3, 2, 1…Project MERCCURI Blasts Off to the ISS Today!!

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What happens when you combine professional cheerleaders, microbiologists, and astronauts? The answer is Project MERCCURI and the Microbial Playoffs… in SPAAACE!

SPACE FLORIDA, FL — Today, something  amazing is headed toward the ISS—microbial life from earth!This moment is the culmination of a citizen science experiment called Project MERCCURI (Microbial Ecology Research Combining Citizen and University Researchers on the ISS), a collaboration between NASA, UC Davis, SciStarter, and Science Cheerleaders.

Watch the launch LIVE today at 4:58pm ET / 1:58 PT on NASA TV!!

There were two main goals for the project. The first involves a huge competition that will take place on the ISS between 47 different microbes that have been collected by thousands of public participants from the surfaces of various public spaces (mostly sporting venues). The microbial competitors will face off against each other to see who will grow the fastest, and the race will be monitored by astronauts on the ISS, using standard laboratory equipment. Researchers at UC Davis will host an identical race using the same kind of equipment on Earth.

The second goal involves sending 4,000 cell samples to Argonne National Lab to be sequenced by Jack Gilbert. The lab will identify which microbes are present on the surfaces of cell phones and shoes and compare them to other cell phone and shoe samples from around the country. While astronauts do not carry cell phones or wear shoes, they will be swabbing similar surfaces onboard the ISS, like foot holds that they strap their feet into while they are operating the external robotic arms and their wall-mounted communication devices.

You can get to know all of the microbial competitors, who they are, where they’re from, and why they are so cool on the official website. If you want, you can even print your own Microbial Trading Cards. Cell phone and shoe collections will continue through April!

The microbes are sailing into space today aboard Space X’s Dragon spacecraft. SciStarter’s founder, Darlene Cavalier, is on site today at the launch. She notes, “We’re here, in part, as representatives of the thousands of citizen scientists who participated in this important research project to study microbes on Earth and in space!”

Thank you to all who made this project possible. It’s pure proof that the sky is the limit for what we can do in science, together.

This post originally appeared on the SciStarter blog.

For more, follow #SpaceMicrobes on Twitter.

Image: Darlene Cavalier

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WildObs: Instagram for Nature Lovers

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Collect and share pictures of memorable encounters with nature using the WildObs app.

Want more citizen science? Don’t worry. There’s an app for that.

Gopher Snake

There are nature lovers, wildlife photographers, hikers, kayakers and birdwatchers who pursue their passion every day, and most of them do so in the hope of spotting an osprey, or catching a glimpse of a mountain lion or bear. As rewarding as these sightings are, there is an equally fulfilling joy to be found in identifying a clump of apple snail eggs, butterfly or a nighthawk chick. This is what WildObs (official site), a crowdsourced program that partners with the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) does—it serves as a portal geared for enthusiasts rather than naturalists or scientists—users who want to gather, share and comment on their day to day sightings.

Adam Jack the creator of the program launched it in 2008. “As a nature lover with a glorious number of encounters, and a reasonably technical iPhone user, I wanted to be able to remember wildlife I saw; what, where and when I saw the wildlife, and ideally try to build a community database to identify good places to find critters,” he said. The idea to build WildObs came in part from Goodreads; the system for books you’ve read, books you’d like to read, and book discovery. “Why not be able to record what wildlife you’ve seen, mark species as favorites, and so on. Given that knowledge the system could inform you about what has been seen recently around you, educate you with the wildlife you might not know existed, and bring you local news from other wildlife lovers.” The idea was to connect people, places and wildlife.

You can record your encounters for your own studies, or enjoyment, use the records you produce to develop a personal wildlife calendar for the year, or maintain a life list as you learn about new species. The NWF uses the program as part of their Wildlife Watch initiative, to track the occurrences of natural phenomena. In addition you can share wildlife Stories online and join the NWF Flickr group. All of this is available to both first timers and professionals.

Western Snowy Plover Family

As a wildlife community, WildObs participants help each other find the nature (for a photograph or close encounter) and users learn about the species in their neighborhoods, so the app essentially offers a collaborative wildlife experience—it helps people connect people to wildlife. When asked if the project plans to publish any findings related to the user collection, Jack says, “The database only has tens of thousands of records to date. WildObs has become more a system of ‘interesting encounters’ than every encounter. It doesn’t have bioblitz-type data, but rather more individual sightings—a Moose here, or a Bobcat there.” There are currently a few thousand users.

WildObs Android

There is always at least one exciting thing about a participatory project—something that enthuses users or that sparked the first idea for it. For Adam Jack and WildObs that would be how the app shares encounters amongst the community. “The app send its users custom notifications tailored to their interests, location and species encounter history. The ultimate goal for WildObs is to connect and engage people with the wildlife around them, and to excite them to go explore and enjoy,” says Jack. It actually sounds a bit like Instagram for nature lovers, which seems to be a pretty neat idea. Join the WildObs community via your Android or iPhone and use technology to help you connect with nature.

This post originally appeared on the SciStarter blog.

Images: Ian Vorster

Get the Android App

Get the iPhone App

WildObs on Flickr

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There’s an App for That! Citizen Science at Your Fingertips

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If you think science is out of reach, think again! Here are some citizen science apps you’ll always have at your fingertips!

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With this App from The Science Channel, you can spy on nature and contribute to science. Share photos and observations, contribute to research initiatives. Get started!


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Capture and share observations of sky and ground conditions near you to help researchers check the quality of satellite data. You’ll receive the satellite image captured at your location! Get started!


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What’s Invasive?

“Invasive” plants crowd out food sources for wild animals and create other headaches in nature. Use this app to help identify and locate them for removal. Get started!


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Capture wildlife encounters and use them to develop your own wildlife calendar. Partner of National Wildlife Federation’s Wildlife Watch working with scientific studies to extract citizen science from your recorded encounters. Get started!


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Want to run your own Citizen Science project? There’s an App for that, too! SENSR can help you create a mobile data collection tool for your project. Get started!

This post originally appeared on the SciStarter blog.

SciStarter and Azavea (with support from Sloan Foundation) spent the last year investigating developments in software, hardware, and data processing capability for citizen science. Here’s what we found.

Want your project featured in our newsletter? Contact jenna@scistarter.com

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First-ever bluebird twins highlight citizen science’s value in studying rare events

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Gerald Clark enjoys birds

Gerald Clark enjoys birds

Last September, Mr. and Ms. Winfield were reported in the news as defying odds of one in a trillion!

Did they win a lottery? Not the usual kind. They found 6 double-yolked eggs in one carton.

It turns out the newspaper’s calculations were a little exaggerated—the Winfields’ odds were actually more like one in a billion—but this was still a remarkable find.

If you eat eggs for breakfast, it is reasonable to have encountered a double-yolked egg by the time you reach your 8th carton of eggs. And that’s for domesticated poultry. What about for wild birds? Do people who monitor wild bird nests ever encounter twinning?

Last year, when Gerald Clark, a retiree who spends time enjoying birds in his backyard, was monitoring the nests of Eastern Bluebirds in Pennsylvania, he suspected a twinning event. Robyn Bailey, project leader for NestWatch, a citizen-science project administered by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, authored this exciting paper with Clark based on his photographs and field notes of the nesting attempts.

According to Bailey and Clark, there have only been 14 documented cases of twinning for 13 species of wild birds.

Twinning can happen a number of ways, though there are basically two ways to detect twins: dissecting an unhatched egg or finding more nestlings than eggs in a nest. Clark used the second option: by monitoring and reporting his observations to NestWatch, he collected evidence that there were four eggs in the nest, and then five nestlings. Clark even photo-documented the nest during hatching, capturing the moment when there were 4 nestlings and 1 egg in the nest.  Additional support was that one egg was oversized. Federal law prohibits participants from handling eggs, so Bailey and Clark used the images to measure the eggs digitally. The presumed egg with twins was 11% longer and 12% wider than the other eggs.

Among double-yolked eggs in other species, hatching success is reported to be low, probably because the twins are crowded. After all, one chick needs room to be able to pip the shell. Also, both embryos need to be positioned to access the air cell (the space where oxygen comes in after carbon dioxide goes out the pores of the shell). Therefore, the twins of Clark’s Eastern Bluebird in Pennsylvania appear to be an extremely rare event because not only did the egg contain twin embryos, but they were incubated, hatched without assistance, and survived for at least 11 days.

Previously I’ve said that citizen science is like the folktale of stone soup because everyone chips in a few observations so that cumulatively we get a rich mix of observations, a soup of new knowledge. But sometimes citizen science is more like a lottery because we engage many people in making observations, and when so many people pay extra attention, a lucky few, unexpectedly, make unique discoveries.

Rare phenomena, like exceedingly rare ladybugs, comets, a Gray whale in the Mediterranean Sea, and now eggs with twins, are possible to study through the large groups of citizen science volunteers. Together, volunteers contribute an untold, undoubtedly extraordinary number of hours of observations in the field. With thousands of eggs reported to NestWatch every breeding season, what’s next on the horizon? Sign up alone, or set up a group monitoring program, with NestWatch today and see what you might discover in this type of lottery!

Category: Citizen science, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Spring Into Citizen Science!

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The equinox is upon us. Budding trees and baby birds will soon greet us. As the weather gets warmer, be ready to Spring into action with these five springtime citizen science projects!

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Project BudBurst

Help scientists understand the impacts of global climate change! Report data on the timing of leafing, flowering, and fruiting of plants in your area. To participate, you simply need access to a plant. Get started!

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Camel Cricket Census

The Your Wild Life team needs citizen scientists to share observations and photos of camel crickets in your home! Many keen citizen observers have reported a preponderance of camel crickets, and interesting patterns in cricket distribution have emerged! Get started!

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Where’s the Elderberry Longhorn Beetle?

This beautiful beetle species lived throughout eastern North America but in recent decades it’s all but disappeared. To help solve this mystery, a Drexel University researcher wants you to be on the lookout for this beauty of a beetle now through June. Get started!

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CoCoRaHS:Rain, Hail, Snow Network

When a rain, hail, or snow storm occurs, take measurements of precipitation from your location.Your data will be used by the National Weather Service, meteorologists, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, mosquito control, ranchers and farmers, and more! Get started!

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Help scientists understand how environmental change and habitat destruction affect breeding birds. Visit nests once or twice each week and monitor their progression from incubating eggs to fuzzy chicks to fully feathered adults. Get started!


This post originally appeared on the SciStarter blog.

Want your project featured in our newsletter? Contact jenna@scistarter.com

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Measuring Environmental Stewardship

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Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Environmental Behaviors Project seeks help in sorting and ranking environmental stewardship.


Many citizen science projects have been very successful in collecting high-quality scientific data through the participation of citizen scientists. However, less emphasis has been placed on documenting changes to citizen scientists themselves. In particular, many projects hope participants will increase their environmental stewardship practices, but few, if any projects, have been able to accurately measure or detect behavior change as a result of participation.

Beginning in 2010, our team of researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology set out to create a toolkit of resources for helping project leaders measure participant outcomes. This project, titled DEVISE (Developing, Validating, and Implementing Situated Evaluation Instruments), is the parent of the Environmental Behaviors Project. In fact, the EBP is one of the final elements of the toolkit to be developed. So far, the DEVISE team has created and tested valid tools to measure interest, motivation, self-efficacy, and skills related to both science and environmental action.

When completed, the Environmental Behaviors Project will result in a tool for measuring environmental stewardship behaviors in citizen science participants. We are looking for about 75 participants to sort a variety of stewardship activities into categories, and then rank those same activities by ease and importance. What makes this tool unique is that it will have input from a variety of people and be a weighted scale, informed by the degree of ease and importance that people assign to each item.

The environmental behaviors tool will be an exciting conclusion to the DEVISE project. It is very common for citizen science projects to list behavioral change and increased stewardship as main goals – but these can be very difficult to measure accurately! Hopefully, by making this, and the other DEVISE tools available to project leaders, we can go beyond anecdotal accounts of the power of citizen science and provide evidence-based outcomes of the importance of citizen science to the people who make it possible.

This post originally appeared on the SciStarter blog.

Image: Glacier NPS


Tina Phillips
Evaluation Program Manager
Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Marion Ferguson
DEVISE Project Assistant
Cornell Lab of Ornithology

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Meet Your Invisible Neighbors: Microbes Citizen Science Projects

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They’re all around us–microbes, that is! Here are some projects to help you explore the microbiome on earth, in space, and inside our own bodies.

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It’s time! Microbes collected by citizen scientists are heading to the International Space Station this weekend! This project from UC Davis, SciStarter, Science Cheerleader, Space Florida and Nanoracks still needs your help collecting microbes from shoes and cellphone. Find out why, here. Get started!


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American Gut

Compare the microbes in your gut to those in the guts of thousands of other people in the US and elsewhere and help researchers learn more about the influence of microbes. American Gut is a project built on open-source, open-access principles. Get started!


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uBiome is the world’s first effort to map the human microbiome through citizen science. The microbiome are the bacteria that live on and within us. Take a look at yours! Get started!


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Think you have the flu? Join GoViral participants who report symptoms weekly using a website or mobile app and help researchers in the process. Get a Do-It-Yourself flu test kit, too. Get started!


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Help classify plant cell images by their “clumpiness” and give insights into the progression of bacterial infection in plant cells. Get started!

Calling hackers and developers! SciStarter is organizing pop-up hackathons to develop open APIs and other tools to help citizen scientists. Contact the SciStarter Team if you’d like to join us in Boston, Philly, NYC, or Washington, DC in April! Email info@scistarter.com

Want your project featured in our newsletter? Contact jenna@scistarter.com

This post originally appeared on the SciStarter blog.

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A New Association Wants YOU! Calling all Supporters of Citizen Science!

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IMAGINE a world where all people are able to understand, value, and participate in science. This is the vision that inspires the Citizen Science Association (CSA), an emerging organization that will support organizers advancing scientific research that involves the public. It isn’t so hard to do. There are many prominent ornithological programs that engage bird watchers in research. These are not the only ones.  There have been many scientific contributions of amateur astronomers. These are not the only ones. Right now you could look at almost any scientific discipline, and if you look deeply enough and carefully enough you’re going to see some aspects of citizen science happening.

As announced at a February 16th AAAS meeting:

“The CSA is offering free inaugural membership for 2014 to grow, unite, and guide this global community of practice focused on public participation in citizen science. The CSA recognizes all forms of citizen science and focuses on building the community of practice involving those who organize volunteers. Whether organizers are scientists, educators, data managers, technology specialists, evaluators, or enthusiastic volunteers, the CSA welcomes those who want to benefit form a network based on the diverse practices of citizen science.”

The work of building the association is just beginning to take shape. While four committees have begun to coordinate planning, the Association is soliciting the involvement and leadership of future members. Membership requires no financial contribution at this point, and people receive complementary membership by completing a short survey.  According to the CSA, this survey will help the Association understand the diverse needs, interests, and expertise of the citizen science community, gauge the energy, initiative, and commitment to CSA activities, and inspire potential funders.

Documenting the characteristics of the incoming membership is crucial because Citizen Science is a remarkably diverse field in terms of disciplines, sectors, and communities engaged. Panelists at the AAAS meeting included an astronomer, a neuroscientist, an ornithologist, an unusual combination for a single panel. It sounded so much like a ‘walked-into-a-bar’ joke that these practitioners jested they should crowdsource for the best punchline.  Even though the research topics differed, the methods used and the challenges faced are similar. The panel also included professionals involved in computer science, informatics, human-computer interaction, and education. These are some of the fields enabling innovations in how citizen science is put into practice.

The CSA will foster exchange, collaboration, and professional development across the compelling diversity in order to support parallel practices in various fields. To this end, the Association will establish an open-access, peer-reviewed journal dedicated to advances in the theory and practice of citizen science. The Association will sponsor international conferences that disseminate findings and innovations and act as networking events. By building a digital community of practice, and compiling tools and resources to further best practices in the field, the CSA hopes to serve as an umbrella organization, drawing members from diverse communities including Scistarter, The Citizen Science Alliance, and the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA).

Early support for the association is generously provided by National Geographic, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Data Observation Network for Earth (DataONE), The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the Schoodic Institute, and the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON).

These organizations have common hopes for a world full of people engaged in citizen science. You may say these organizations are dreamers. If you are organizing citizen science activities, you are not the only one. With over 1,300 members already, we hope someday you’ll join us!

Image credit: Kelly Hills

This post is co-authored by Anne Bowser, a graduate Research Assistant in the Commons Lab, a PhD student at the University of Maryland’s College of Library and Information Science, and member of the Steering Committee of the Citizen Science Association.

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Your Radionuclides and You: Citizen Scientists Can Help Monitor Fukushima Radioactivity

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The story of a nuclear disaster and what can do you as a citizen scientist to help assess the residual aftermath.

[In the news - KQED Science recently spoke to project organizer Ken Buessler about the radiation in our ocean.]

Three years ago on March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami shook Japan. The loss of power that ensued eventually led to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant overheating. Four out of six reactors suffered meltdowns, spitting radioactive fallout into the atmosphere and directly into the ocean. 19,000 people died or went missing.

Almost immediately, the news ignited fears of how this would impact marine ecosystem and human health over time. Today, three years later, there is still no U.S. government agency monitoring the spread of radiation from Fukushima along the west coast or Hawaiian Islands.

In reaction to this, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and the Center of Marine and Environmental radiation (CMER) are providing the equipment and the facilities to track the spread of radionuclides across the Pacific Ocean. Even further—they’re opening this process up to the public, to you. How Radioactive is Our Ocean? is a citizen ” science project that allows the public to propose sampling locations, raise the cost for testing and shipping of the supplies ($500-600), take samples and analyze 20 liters (about 5 gallons) of seawater for signs of radiation (cesium-137 isotopes) from Fukushima. Everything is provided by WHOI and CMER. There are three main ways that you can participate:

  1. Help the project reach their goal by donating to sample an existing site. Click  “HELP FUND A LOCATION” on the main page and choose to support one of the many sites that are underway;
  2. Propose a new sampling site. Click “PROPOSE A LOCATION” and see what is involved. If accepted(we are trying to get spread of locations up/down coast), we ask for a donation of $100 and we’ll set up a fundraising webpage, add that page to our website, and send you a sampling kit once your goal of $550 to $600 has been reached.
  3. Donate to general capacity building and public education activities at CMER.

Here’s a video showing how you would take samples from locations near you:

How is radioactivity measured in the ocean?

“We live in a sea of radioactivity,” says Ken Buesseler, marine chemist at the WHOI. “The danger is in the dose.” Buesseler spent the bulk of his career studying oceanography and the spread of radionuclides from Chernobyl in the Black Sea. He goes on to explain:

The unit to describe the level of radiation in seawater samples is the Becquerel (Bq), which equals the number of radioactive decay events per second. This number is reported per cubic meter (i.e. 1,000 liters or 264 gallons) of water.

A typical water sample will likely contain less than 10 Becquerels per cubic meter (Bq/m3) from cesium-137. The amount of cesium-137 that leaked into the water as a result of Fukushima was in the penta-Becquerels (that’s 1,000,000,000,000,000 Becquerels). By comparing the amount of cesium-137, which has a relatively long 30-year half life, and cesium-134, which has a much shorter, 2-year half life, scientists can “fingerprint” the contamination from Fukushima and estimate how much was released into the Pacific. Is that much radiation significant? The world’s oceans contain many naturally occurring radioactive isotopes like potassium-40, which comes from the erosion and breakdown of rocks. Bananas, known for their potassium content, release about 15 Bq on average. That means that the radiation leakage was about the same as that of 76 million bananas, to put things in perspective. This is actually around and about (perhaps a little over) the amount of radiation Fukushima was allowed to dump into the environment before the disaster. However, WHOI and CMER still make the case that it would be important to monitor and track cesium-137 and cesium-134 levels in the ocean, given future projection.

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Fukushima plume predictions for cesium-137 levels in the Pacific Ocean for April 2016

How are marine species affected?

Because the cesium-137 isotope is soluble, it mixes well with ocean currents. “The spread of cesium once it enters the ocean can be understood by the analogy of mixing cream into coffee,” writes Buesseler. “At first, they are separate and distinguishable, but just as we start to stir the cream forms long, narrow filaments or streaks in the water.” After they form streaks, they blend in and are diluted (think about how coffee turns into a lighter color after you add cream). Fish and other forms of marine life can take it up and excrete it, depositing it in the sediment below. The marine life most contaminated with Fukushima radiation is found nearest to the reactor, but some species, like Bluefin tuna, are far-ranging and even migrate across the Pacific. When these animals leave the Northeast coast of Japan, some isotopes remain in their body, but others, like cesium-137 and cesium-134, naturally flush out of their system. If you’re interested in proposing a sampling location to help the WHOI and CMER study the distribution of radionuclides in the Pacific, get started with the project or help spread the word about it!

This post originally appeared on the SciStarter blog.

Image: EPA, ourradioactiveocean.org


Goodman, Amy. “Fukushima is an ongoing warning to the world on nuclear energy.” The Guardian. 16 January 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/16/fukushima-is-a-warning

Fukushima’s Radioactive Water Leak: What You Should Know http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2013/08/130807-fukushima-radioactive-water-leak/

CMER public education links, such as ABCs of radioactivity http://www.whoi.edu/page.do?pid=119836

Category: Citizen science | 1 Comment

Citizen Science for the Senses

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Listen up! Our editors sniffed out a list of projects to lay your hands on and sink your teeth into. See for yourself!

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The Smell Experience Project

Changes in odor perception can be a symptom of a disease or a side effect of medication. Smell Experience Researchers need your help to better understand changes in our sense of smell. Get started!


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The Genetics of Taste

Help scientists learn about the gene that helps us taste “bitter!” The Denver Museum of Nature & Science is conducting a live research study, Genetics of Taste: A Flavor for Health, happening right now in the permanent exhibit Expedition Health. Get started!


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NoiseTube needs citizen scientists to monitor noise pollution. Participants install a free mobile application on their cell phone and measure the level of noise in their area. Get started!


Screen shot 2014-01-31 at 8.21.20 AMField Photo Library

A photo taken in the field helps scientists and citizens to document changes in landscape, wildlife habitats, impacts of drought and flood and fire, and more! Users can upload, edit, query and download geo-referenced field photos in the library. All photos are also linked with satellite image series images (MODIS), so that people can “see” the changes over time. Get started!


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Public Laboratory Spectrophotometer

A spectrometer is a ubiquitous tool for scientists to identify unknown materials, like oil spill residue or coal tar in urban waterways. But they cost thousands of dollars and are hard to use — so the Public Lab community has designed one that you can build with your own hands! Get started!

This post originally appeared on the SciStarter blog.

We’re taking citizen science to the NBA! Meet us at the 76ers game on 2/18 when we launch microbe collection kits into the stands for Project MERCCURI! It’s Science at the 76ers night!

AND…SciStarter is organizing a series of citizen science activities on the concourse at the game! Each of the EIGHT Philadelphia organizations whose microbes will fly on the International Space Station via Project MERCCURI, will engage fans in science!

If you’d like your citizen science project featured on SciStarter, email jenna@scistarter.com

Category: Citizen science | 1 Comment