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.

Project Details

  • PRINCIPAL SCIENTIST: Rick Keil, Associate Professor
  • SCIENTIST AFFILIATION: Aquatic Organic Geochemistry lab at the University of Washington's School of Oceanography
  • DATES: Ongoing
  • LOCATION: Washington - Puget Sound region
  • PROJECT TYPE: Fieldwork
  • COST: Free
  • GRADE LEVEL: All Ages

    Citizen scientists can request a sampling kit from the SoundCitizen Web site. Each kit includes a 1-liter collapsible plastic bottle (with a unique barcode), instruction sheet/data-recording sheet, test strips and other equipment. After citizen scientists prepare their samples, they mail them back to the SoundCitizen team at the University of Washington. Results can later be viewed on the SoundCitizen Web site.

    The project is currently most interested in samples taken from streams (paired with those from nearby beaches, taken the same day), roof runoff from gutters, street drains, lakes and streams near urban centers or in city parks, and from the Cascades and Olympic Mountains.

    For more information, e-mail the project at

See more projects in WashingtonFreeFieldworkAll Ages.

What Is Citizen Science?

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.

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