The past few decades have seen explosive growth in amateur scientists participating in formal research studies. This “citizen science” gives individuals of all ages and levels of experience an opportunity to contribute to scientific research. Citizen scientists help collect and analyze more data from more places around the world than individual researchers are able to gather without help from the public. In some cases, findings from these projects result in new discoveries and scientific publications.
When considering “who is a scientist?”, there is a common stereotype of the stuffy old man holed up in a lab working in isolation. Science is often regarded as complicated, difficult to understand, and generally not for the public at large. These misconceptions prevent people from seeing how diverse and accessible scientific research can be. Before science became a specific career path with dedicated education and training, scientific discoveries were made by amateurs with a passionate interest in a specific topic. Gregor Mendel was a monk interested in botany who, through careful breeding of pea plants, developed the mathematical foundation of genetics. John Audubon, a businessman who enjoyed watching and drawing birds, became the authority on American bird species and their conservation. While there are aspects of scientific research limited to a laboratory with expensive equipment, amateur scientists contribute meaningful knowledge and further exploration in many scientific fields.
Citizen science projects seek to bridge the gap between scientists and individuals without formal training, while also increasing scientific literacy by involving the public in data collection, research, and discovery. With the formation of groups like the Citizen Science Alliance, SciStarter, and Citizen Science Central, it is easy to find and participate in formal scientific research. Amateur astronomy and birdwatching have long been regarded as accessible science hobbies, but through these citizen science groups, fields such as biology, chemistry, and physics have recently become more accessible to science hobbyists.
In addition to engaging with scientific research, citizen scientists have made unique and exciting discoveries: they found lost satellites, exoplanets, comets, and new galaxy types. Amateur scientists also contribute to global knowledge about monarch butterfly migrations, the distribution of plastic in the ocean, the health of coral reefs, and weather data, to name just a few. There are many projects both locally and internationally in which you can participate. The options for contributing to scientific research are also varied; you can log on to a website and help analyze data that’s already been collected, or you can collect data in your backyard to add to an ongoing study. There are many possibilities to pique your curiosity.
Join Cape Fear Museum’s SciStarter page to start contributing to citizen science projects:
- ISeeChange: What you see change in your backyard, neighborhood, and city is important to our understanding of how climate change and weather affect our communities. Join ISeeChange to help improve local knowledge and research with your observations.
- Community Collaboration Rain, Hail, and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) measures and maps daily precipitation across the county. A brief training and a certified rain gauge are all you need to start contributing data.
Other projects that might be of interest:
- The iNaturalist platform helps you identify plants and animals that you observe. You can also record your observations, adding important data to a repository that researchers use to “better understand and protect nature.” There are many projects specific to North Carolina and even Wilmington.
- Zooniverse is another database that contains many different citizen science projects. There’s something for everyone!
September: Hurricane Season
July: Plastic Free July
June: All About Alligators
May: Rain Gardens
April: Bald Cypress Trees and The Climate Record
March: Ocean Waves
February: The Scientific Method
January 2021: Static Electricity
December: Surviving the Winter Season
November: Marbled Salamanders
October: Controlling Wildfires
September: The Equinox and Changing Seasons
August: Perseid Meteor Shower
July: Plastic Free July
June: Sargasso Sea
May: Getting to Mars
April: Earth Day 50th Anniversary
March: Ghost Trees
January 2020: Biodiversity of the Cape Fear