Become a Scientist, School Not Required

| 6/9/2008 3:51:12 PM

Tycho BraheFor the millions of children who grew up idolizing Jonas Salk, Marie Curie, or Tycho Brahe, but were unable to forge careers in science, there may still be hope. A plethora of citizen-science projects are searching for volunteers and support from scientific-minded amateurs with dreams of helping the earth or discovering the next big breakthrough. 

Common Ground magazine offers a nice introduction to citizen-science projects, highlighting work being done by the Collaborative Observatory for Natural Environments (CONE) in Texas, among others. The CONE project allows online birders to snap photos with a robotic web camera to “document the presence of subtropical birds that may be affected by global warming.”

Many citizen science-projects revolve around birding. In fact, the longest ongoing project of this type, the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, was first instituted in 1900. Another birding project, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is at the forefront of the citizen-science movement. One of their many projects, NestWatch (and the newly instituted CamClikr), has citizen scientists peruse archival footage of nesting birds to classify images and avian behavior. 

Not just for the birds, the bees have also been a focus of citizen-science projects. The Great Sunflower Project sends sunflower seeds to volunteers for planting, and asks participants to document bee frequency at the flowers in hopes of “understand[ing] the challenges that bees are facing.” 

For the more internet savvy, the ambitious and much publicized Encyclopedia of Life is looking for “dedicated individuals” to help compile the “most complete biodiversity database on the Web.” The people behind the project are trying to create a taxonomic page for every species on Earth, much like this page for the peregrine falcon. With the help of like-minded individuals, the Encyclopedia of Life hopes to have "a major global impact in facilitating biodiversity research, conservation, and education."

For additional projects and information, visit the Citizen Science Projects blog.

Ken Adams
6/15/2008 10:10:23 PM

I think it's great that peoplepower can be harnessed like this to help further our knowledge. I know that in Lawrence, KS there's a program of tagging monarch butterflies that relies on laypeople for much of the work. It's especially useful when you can get kids involved and cultivate an interest in the sciences.

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