We may not be able to be in the laboratory right now, but we can still think like
scientists! Right now, there are a multitude of science projects that we can participate in via the internet These projects are part of the Citizen Science movement, where people can participate in scientific experiments by making observations and sharing their results with the researchers. For example, one of my citizen science projects, FoldIt, helps researchers to solve protein structures by playing puzzles on their computers. Using the data collected from the game, scientists are hoping to learn whether humans are more efficient at determining protein folding than computers.
April is Citizen Science Month, so it is the perfect time for you to start contributing to a project! SciStarter has curated an extensive list of Citizen Science projects by grade level. We decided to highlight five citizen science projects with smartphone apps that can be done on a walk outside. These projects will encourage you to make observations and think scientifically outside the classroom. All of the data that you contribute to the app will contribute to these projects. Plus, they’ll encourage you to walk around your neighborhood or local park, encouraging exercise and fresh air, but be sure to practice social distancing!
- Pl@ntNet: Are you interested in knowing more about the plants you encounter on
a nature walk? With a snapshot on your phone and answers to a few questions, Pl@ntNet helps you to identify plants. The data is then used as part of a larger environmental and earth biodiversity project. Data from the app is also used to identify and track the spread of invasive plant species.
- eBird (and Merlin): These apps from the Cornell School of Ornithology help you to identify and report birds in your neighborhood. Using pictures and a series of questions, Merlin helps you to identify birds. eBird allows you to log the birds you see in your neighborhood. The data is then used to track migration of birds, and the real time diversity and distribution of bird species in geographic regions.
- iNaturalist: Like Pl@ntNet and eBird, iNaturalist is a program that focuses on biodiversity. With this app, you can keep track of any wildlife you may interact with over the course of your nature walks. The cumulative data is uploaded scientific data repositories like the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, where it can be downloaded by researchers.
- Marine Debris Tracker: The presence of litter and debris in our environment is problematic. Animals can mistake litter for food, get tangled in it, and it eventually the trash will up in our water supply. This app keeps track of litter in you neighborhood to help combat plastics pollution. While this is called the “Marine” Debris Tracker, it can be used to keep track of litter everywhere. Be sure to bring some gloves and a plastic bag to collect the litter you find!
- ISeeChange: Interested in climate science? Through different projects, participants will monitor the local environment, tracking weather, bugs in your backyard, and even plant growth. One of the most interesting projects is “Early Spring,” where you keep track of when plants begin to bloom in your neighborhood.
As a bonus, check out Zooniverse: This app hosts a collection of over 50 citizen science projects ranging from fighting antibiotic resistance to counting penguins!