In these days of lean research budgets, many schools and organizations have decided to harness the power of the average man, woman and child on the street to help with scientific research. That means that we, the common folk, have been given the opportunity to hob knob with the brainy bunch and potentially make a small contribution to science.
Some projects can be done a few days a week in your own backyard; others require weeks abroad and cost thousands of dollars. And some require you to do absolutely nothing. Let’s take a look at what’s out there.
1. Close to Home – many projects can be done in and around your home, neighborhood, and school.
• Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology has several “BirdSleuth” programs (found at http://www.birds.cornell.edu/birdsleuth/ ) for use in local elementary schools to interest kids observing and collecting data about the birds in their area. It gets kids outside and teaches them the scientific process through hands on experience.
• Got an iPhone or an iPad? Download Leafsnap, a free mobile app for the technologically fortunate. The application helps scientists study the local distribution of trees. Snap a photo of a leaf or a flower and the app uploads the photo along with location data to the Leafsnap database for further study.
• Project Feeder Watch – another program run by Cornell’s Ornithology Lab. Fun for all ages – all you need is a birdfeeder and a sharp eye to identify and count the number of birds that come to your feeder.
2. Volunteer Research Trips – want more out of a vacation than just sunburn? Check these trips out sponsored by EarthWatch Worldwide.
• Digging Up Devon’s Roman Ruins – Archaeological dig of an important and newly discovered Roman-British site in Devon, England. Help dig up and record 2000-year-old pottery, structures and roads.
• The Whales of Southern California – Search for and identify whales to help study the impact of human activity on these beautiful mammals. Your research will help to insure their safety as they migrate up the coast.
• When Dinosaurs Ruled Texas – Dig up fossils representing life that existed 100 million years ago around Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas. Help scientists understand the evolutionary history of the area.
3. Volunteer Distributed Computing Project – Or, another way of putting is – sit back and let your computer do the work. Download Berkeley University’s BOINC software (http://boinc.berkeley.edu/download.php) and donate your computer’s idle time for scientific research. The software looks and acts like a screensaver while in the background it analyses retrieved data and reports the results back to Berkeley or other institutions. Here are just few of the programs available:
• Seti@Home – Join the search for intelligent life in the universe.
• Einstein@Home – Help validate Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity by searching for gravitational waves.
• Climateprediction.net – Run a climate model on your computer to help predict the Earth’s climate up to the year 2100.
Well, fellow citizen scientists, these are just a few of the many opportunities waiting out there for you. And there’s something for every budget and every age. I think we all have a vested interest in the planet and to be able to make it a better place, no matter how small the contribution, is a wonderful thing.
This Guest post is by Christine Kane, a graduate of Communication and Journalism. She enjoys writing about a wide-variety of subjects including internet providers for different blogs. She can be reached via email at: Christi.Kane00 @ gmail.com.