Friday, August 30, 2013

Just Wondering: What is Citizen Science?

On a recent drive between soccer practice and grocery shopping, Terza claimed that our neighborhood has the highest concentration of American Robins in the country.
"I'm pretty sure we have the most Robin Birds around here, because, like, I hardly ever see them anywhere else."
I told her that the American Robin is very common to a lot of places. I offered to help her look up its distribution across the U.S.
"Ok. Mama, can we meet a scientist someday?"
"Your father is a scientist. He is a computer scientist."
"I know. I want to meet a dinosaur scientist."
I told her ok, we could meet a paleontologist someday. We went on with the drive, mostly in silence. Then Terza added,
"I bet if we asked the dinosaur scientist about that Robin thing, they'd know it like easy peasy lemon squeezy."

It used to be that if you wanted to do science, you got a job as a scientist. If you wanted to help scientists, maybe you signed up for a medical trial. Now, there is so much more that regular folks (aka "citizens") can do with and for science.

Birding is an easy, family-friendly introduction to citizen science. Start with a project like the Great Backyard Bird Count. If birding becomes something you all enjoy, keep it going with eBird.

Do you like to hike? Well, you can do some science on your next trek with the Wavyleaf Mapping Project from Towson University. Download a free app to your smartphone, study the pictures of this invasive plant, and keep a lookout.

Have you ever wondered just what kinds of bugs are making those noises, especially at night? You can use your smartphone to record those sounds and upload them for others to identify.

Nature is all around us, and there are lots of ways to do science with nature. What if you're more interested in chemistry or robotics? Would you like to advance space science by playing a computer game? Visit Science Starter to search for projects that fit with your age, location, and interests.

This is just the tip of of the citizen science iceberg. What else is out there?

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