actions of the ships as described in each log's "terse but fascinating style." To date information about the Acacia, Cochrane, Eskimo, Goliath, M.25, Saxon, Warrego and another 50-odd ships have been converted into histories available on the Naval-History Web site.
325,000 Americans die each year of sudden cardiac arrest. Some of these deaths could be prevented through the timely use of an automated external defibrillator (AED). The inability to locate AEDs in such emergency situations greatly reduces their intended life-saving impact. Citizen scientists can help by reporting locations of AEDs throughout Philadelphia.
The University of Pennsylvania has developed a crowdsourcing mobile media contest called the MyHeartMap Challenge to find AEDs and raise awareness. Participants will use a free app to identify and record locations in Philadelphia county. The primary goal is to create a complete and up-to-date map of AEDs in Philadelphia.
Citizen scientists can help study whale communications and pass along their observations through the Whale Song Project (aka Whale FM), a whale-song identification project that Scientific American launched in partnership with the Citizen Science Alliance (CSA). The Whale Song Project, available as part of the CSA’s suite of Zooniverse citizen-science projects, is designed specifically to assist in killer (Orca) and pilot whale research being conducted by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts and the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) at the University of St Andrews in Scotland.
Through the Whale Song Project, citizen scientists are presented with a whale call and shown where it was recorded on a map of the world’s oceans and seas. After listening to the whale call—represented on screen as a spectrogram showing how the pitch of the sound changes with time—citizen scientists are asked to listen to a number of potential matching calls from the project’s database. If a match is found, the citizen scientist clicks on that sound’s spectrogram and the results are stored.
The dataset generated by this project should help scientists to answer a number of questions regarding whale communication. For example, researchers want to know the size of the pilot whales’ call repertoire and whether repertoire size is a sign of intelligence. In addition, researchers seek to understand whether the two different types of pilot whales—long fin and short fin—have different call repertoires, and, if so, whether this signifies a distinct dialect.
There is no reliable cure or vaccine for the prevention and treatment of all forms of malaria—particularly the drug-resistant strains caused by Plasmodium falciparum, which kills more people than any other parasite and is of particular interest to the researchers.
Scripps Research and IBM are encouraging anyone in the world with a personal computer to join World Community Grid, which will crunch numbers and perform simulations for GO Fight against Malaria. World Community Grid, an initiative of the IBM International Foundation, is fed by spare computing power from the nearly two million PCs that have been volunteered so far by 575,000 people in more than 80 countries. It gives each PC small computing assignments to perform when the devices aren't otherwise being used by its owners, then sends the results to scientists seeking a faster way to cure disease, find renewable energy materials, create clean water techniques, or develop healthier food staples.
By tapping into World Community Grid Scripps Research scientists hope to compress 100 years of computations normally necessary for the effort into just one year. The scientists will use this resource to more quickly evaluate millions of compounds that may advance the development of drugs to cure mutant, drug-resistant strains of malaria. Data from the experiments will then be made available to the public.
Following up on this year's inaugural Nearby Nature GigaBlitz, which encouraged the submission of GigaPan images of local habitats, this follow-up project invites citizen scientists to start thinking about possible subjects, and then during the solstice week of December 19 to 25 get out and gigapan local animals and plants in all their biodiversity.
Gigapixel imaging can reveal a surprising range of animal and plant species in the ordinary and sometimes extraordinary settings in which we live, learn and work. Your challenge is to capture panoramas of Nearby Nature and share them with your peers at gigapan.org for further exploration. We hope that shared panoramas and snapshotting will help the GigaPan community more deeply explore, document and celebrate the diversity of life forms in their local habitats.
The event will take place over a seven-day period that aligns with the December solstice. Please capture and upload your images to the gigapan.org Web site between 6 A.M., December 19 and 11 P.M., December 25 (your local time). Panoramas are eligible for inclusion in the science.gigapan.org Nearby Nature collection. The best panoramas will be selected by a jury for publication in an issue of GigaPan Magazine dedicated to the Nearby Nature collection. For more about the selection criteria, click here.
NASA's Balloon Program Office and the Louisiana Space Consortium (LaSPACE) have created a balloon platform capable of reaching altitudes as high as 36 kilometers above the Earth's surface. Since 2006 NASA and LaSPACE have chosen student science projects to integrate into the balloon's High Altitude Student Platform (HASP).
Graduate and undergraduate students who would like to have their equipment included in the next HASP flight may apply to NASA and LaSPACE by December 16 for the opportunity.
A panel of experts from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va., and LaSPACE will review the applications and select the finalists for the next flight opportunity, targeted for fall 2012. Launched from the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility's remote site in Fort Sumner, N.M., flights typically achieve 15 to 20 hours duration.
The major goals of the HASP Program are to foster student excitement in an aerospace career path and to help address workforce development issues in this area.
Participatory Urban Sensing emphasizes the involvement of individuals and community groups in the process of sensing and documenting where they live, work, and play. It can range from private, personal observations to the combination of data from hundreds, or even thousands, to reveal patterns across a city.
UCLA's Center for Embedded Networked Sensing (CENS) puts Urban Sensing into action in projects that span a broad spectrum of subjects such as public health and wellness, environmental science and sustainability, urban planning, and cultural expression. For a listing of projects, visit their Web site. Examples of projects include:
Cyclesense—CENS is designing an application that runs on mobile phones that enables bike commuters to log their bike route using GPS and provide geo-tagged annotations (images, text notes) along with automatic sensor data (accelerometer/sound) to infer the roughness and traffic density of the road. Using this information, CENS plans to create an interface to enable bike commuters to plan their route based on both safety and interest vectors. They are currently running a pilot, Biketastic, in which bikers can share their routes which are automatically annotated by noise level, roughness, variation in elevation and duration of stops.
Family Dynamics—CNES is working with UCLA's Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior to develop technologies to document key features of a family's daily interactions (e.g., co-location, family meals, and consistency). The first coaching tool being prototyped is Andwellness, a personal health self-management application for the Android phones that supports flexible geo-spatial, social and activity triggered reminders and ecological momentary assessment.
Personal Environmental Impact Report (PIER)—This online tool allows you to use your mobile phone to explore and share how you impact the environment and how the environment impacts you.
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