Friday, October 7, 2011

Citizens...For Science!

(originally posted June 23, 2011)

Do you think it would be fun to take data, record observations, make discoveries, and contribute to the world of science? Or perhaps you’re a Nature Geek who already works in a science field but due to your geekiness you just can’t get enough? Then citizen science is for you!

Citizen science was a concept I was introduced to a few years back when I got to participate in a gopher tortoise survey along with about 20 other nature enthusiasts. The idea of citizen science is to use average American citizens to contribute to a real scientific study, regardless of their background or experience in a scientific field. Perhaps you have heard of the Great Backyard Bird Count or the Christmas Bird Count? These are both examples of citizen science programs managed by the Audubon Society and Cornell Lab of Ornithology, where participants submit lists of all the birds seen at their backyard bird feeders on a specific day.

A citizen project I learned about today is called The Lost Ladybug Project. Native ladybugs are rapidly declining in the United States, it is suspected due to the increase in the numbers of exotic ladybugs. To try to find out where the natives are and in what numbers, a team of science organizations has banded together to ask citizens to photograph any and all ladybugs they see and submit them to their database. You find a ladybug, photograph it, submit the photo, and you’ve made a significant contribution to a scientific study. Simple as that!

Sound like fun yet? Perhaps you’re thinking that birds and bugs aren’t quite your thing. Well there are all kinds of citizen science projects for every kind of science. As I write this, Mr. Nature Geek sits at his computer behind me, playing a DNA sequencing “game” that is really using his brain to help solve Multiple Sequence Alignments! 
(not that I know what that means, it just sounds really impressive) 

If you’re interested in participating in a citizen science project, Science for Citizens is the best place to go. There you can search for projects that are specific to your interests, time investment, zip code, and level of difficulty. And yes, my young Nature Geeks in training, there are projects for kids too! So get out there, have fun, and make a difference with citizen science!

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