How can you help support the future of scientific research, without being a full time scientist yourself? The reality is that the idea of a ‘citizen scientist’ has picked up significant momentum over the last few years, and there are a growing number of ways for you to get involved in ground-breaking scientific research, without taking a full-time job at the bench. Here are five of our favourite citizen science projects taking place at the moment.
Looking for little green men with SETI
Does it get much cooler than looking for aliens with some of the best radio telescopes the world has to offer? SETI (search for extra-terrestrial intelligence) has been associated with citizen science for a long time. For decades they’ve been scanning the skies for radio signals that look like they could come from aliens, and they’ve been using any computer available to analyse the data (including the one that we're currently typing this blog on!).
Following the launch and success of the Kepler space telescope, over a thousand exoplanets have been discovered, and SETI are pointing their telescope at these to focus their search. We don’t know for sure what radio frequencies aliens would use, and while SETI software is good at detecting interesting signals, it struggles at the frequencies we use for communications on Earth because we’re swamped in our own radio waves. SETI have recruited citizen scientists to help pick out interesting data where it looks like the signal is foreign. If several volunteers pick out the same picture, they’ll retrain their telescope onto that exoplanet. Cool! To get involved, go to http://www.setilive.org/
Managing ash dieback disease
Ash dieback disease was discovered in the 1990s in Poland, spreading rapidly across Europe and causing a fair bit of worry. Scientists have since been busy trying to track the disease and find out ways to control it. They developed a mobile application for members of the public to identify infected & healthy trees and to record these along with their geographical location. Not only does this allow researchers to monitor the spread of the disease but it might help them identify resistant trees. They can then investigate the mechanisms of resistance in these examples and potentially grow new ash trees with seeds or shoot tissue from them. To join the project go to https://www.ashtag.org/
The ant apocalypse
You’re driving home from work, and suddenly there are flying ants everywhere. Surely they’re taking over the world. But then the next morning, not a single one remains. We’ve been saved, Iron Man and the crew must have put in an extra night shift. While tempting, UK scientists don’t think that’s the most plausible explanation, and they want to find out if there are any patterns to flying ant outbreaks, such as correlations with weather, location etc. They asked citizen scientists to report their flying ant sightings along with geographical and meteorological data, and found that ants really aren’t very predictable. As more people contribute, hopefully we’ll collect enough data to tease out some patterns and insights. Learn more at http://www.rsb.org.uk/get-involved/biologyweek/flying-ant-survey
Argh me matey, get that data down
One of the challenges with constructing accurate climate models is obtaining good historical data. Fortunately a wealth of such data has been recorded in shipping logs from the Arctic Ocean for hundreds of years. To use this data in modern computer models it first needs to be digitised (quite an undertaking as you can probably imagine). But fear not! Citizen scientists have been helping to transfer this wealth of data onto computers. Have some fun and help climatologists here: http://www.oldweather.org/#/
Dr Caspar Addyman sees baby laughter as an opportunity to investigate how babies communicate and to explore the unique human facet that is a sense of humour. To conduct his research, he asked parents to answer questions about what makes their babies laugh and to send in videos of their giggling infants. He got a great response and is now analysing the data. To get involved (or just to brighten your own day visit his website: http://babylaughter.net/
What's your favourite citizen scientist project?
Well there you have it, five cool citizen scientist projects you should definitely check out if you fancy contributing to some awesome research. Don't forget to share your favourite in the comments below!