Celebrate World Oceans Day with Citizen Science

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Photo: USFWS

On June 8th, people across the world will celebrate World Oceans Day, a day set aside to honor and protect our oceans.

To help you participate in World Oceans Day, we’ve put together a list of 7 ocean-based citizen science projects that need your help.

We are partnering with The TerraMar Project to share SciStarter’s “ocean and water” projects with their global community to transform the way we think about the ocean and the high seas.

Check out the SciStarter blog for updates on your favorite projects and find new projects in our Project Finder!

 


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

Coop’s Scoop: Do-It-Yourself, Together

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learning to sequence DNA at Counter Culture Labs

Learning to sequence DNA at Counter Culture Labs

Could a DIYbio lab be an alternative YMCA? A DIYbio Lab is a community space to exercise your mind instead of your body. Instead of learning to swim, opportunities for physical fitness, and socializing via team sports at the YMCA, at a DIYbio lab one can be part of a community where people help each other learn to grow sour dough, make environmental sensors, or create art with glow-in-the-dark bioluminescent bacteria.

Those are some of the many activities at Counter Culture Labs, a DIYbio lab in Oakland, California. Counter Culture Labs are open for members of the public wishing to explore, innovate, and discover biotech.

There is an older tradition of community technology labs among engineers and computer programmers, particularly as fertile ground for entrepreneurs. For example, in the 1970s, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak tinkered in the basement to build commercial circuit boards. Such places became known as hackerspaces and hackerlabs. Yet, tinkering in biotech requires lab equipment like autoclaves, PCR machines, fancy microscopes, reagents, and ventilation hoods. Hence biolabs to support the many types of citizen scientists – hobbyists, entrepreneurs, inventors – are growing in several cities, such as BioCurious in Silicon Valley and GenSpace in New York City.

The activities of biotech and genetic engineering trigger alarm bells for many. Technophobia, or biotechnophobia, is a sentiment older than Frankenstein. Carl Sagan noted decades ago that we put ourselves at risk because, “We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.” Counter Culture Labs, like other DIYbio labs, help confront fears, and diminish the resulting risks, by providing space where people can learn molecular biology, how to sequence and engineer the components of genes, and the basics of synthetic biology.

Patrik D’haeseleer of Counter Culture Labs expresses his perspective like this: “I’m sure that the first humans to discover fire were feared and reviled by their neighbors. And I’m sure those fire makers were concerned that their invention might ‘fall in the wrong hands’…. When it comes to synthetic biology and DIYbio, I feel we’re standing alongside those early fire makers, discussing whether only the village elders should be allowed to handle fire, or whether we should teach everyone how to deal with it safely.” Biology is a technology that can benefit humanity, if we understand it, and a powerful way to foster collective understanding of it is in a community space.

Sampling soil on Earth Day with Counter Culture Labs

Sampling soil on Earth Day with Counter Culture Labs

For past two years, Counter Culture Labs has held over 300 free classes, workshops, and meet-ups. Because of Counter Culture Labs, Bay Area residents can better link local action to global initiatives. For example, the United Nations has declared 2015 the International Year of Soils. Counter Culture Labs helps people to sample soils for heavy metals in places where they are a potential concern, such as gardens, playgrounds, and yards.

Counter Culture Labs forms partnerships with other groups, such as to teach DNA barcoding with Nerds for Nature. Or, for example, to explore the use of fungi for soil remediation through Bay Area Applied Mycology. At The Counter Culture Lab’s Fermentation Station, people teach each other how to make kombucha, beers, and vinegars.

Counter Culture Labs supports a diverse community. According to D’haeseleer, they have “6 year olds dragging along their parental unit, to retirees eager to explore something new. Homeless youth barely scraping by, to the occasional venture capitalist coming to feel out the winds of change. People who know zero about biology and just want to learn, to postdocs, professors and professional research scientists who are looking for a creative outlet.”

Through workshops and meet-ups of Counter Culture Labs, people discuss books, make sensors to monitor air pollution, and learn to understand microbiology, molecular biology, and genetic engineering. Counter Culture Labs is used for innovation that could lead to start-up companies, such as the Vegan Cheese Project, in which people are researching how to create vegan cheese from engineering baker’s yeast.

You can help Counter Culture Labs by donating to their fundraising campaign on Kickstarter, where they are trying to raise $30,000 in the next week.

Until recently, I didn’t find Do-It-Yourself to be a welcoming phrase. It was an excuse to not lend a hand. “Please pass the salt.” Do-It-Yourself. “Can you show me how to sew this button?” Do-It-Yourself. “Could you lend a hand to lifting this couch?” Do-It-Yourself.

To the contrary, when it comes to biotech, Do-It-Yourself is actually a friendly invitation to Do-It-Together. Everybody has something to learn and something to teach. DITbio welcomes the public with access to the process of scientific discovery and innovation.

Isolating DNA from spit at Counter Culture Labs

Isolating DNA from spit at Maker Faire

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The White House Wants Your Help to Stop the Decline in Pollinators

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Pollinators: A critical component of a healthy ecosystem. And oh, they also affect 35% of the world's crop production. (Image Credit: USFWS)

Pollinators: A critical component of a healthy ecosystem. They also affect 35% of the world’s crop production. (Image Credit: USFWS)

This is a guest post by Eva Lewandowski, a PhD candidate in the Conservation Biology Graduate Program at the University of Minnesota. She is part of the Monarch Lab, where she studies citizen science and conservation education.

 

Pollinating animals play a crucial role in our food production system, and they are essential in maintaining the health and vitality of many ecosystems.  Unfortunately, many pollinator species, such as bees and butterflies, have been declining recently.  In response to that decline, the national Pollinator Health Task Force, commissioned by the White House, recently released the Pollinator Health Strategy.
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Category: Animals, Citizen science, Environment | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Coop’s Scoop: Speak for the Bees on the next #CitSciChat

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bee_by_jon_sullivan

photo by jon sullivan

You’ve probably heard the maxim about unforeseen consequences: “Be careful what you wish for, it might come true.” For example, we may wish to be rid of insects, which outnumber us a zillion to one. But if our wish comes true then we’ll have a world without honey.

Of course, we’d lose more than honey. Without bees and other pollinators, we would lose okra, cashews, kiwifruit, celery, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, watermelon, carrots, figs, almonds, strawberries, coffee, and cocoa. The list goes on and includes most of our familiar fruits, nuts, and vegetables. Most of our food crops don’t pollinate themselves. The production, or more specifically the reproduction, of our food depends on honey bees, native bees, birds, bats, butterflies, and moths. Pollinators are vital to our existence. Last week, President Obama issued a memorandum calling for a federal strategy to promote the health of honey bees and other pollinators.

We don’t typically consider the personal lives of the produce that we purchase from the grocery store. Now it is time to sit down and have the real “birds and the bees” talk about where our food comes from. The new Pollinator Health Task Force, a central part of the federal strategy, will, in essence, aim to enhance the sex lives of fruits and veggies.

630px-Misc_pollen_colorized_Darthmouth_Electron_Microscope

variety of pollen from Dartmouth Electron Microscope

In the next #CitSciChat, a monthly Twitter chat about citizen science, we’ll discuss the role of citizen science in responding to the President’s call for “all hands on deck” to save pollinators. The White House envisions an approach with citizen engagement, public education, and public-private partnerships that include states, tribes, local governments, farmers, ranchers, NGOs, extension services of land-grant universities, and corporations. With our guest panelists, we’ll chat about the drop in Monarch populations, the collapse of commercial honey bee colonies, and the plight of native bees. We’ll learn about the potential for citizen science to be a key part of our national strategy to restore pollinators, their habitat, and the ecosystem services they provide.

Join us by following the hashtag #CitSciChat on Wednesday, May 27 at 2pm ET (7pm GMT) to learn about what we can accomplish with citizen sciencecitscichat_logo. Our guest panelist include Gretchen LeBuhn of The Great Sunflower Project, Eva Lewandowski of Monarch Larvae Monitoring Project, and Jake Weltzin of Nature’s Notebook, as well grassroots efforts to help urban bees in Europe, with Kaethe Burt-O’Dea of Lifeline Project Bí and Isabelle Bonhoure of Open Bee Research, a project of Open Systems.

 

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Citizen scientist divers help track the success of artificial reefs.

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: Photographs taken by citizen scientist divers allow the scientific community to see the marine life flourishing on the Yukon. Source Michael Bear.

Once a warship, the HMCS Yukon is now an artificial reef providing much needed sanctuary for local marine life. Source Michael Bear.

 

This is a guest post by Michael Bear Citizen Science Project Director at Ocean Sanctuaries.  In this post, he describes a citizen science led effort to catalog marine life living in and around the HMCS Yukon. In 2000, the Yukon was transformed into an artificial reef as part of San Diego’s  marine conservation effort.

 

In 2000, the City of San Diego in collaboration with the San Diego Oceans Foundation (SDOF), purchased, cleaned and sank a 366 foot-long Canadian warship called the HMCS Yukon to create an artificial reef, a task at which has been spectacularly successful. Sitting at the bottom of the San Diego coast, the Yukon attracts dozens of local marine life species and is becoming a revenue-generating attraction for tourist divers from around the world.

When this project started, both the SDOF and the local scientific community were curious to understand the effects of an artificial reef on local fish populations and surrounding marine life. A joint study was undertaken by SDOF and Dr. Ed Parnell of Scripps Institution of Oceanography and released in 2004.¹ Crucial to the study was data gathered by local citizen science divers to generate a baseline of marine life species on the ship.

This year, Ocean Sanctuaries, San Diego’s first citizen science oriented, ocean non-profit is conducting a follow up study to the pioneering work of Dr. Parnell and colleagues. Established in 2014, Ocean Sanctuaries encourages and supports citizen science projects which empower local divers to gather marine data under scientific mentorship and forward our understanding of the oceans. Ocean Sanctuaries currently has three active citizen science projects. ‘Sharks of California’ and the ‘Sevengill Shark ID Project’ are both shark related. The third project is the follow-up study on the Yukon called the Yukon Marine Life Survey.

The data gathered in this project will be mainly photographic. Local divers will photograph specific areas of the ship in quadrats and with transect lines and the data will to be compared with the same areas examined in the 2004 study.

Artificial reefs are proving to be a successful marine conservation effort. Source Michael Bear.

Photographs taken by citizen scientist divers allow the scientific community to track marine life on the Yukon. Source Michael Bear.

The project plans to use a web-based application for wildlife data management called ‘Wildbook’ for cataloging observations made in the Yukon Marine Life Survey. ‘Wildbook’ was originally designed to identify whale sharks, but will be modified as a multi-species database for use with the Yukon Marine Life Survey.²

Referring to the original Yukon Marine Life Survey of 2004¹, Barbara Lloyd, Founder of Ocean Sanctuaries says, “The Yukon Artificial Reef Monitoring Project (ARMP) was a short-term baseline study of fish transects and photo quadrats. The ARMP project has been gathering data for about a decade now.  We at Ocean Sanctuaries strongly believe that a follow up study to the original baseline study can provide the research and fishing communities with valuable marine life data.  In addition, unlike the original study, we intend to use photographs to ensure verifiable encounter data.  We aim to create a large base of citizen scientists to take the photos and enter the data.  This crowd-sourced data will allow us to collaborate between citizens and researchers.”

The current Yukon Marine Life Survey will span at least five years. Once completed, the data will inform scientists of changes to the marine life on the ship enabling California coastal managers to evaluate the impact of artificial reefs on local marine species.  Take a video tour of the Yukon and learn more about the project at SciStarter.

 

 

References:
1. Ecological Assessment of the HMCS Yukon Artificial Reef
off San Diego, CA, Dr. Ed Parnell, 2004:

http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.dema.org/resource/resmgr/imported/S2R-2005-01-EcologicalAssessment-Yukon.pdf

2. Wildbook: A Web-based Application for Wildlife Data Management

http://www.wildme.org/wildbook/doku.php?id=start

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

iSeeChange: documenting the weather around us

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April in Redlands Mesa. Source: iSeeChange

April in Redlands Mesa. Source: iSeeChange

From shoveling the third heavy snowfall of winter to spotting the first crocus of spring, each day without fail we experience our environment. Meaning each of us is a potential wealth of information about our local environment. Information that if gathered could inform climate scientists about the local effects and potential indicators of climate change. This is the premise of iSeeChange, a crowdsourced journal of community submitted local weather and environment observations.

The variability of weather and environmental conditions is an inherent challenge in climate science. Is the current drought in California a result of climate change or just an extreme version of the state’s periodic droughts? Was the devastation of Hurricane Sandy a fluke event or foreshadowing of a future trend?

To address this variability, climate scientists collect and average data across large spans of time and space. But managing data this way poses its own issues. “Climate science has a difficult time drilling down and being relevant to everyday people making every day decisions,” says Julia Kumari Drapkin creator of iSeeChange. “We designed iSeeChange to bridge the gap between the big data that the scientists collect and the local experiences of individuals and communities. The project allows people to reach their hands up and meet the big data half way overcoming this problem of scale.”

Listen to farmers discuss the iSeeChange project. Source: iSeeChange.

Listen to farmers discuss the iSeeChange project. Source: iSeeChange.

Since its creation in 2012, iSeeChange has grown from a local weather almanac in Colorado to a nationwide environmental reporting network. Anyone can become a member and submit observations on the website. Viewers can sort through the data by date or season, refining their search through metrics such as humidity, precipitation or cloud cover. Ideally members submit data on a weekly basis but in reality participation can range from a single backyard photo to religiously gathered measurements. One iSeeChange member uploaded observations made in a journal kept by a Dust Bowl era fruit farmer, note Julia.

But beyond a data repository, the purpose of the project is to encourage conversation between scientists, journalists and individuals. “We want people to be curious, ask questions about what they see and experience. Then scientists and journalists in our network try to answer those questions,” says Drapkin. “The posts help scientists and journalist as well. Member submissions call attention to interesting or unusual events, which get picked up by journalists, transforming a few individual’s observations into a larger story.”

And these stories will become informative climate data for the future. Already researchers are expressing interest in the data. The project’s growth and collaborations with scientific partners at NASA, UC Berkeley and Yale is setting the stage for a larger impact. Due out in summer, iSeeChange co-developed an app with NASA that will ping community members to send in local observations whenever satellites are overhead. “The app will allow for real time comparisons between what the satellite sees and what is happening on a local level,” explains Drapkin. “We will learn what the impacts are and why it matters. We will be able to take the quantitative data and match it to the qualitative data and see how they compare over time.”

Ultimately iSeeChange is about empowering individuals and communities to document and investigate their environment. “People are experts of their own backyards. The granular changes they observe add up to bigger picture changes,” says Drapkin. “Already, these community observations have given scientists and journalist new insights and heads up on environmental trends.”

iSeeChange_logo If you collect data about your local environment, want to share an interesting change you have notice or have a question you, visit iSeeChange and become part of a large scale effort to document your environment. To learn more about iSeeChange view their trailer.

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Making Medicines from Soil: Going Behind the Scenes of a Citizen Science Project

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Making Medicines from Soil (Image Credit: C Coker, Cichewicz Lab)

Taking you behind the scenes and into the laboratory of the Citizen Science Soil Collection Program

This is a guest post by Dr Robert H. Cichewicz a professor at the University of Oklahoma and leader of the Citizen Science Soil Collection Program. Dr Cichewicz previously wrote on SciStarter about how you can participate in this project. In this post, he describes what really happens behind the scenes in his laboratory that helps their team discover (with your help!) new compounds from fungi that could prove to be useful in treating diseases. Find germs and microbes intriguing?Check out more microbe themed projects that we’ve picked out for you at SciStarter!

For millennia, our ancestors turned to the Earth as a source of healing agents to address all manner of illness. For example, the Ebers Papyrus (written in the vicinity of Egypt around 1500 BC) provides hundreds of examples of medicinal plants and minerals used to treat many disease conditions including pain, vomiting, and infections. Fast forward to modern times and we see that the research methods used to study diseases have changed dramatically, but the idea that the Earth is the best source of lifesaving drugs has endured. The philosophy that our planet still holds many secrets to modern ailments is substantiated by a large and growing list of drugs that come from nature. Many of these medicines are made by soil-dwelling bacteria and fungi. Microbes have yielded a wide variety of important compounds (for example penicillin, statins, and cyclosporins originally come from fungi) for treating cancer and infections. But finding these beneficial dirt-dwelling microbes and turning them into life-saving medicines is not a simple task. It requires teams of researchers, as well as help from people such as you. A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post inviting to you to be a part of this process and become a citizen scientist by sending us a soil sample from your backyard. We have had an overwhelming response to our requests, recieving thousands of samples which we are now processing through in the hope of discovering the next amazing secret that nature holds.

You might ask yourself, “What really happens after I send this sample?” or “How long does it actually take for you to discover something from what I send you?”.  In an attempt to answer some of those questions and tell you what happens behind the scenes, I decided to write this post.

Hop on and let me take you on a journey that turns a handful of dirt into a life-saving drug.

Step 1: From your yard to our lab

The journey begins when you request a free Citizen Science Soil Collection Kit from our lab. After you pick a favorite place in your yard, put a small handful of soil in the collection bag, seal it and drop the packet in your mailbox (we’ve already paid the return postage for you!). It takes less than 5 minutes, and did I mention it’s free?

Step 2: Growing fungi from soil

Soil samples spread on a petri dish to grow fungi (Image Credit: C Coker)

Soil samples spread on a petri dish to grow fungi (Image Credit: C Coker, Cichewicz Lab)

Our hardworking team of students and researchers begin the process of isolating fungi from your sample. Most soils are teeming with several kinds of microbes including fungi – a great source of new and useful drug-like molecules. Even if you cannot see them, there are likely thousands in your sample. We spread the soil on the surface of a petri dish that is filled with a gel infused with fungi-food which include things like soil “tea,” blended-up worms, simple sugars, and ground tomatoes – Yum!.

Step 3: Identifying fungal species using DNA sequencing

After growing and isolating the fungi in the soil sample, the next step is to identify new species using genetic sequence information. Hidden in vast landscape of the fungus’ DNA there is a small stretch of genetic material known as the internal transcribed spacer (ITS). This fungal ‘barcode’ helps us distinguish between different species, identify new ones or categorize them into a larger group known as genera. It is estimated that somewhere around 5 million different fungi live on Earth, but only about 2% have been identified. Given these odds, you’ve probably had one or more new kinds of fungi living in your yard all along and never knew it!

Thanks to the fantastic response to our outreach, we’ve received hundreds of samples, which is a good thing. But the sheer volume of samples we are dealing with means that growing and identifying fungi might take microbiologists a year or more to get your sample processed. But we won’t keep you in the dark! We will be setting up a fungus photo album so you can see what fungi were isolated from your sample. Check out our website for updates!

Step 4: Extracting fungal compounds and testing them in different models of disease

Fungi's favorite food? Why Cheerios of course! (Image Credit: C Coker)

Fungi’s favorite food? Why Cheerios of course! (Image Credit: C Coker, Cichewicz Lab)

Ultimately, it comes down to the chemistry that each fungus is making to help us determine if it has something ‘good’ that could help treat a disease. We grow the fungi on their favorite food – Cheerios breakfast cereal. As it turns out, Cheerios is not only a great food for toddlers, children, and adults, but fungi really like them too. We place Cheerios in test tubes along with the fungus and let it grow for several weeks allowing it to consume the cereal. The fungus is then extracted to remove its special compounds (the natural products) and these are stored in a freezer for later tesacting.

One by one, the fungal compounds are tested for biological activity that might prove useful in a therapeutic setting. For example, we add the compounds to cancer cells to see if we can stop them from dividing or give them to pathogenic bacteria to try and stop their growth. The compounds are also entered into a collection that is tested when new disease targets become available. Growing the fungus and extrting the compounds takes about two months but testing, conducted by our biology team can take as little as a few days or up to years to complete.

Step 6:  Purifying the compound and finding its chemical structure

To figure out what the fungi are making, we grow them in large bags containing Cheerios. We then use chemical techniques to purify the desirable natural product away from all the other compounds in the fungal cells. Chemical structure determination then ensues. This step is rather similar to solving a big puzzle where we try and figure out the chemical makeup of the unknown substance. This is a highly variable step that might take weeks and sometimes many months to complete. Solving the structures of unknown compounds is fun, but it takes a lot of patience and the hard work of chemists in our lab.

Testing natural compounds against disease models in the laboratory

Testing natural compounds against disease models in the laboratory (Image Credit: C Coker, Cichewicz Lab)

Step 6: Further testing purified natural product

We study the biological uses of the compounds, as well as share them with our collaborators, many of whom are pharmacologists trained in cancer and infectious disease biology. We work with a network of great scientists from around the country to try and determine the best use for the many new compounds from the fungi. This step can take years to compete, but the good news is that we have many dedicated scientists ready and excited to test the new and amazing compounds from fungi.

It is truly amazing when you consider the lengthy and complex chain of events that unfold once you, a member of our Citizen Scientist Team, takes that first small step of sending in a soil sample. You never know what we may find or where we might find it. Despite all of these uncertainties, there is one thing that is undeniable – without you, we cannot hope to beat diseases like cancer and infections. So do not delay a second longer; request your Citizen Science Soil Collection kit today and join the fight. Or as we like to say, “Get your hands dirty. Make a difference.”

 

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Coop’s Scoop: Speak for the Trees on next #CitSciChat

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B Rosen enjoying The Lorax

B Rosen enjoying The Lorax

In the mid-1800s, when J. Sterling Morton moved to the Nebraska Territory, he soon was homesick for trees. Maybe he missed the sound of leaves rustling in the breeze. Or maybe the pine-fresh scent.  In 1872, as secretary for the Territory, Morton established Arbor Day, and 1 million trees were planted on that first Arbor Day in the Nebraska Territory.

Most fundamentally, trees provide fresh air. Not only do they take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen, they reduce pollutants in the air, improving overall air quality.  The benefits include the shade of full-grown trees (which can lower heating bills). Trees are also habitat (food and shelter) for wildlife, they provide privacy, and place for tire swings and tree houses. Being outside is revitalizing, and being in a landscape with trees and greenery helps people cope with chronic stress.

Great Lawn in Central Park by Ed Yourdon

Great Lawn in Central Park by Ed Yourdon

Because trees provide so many benefits to people, tree-planting events continue, particularly for city trees (avoiding the stinky ones that smell like rotten fish). Cities have programs for residents to help with the care and stewardship of city trees, as with the million tree initiative in New York City. In Philadelphia, residents map planting sites and newly planted trees in PhillyTreeMap, in order to visualize and keep track of the positive impacts of the city’s trees.

Many species of trees face blights of insect pests and diseases. Citizen science efforts monitor tree health.  For example, in OakMapper, participants in California can report suspected cases of Sudden Oak Death (caused by a pathogen).  Seventh and eighth graders in Ohio discovered the emerald ash borer parasitoid in woods adjacent to their school. As millions of ash trees across Europe are killed by a fungus (Chalara fraxinea), citizen scientists participate in a Facebook game (pictured below), Fraxinus, to help align DNA sequences to assess variability in different strains of the pathogen. The results can help researchers understand the genetic code behind the disease.

In recognition of Arbor Day, we’ll discuss citizen science related to trees in the next #CitSciChat. To join the Twitter chat, this Wednesday April 29 at (7:00pm GMT; 2:00pm ET), follow the hashtag #CitSciChat.

Figure 1.

 

 

 

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SciStarter and Citizen Science at Philly Tech Week and the Philadelphia Science Festival!

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met
Wednesday, April 22
9:00am12:00pm 
Excite Center

3401 Market St, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104
In partnership with Drexel University’s Center for Science, Technology & Society and the ExCITe Center, this event will workshop digital projects and their platforms to improve accessibility and empower citizen scientists.SciStarter.com is a Philly start-up with international reach featuring 1,000 citizen science projects in need of help from the public. TheAsthmaFiles.orgis a collaborative ethnographic research project designed to advance understanding and efforts to address environmental public health challenges around the world. Both platforms will benefit from enhanced cyberinfrastructure to make it easier for people to participate in citizen science, track their contributions, connect with others, and more.At this event, representatives from the programs will present an overview and describe their cyber infrastructure challenges.Learn about the projects then weigh in during the hands-on workshop designed to enhance the platforms and improve the experience for participants.
soil
Saturday, April 25
11:00am – 2:00pm
The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education

8480 Hagys Mill Rd, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19128
Meet the SciStarter team and get involved in citizen science to collect microbes from soil for drug discoveries, track air quality, monitor phenology, map tress, build your own ZomBEE trap and more! We’re partnering with Discover Magazine and Astronomy Magazine to bring you more opportunities to get your hands dirty with science!
phillies
Saturday, April 25
6:00pm
SciStarter, Science Cheerleader Discover Magazine and Astronomy Magazine present:
“Be a Citizen’s (Bank) Scientist!”
Get involved in real research projects right in Citizen’s Bank Park at thePhiladelphia Phillies ! Monitor air quality, light pollution, and help inform NASA’s Asteroid Initiative from your stadium seat. Learn about the 1,000 opportunities to become a citizen scientist wherever you are!
fishtown
Sunday, April 26 2pm
Frankford Hall
1210 Frankford Ave, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19114
Take pub hopping to a whole new level during the Fishtown Science Crawl! Enjoy great drink specials as you explore your favorite Fishtown spots. Be A Citizen Scientist: Take part in some Citizen Science with SciStarter and explore Leafsnap, an electronic field guide, or if you’re feeling daring learn all about and zombees! FREE to attend, $5.00 wristband for Happy Hour prices at all venues.
psc
Saturday, May 2
10:00am – 4:00pm
Ben Franklin Parkway
Science like you’ve never enjoyed it before! Meet the SciStarter team andScience Cheerleader s. We’re joined forces with Discover Magazine andAstronomy Magazine to bring you tons of opportunities to do citizen science and make a difference in the world. Find microbes in soil that may advance drug discoveries. Learn how to use low cost sensors to track air and water quality. Design your own community research question and more. Pick up a #citizenscience pin or a copy of a magazine. #GetNerdy!
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Monarch Larva Monitoring Project Helps Citizen Scientists Build Connections to Nature

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monarch larvaThis guest post by Eva Lewandowski describes her experiences with citizen scientists from the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project, which was featured in our recent Spring themed newsletter. Check out the rest of the projects on that list here. The Monarch Larva Monitoring Project is also one of more than 800 citizen science projects on SciStarter. Use our project finder to find one that fits your interests!


What do citizen scientists gain when they collect data for a research study? What do they learn, and how does it change them? These are some of the questions that I try to answer in the course of my PhD research. As a graduate student in the University of Minnesota’s Monarch Lab, I have an up-close view of our lab’s citizen science project, the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project (MLMP), which has given me an excellent opportunity to find out how citizen science affects the citizen scientists themselves.  Over the past few years I’ve spent a great deal of time meeting, writing about, and studying our MLMP volunteers. More often than not, what strikes me about these interactions is the volunteers’ familiarity with and connection to their monitoring sites.

At the MLMP, we study how the population of monarch butterflies varies in space and time; given the dramatic decline in monarch numbers over the past decade, it’s more important than ever that we understand the factors impacting the monarch population. Each fall, monarchs west of the Rocky Mountains migrate to the California coast to overwinter, while the monarchs east of the Rocky Mountains travel thousands of miles to Mexico, where they spend the winter.  In the spring, the monarchs in Mexico begin to make their way north throughout the United States and Canada, going through several generations before they reach their northern-most destinations. Once there, they continue to reproduce until it is time for a new generation to fly south the Mexico.

Throughout the breeding season, MLMP volunteers across North America monitor milkweed patches weekly for monarch eggs and larvae. Volunteers choose their own sites, and the only requirement is that it has milkweed; monarch butterflies will only lay their eggs on milkweed, so it must be present if you hope to find monarch eggs or caterpillars. Milkweed isn’t as prevalent as it once was, but it can still be found in gardens, parks, pastures, and roadways, so volunteers don’t usually have trouble finding a patch to observe; those that do can plant their own milkweed. In addition to counting the number of eggs and larvae that they see, volunteers also provide data on the number and types of milkweed and flowering plants at their site.

volunteer monitoringBecause MLMP volunteers monitor the same milkweed patch week after week, and often year after year, they are usually extremely familiar with their site. Most can tell you off the top of their heads what species of milkweed and nectar plants they have, as well as when they come up and when they bloom; many also know which plants are the monarchs’ favorites and which are preferred by other insects. And because monitoring for monarch eggs and larvae involves carefully examining the leaves of milkweed plants, volunteers encounter a lot more than just monarchs on their milkweed plants. From soldier bugs to milkweed beetles to aphids, MLMP volunteers are familiar with a wide variety of insects that make their home on or around milkweed. Many MLMP volunteers can use the field guide Milkweed, Monarchs and More, coauthored by MLMP Director Dr. Karen Oberhauser, to identify and learn about the flora and fauna commonly found in milkweed patches.

The book focuses mainly on plants, insects, and arachnids, but our volunteers also enjoy observing birds, amphibians, and mammals while collecting data. Participants often snap a picture of the interesting animals they see in their plots to contribute to the MLMP Photo Gallery, such as when long-time MLMP volunteer Jan Sharp found herself “eye to eye” with a tree frog perched on her milkweed, or when Diane Rock stumbled across a black bear in her milkweed patch.

Observing and learning about the plants, animals, and overall ecosystem of their monitoring site is one of the best parts about being an MLMP volunteer, but our volunteers also love that they can share that experience with others. Many of our participants monitor with children, usually their own or their grandchildren, which gives them a chance to connect young people to nature. We even have a few second-generation MLMP volunteers, people who started monitoring with their parents and now monitor their own site or have taken over the original site.

MLMP is so much more than just collecting data on monarch abundance. It’s an opportunity to get outside, to learn about a piece of land and everything that lives on it, and to share that connection with others. We’re always in need of more volunteers; if you’re looking for a chance to get outside and connect with nature, while making a meaningful contribution to science and conservation at the same time, join the MLMP!

Photo: Wendy Caldwell (larva), Gail Gilliland (volunteer monitoring)

Category: Animals, Citizen science, Environment, Plants | Tagged , | Leave a comment