If you have a hobby or passion that you love to think and talk about, April is the perfect month to nurture your interest by joining a project for Citizen Science Month. Citizen science projects encourage people of all ages and across the globe to actively participate in science and research. Contributing to projects also helps non-scientists learn about the world and our place in it.
What is citizen science and why is it so important?
Citizen science isn’t a new concept. Some research has always relied on members of the public to help gather information. But, in the 20th century, citizen science became more prevalent. One of the earliest structured citizen science projects is the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count. For few weeks each year, over 2,000 groups of volunteers work together to collect information about local bird populations in the U.S. and Canada.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines Citizen Science as “Scientific work undertaken by members of the general public, often in collaboration with or under the direction of professional scientists and scientific institutions."
With the rise of technology and the Internet, one of the more out of this world examples of citizen science was the SETI@home project which used citizen scientists to collect and analyze radio telescope data in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.
These and other citizen science projects are a way to be directly involved in active scientific research to increase scientific understanding, and this work is taken seriously. In fact, citizen science has proven to be an invaluable resource for many scientists and researchers. This is because traditionally, scientists have often found it unfeasible to collect and analyze large data sets on their own due to time and resource constraints. But, with the help of hundreds or even thousands of volunteers, the scope and pace of work can be expanded and accelerated. Citizen science is a real way to make lasting contributions.
Benefits of citizen science
Anyone can do it—people of all ages and any location
Technology and apps have made data collection and recording accessible to everyone, anywhere
Allows collaboration with scientists and a network of volunteers
You can work on your own schedule and at your own pace. Work for an afternoon or an hour. Every little bit counts!
What does a citizen scientist do?
The work done by citizen scientists takes many forms across a broad spectrum of science and the humanities. Volunteers collect data and answer real-world questions.
Some projects require help in identifying research questions, collecting and analyzing data and interpreting results. Other projects encourage participants to make new discoveries and develop technologies.
The range of projects is as diverse as the people participating. Project areas include:
Bird counts and diversity
Coral and rocky reefs
Health and welfare
How to get involved in a citizen science project
Whatever your area of interest, chances are, there’s a citizen science project in which to participate. Here are a few websites that list a wide range of citizen science opportunities:
Research faraway galaxies, historical records and diaries or videos of animals in the natural habitats with projects in the sciences, the arts, climate, language, history, space, nature and physics.
Collaborate with scientists and others on real NASA science. Projects include studies about the universe, solar system, sun, earth and space experiments-many of which can be done from anywhere by anyone.
SciStarter has thousands of citizen science projects to choose from. And all throughout the month of April, they’ll be hosting researchers and community leaders give talks about some of the biggest problems citizen scientists are solving. Check out their calendar page.
CitizenScience.gov is an official U.S. government website designed to accelerate the use of crowdsourcing and citizen science across the U.S. government. Find projects and a citizen science community all in one place.
National Geographic promotes projects in biology, ecology and earth science such as bird watches, air pollution monitoring and butterfly monitoring. These projects are recommended by National Geographic for grades 3-12 and adults.
One of the first organizations to harness the power of citizen science, the Smithsonian enlists the public’s help to sustain species around the globe, transcribe historical documents and solve mysteries of the planets and stars.
Ancient Odysseys is a website that makes it easy way to find paleontology and archaeology digs and excavations that welcome the public’s participation. Find a new dinosaur or contribute to the work being done to understand prehistoric settlements as you work right alongside the scientists and researchers.