By Lily Bui - Executive Editor April 14th, 2014 at 11:40 am | Comment
What happens when you combine professional cheerleaders, microbiologists, and astronauts? The answer is Project MERCCURI and the Microbial Playoffs… in SPAAACE!
SPACE FLORIDA, FL — Today, something amazing is headed toward the ISS—microbial life from earth!This moment is the culmination of a citizen science experiment called Project MERCCURI (Microbial Ecology Research Combining Citizen and University Researchers on the ISS), a collaboration between NASA, UC Davis, SciStarter, and Science Cheerleaders.
Watch the launch LIVE today at 4:58pm ET / 1:58 PT on NASA TV!!
There were two main goals for the project. The first involves a huge competition that will take place on the ISS between 47 different microbes that have been collected by thousands of public participants from the surfaces of various public spaces (mostly sporting venues). The microbial competitors will face off against each other to see who will grow the fastest, and the race will be monitored by astronauts on the ISS, using standard laboratory equipment. Researchers at UC Davis will host an identical race using the same kind of equipment on Earth.
The second goal involves sending 4,000 cell samples to Argonne National Lab to be sequenced by Jack Gilbert. The lab will identify which microbes are present on the surfaces of cell phones and shoes and compare them to other cell phone and shoe samples from around the country. While astronauts do not carry cell phones or wear shoes, they will be swabbing similar surfaces onboard the ISS, like foot holds that they strap their feet into while they are operating the external robotic arms and their wall-mounted communication devices.
You can get to know all of the microbial competitors, who they are, where they’re from, and why they are so cool on the official website. If you want, you can even print your own Microbial Trading Cards. Cell phone and shoe collections will continue through April!
The microbes are sailing into space today aboard Space X’s Dragon spacecraft. SciStarter’s founder, Darlene Cavalier, is on site today at the launch. She notes, “We’re here, in part, as representatives of the thousands of citizen scientists who participated in this important research project to study microbes on Earth and in space!”
— Liz Heinecke (@KitchPantrySci) April 14, 2014
— Phil Plait (@BadAstronomer) April 14, 2014
Thank you to all who made this project possible. It’s pure proof that the sky is the limit for what we can do in science, together.
For more, follow #SpaceMicrobes on Twitter.
Image: Darlene Cavalier
By Lily Bui - Executive Editor April 10th, 2014 at 3:36 pm | Comment
Collect and share pictures of memorable encounters with nature using the WildObs app.
Want more citizen science? Don’t worry. There’s an app for that.
There are nature lovers, wildlife photographers, hikers, kayakers and birdwatchers who pursue their passion every day, and most of them do so in the hope of spotting an osprey, or catching a glimpse of a mountain lion or bear. As rewarding as these sightings are, there is an equally fulfilling joy to be found in identifying a clump of apple snail eggs, butterfly or a nighthawk chick. This is what WildObs (official site), a crowdsourced program that partners with the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) does—it serves as a portal geared for enthusiasts rather than naturalists or scientists—users who want to gather, share and comment on their day to day sightings.
Adam Jack the creator of the program launched it in 2008. “As a nature lover with a glorious number of encounters, and a reasonably technical iPhone user, I wanted to be able to remember wildlife I saw; what, where and when I saw the wildlife, and ideally try to build a community database to identify good places to find critters,” he said. The idea to build WildObs came in part from Goodreads; the system for books you’ve read, books you’d like to read, and book discovery. “Why not be able to record what wildlife you’ve seen, mark species as favorites, and so on. Given that knowledge the system could inform you about what has been seen recently around you, educate you with the wildlife you might not know existed, and bring you local news from other wildlife lovers.” The idea was to connect people, places and wildlife.
You can record your encounters for your own studies, or enjoyment, use the records you produce to develop a personal wildlife calendar for the year, or maintain a life list as you learn about new species. The NWF uses the program as part of their Wildlife Watch initiative, to track the occurrences of natural phenomena. In addition you can share wildlife Stories online and join the NWF Flickr group. All of this is available to both first timers and professionals.
As a wildlife community, WildObs participants help each other find the nature (for a photograph or close encounter) and users learn about the species in their neighborhoods, so the app essentially offers a collaborative wildlife experience—it helps people connect people to wildlife. When asked if the project plans to publish any findings related to the user collection, Jack says, “The database only has tens of thousands of records to date. WildObs has become more a system of ‘interesting encounters’ than every encounter. It doesn’t have bioblitz-type data, but rather more individual sightings—a Moose here, or a Bobcat there.” There are currently a few thousand users.
There is always at least one exciting thing about a participatory project—something that enthuses users or that sparked the first idea for it. For Adam Jack and WildObs that would be how the app shares encounters amongst the community. “The app send its users custom notifications tailored to their interests, location and species encounter history. The ultimate goal for WildObs is to connect and engage people with the wildlife around them, and to excite them to go explore and enjoy,” says Jack. It actually sounds a bit like Instagram for nature lovers, which seems to be a pretty neat idea. Join the WildObs community via your Android or iPhone and use technology to help you connect with nature.
Images: Ian Vorster
Android App: http://wildobs.com/about/android
iPhone App: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/wildobs-observer/id309451803?mt=8
WildObs on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/services/apps/72157607039309200/
Ian Vorster has a MS in Environmental Communications and most recently served as director of communications at the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts. Prior to that he worked in the health communications field. Ian has served as a designer, writer, photographer, editor and project leader in the field of science, and now works freelance in a blend of these roles. You can see more of Ian’s work at dragonflyec.com.
By Lily Bui - Executive Editor April 8th, 2014 at 4:13 pm | Comment
Thames Valley Sewer System overwhelmed and instrumentation destroyed, how you can contribute to water monitoring with citizen science.
Flooding is not just a problem for residents and local businesses; it is also a major issue for the UK’s water companies. Throughout the closing months of 2013 and the start of the current year, England was hit with torrential rain and areas of serious flooding; especially in the southern regions. The amount of flood water entering the sewage pipe network caused companies like Thames Water to lose all of their instrumentation and monitoring equipment. Floodwater effectively drowned the devices put in place by the company, meaning they had to replace them all.
This procedure involved turning water supplies off as engineers installed new monitoring equipment, costing millions of pounds to implement. The exact amount of money this cost Thames Water is uncertain and is hard to specify; it all very much depends on the type of monitoring equipment and the scale of repair. Whatever the cost, it is an expense Thames Water could have done without! So why didn’t the instrumentation in place warn Thames Water of the flood risk before it actually happened? What can the company do to avoid this problem in the future? This article aims to answer these questions.
Flood Management – Who is Responsible?
Nationally, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is responsible for flood policies and coastal erosion risk management. This organisation also provides funding for flood risk management authorities via grants from the Environmental Agency and other local authorities. There are other societies and authorities that share responsibility of flood management including:
- The Environment Agency – Operational responsibility for overseeing the risk of flooding from main reservoirs, rivers, estuaries and the sea. This association is also a coastal erosion rick management authority.
- Lead Local Flood Authorities – Responsible for creating, maintaining and applying strategies for local flood risk management and also keeping a register of flood risk assets. These authorities analyse the risk of flooding from surface water and groundwater.
- District Councils – Working alongside Lead Local Flood Authorities and other organisations, these are important partners in planning local flood risk management schemes and carrying out operations on minor watercourses.
- Highway Authorities – Responsible for supplying and maintaining highway drainage and roadside ditches. These must ensure road projects to not interfere with or increase the risk of flooding.
- Water and Sewerage Companies – These companies are also responsible for managing flood risks, from both water and foul or combined sewer systems.
All of these mentioned authorities have a duty to co-operate with each other and to share information, under the Flood and Water Management Act 2010. This act ensures all flood risk management authorities work together to provide the best possible flood risk management for the benefit of the relevant communities.
What Causes Flooding?
Aside from the obvious, there are quite a few possible causes of flooding. Terrible weather with relentless rainfall is of course the main cause of most floods, but there are other contributory factors too. Climate change, deforestation, population growth and paving over natural drainage areas are all putting increasing pressure on the UK’s sewerage network. This can be made even worse by individuals putting inappropriate substances and products into the drains, such as wet-wipes and food products.
But what caused such major flooding in the Thames Valley area? How did the company lose all of its instrumentation and why was this area affected so badly by the weather? Well, the majority of areas within England have divided sewers to take rainwater and foul waste separately; but in many areas of London the sewer system is combined. This means foul waste and rainwater is combined in one sewer system. During a heavy storm this can cause the sewer flow to be much greater than usual and can often reach maximum capacity; causing the system to overflow and destroy the monitoring equipment installed.
Citizen Science – Weather@home 2014
As UK water companies identify and implement a definitive sustainable solution to flooding, what can normal citizens do to help in the meantime? Well first and foremost, information on recent flooding events in your area will help experts further understand the processes and how best to avoid the risk. So photographs, measurements and any other kind of recorded information you can obtain will help towards this.
The University of Oxford currently have a team of scientists who are working on a new citizen science project, Weather@home 2014, designed to help better understand the 2013-14 floods within the UK. There are many arguments as to what causes flooding; including inundated drainage systems, inadequate flood defences and increased urbanisation of land. But perhaps the most consistent debate lies with the connection between climate change and extreme weather changes. Weather@home 2014 investigates how much effect climate change had on the UK winter storms and aims to answer this question via the use of climate models.
Running climate models can be extremely time-consuming, but more runs mean more comparisons and ultimately stronger trends. With this in mind, scientists are asking anybody who is interested in helping out to sign up and help complete up to 30,000 climate model reruns of winter 2013-14. Each rerun will have different assumptions about the influences of climate change on weather patterns. This is an innovative approach as it uses citizens as contributors to scientific analysis, rather than simple data collectors. Results are still pouring in and live outcomes are being posted on the project website almost every single day.
Citizen Science – Doing Flood Risk Science Differently
Flood scientist Stuart Lane and a group of researchers have been participating in another citizen science project; taking a completely different approach. The published paper, Doing flood risk science differently: an experiment in radical scientific method, details the work of an interdisciplinary team of natural and social scientists attempting an experiment in flood management within the Pickering area. The project involves scientific experts and citizens with experience in flooding, without providing them with pre-defined roles.
Each group worked in unison to generate new knowledge about a particular flooding event and to negotiate the different assumptions and commitments of each group. Participants in each group were seen to have relevant knowledge and understandings and efforts were made to expand collective perceptions, which were not set apart between academics and non-academics.
This particular project supported scientific understandings of flood hydrology via the creation of fresh models and the compilation of qualitative insights and experiences of flooding. In addition to this, the project also helped to overcome an impasse in the management of floods in Pickering by reconfiguring the relationship between scientific experts and local residents. Previously, no decision had been made to combat the appropriate use of resources for flood risk management. Both of these opposing citizen science projects help to showcase the wide variety of methods in which non-scientists can involve themselves in important research projects.
[Find more weather-related citizen science projects using SciStarter's Project Finder.]
Thames Water Solution
In order to reduce the risk of sewer flooding in the future, water companies need to reduce the amount of rainwater entering the sewer network. Additional capacity and some new sewer systems would also largely help the situation too. Thames Water has already put some processes in place in many areas, such as installing new sensing devices to record water flow. This equipment has already proved helpful and allows the company to respond quickly to changes in weather and ground conditions. Thames Water also aims to spend up to £350million on a major programme of improvements before the year 2015, which includes:
- A new storm relief sewer to be installed across the catchment area;
- Enhancements to be made to the existing network;
- A sustainable drainage system (SuDS) scheme;
- Targeted installation of more anti-flood (FLIP) devices.
These plans were submitted to their regulator, Ofwat, with the aim of enhancing the sewerage network in the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea and the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham. All decisions and improvements made must be based on accurate data and balanced against the need for new investment, careful management and community education. Accurate instrumentation and monitoring can help to achieve this data; so I suppose the saying should go: if you look after your monitors, they will look after you!
Image: Wikimedia (Thames flood level markers at Trinity Hospital, Greenwich. The marker on the right is for 1928)
Hayden Hill is an environmental expert and an editorial coordinator for ATi-UK. He believes that before the torrential flooding in 2012, monitoring devices were not being instrumented or managed properly. With the introduction of newer, more efficient systems, Ian believes that UK water companies will have a clearer indication of potential flood risks before they actually materialise.
By Lily Bui - Executive Editor April 7th, 2014 at 4:38 pm | Comment
April is the month for science festivals. Join the SciStarter team at a festival near you later on this month — bring yourselves, and we’ll bring the citizen science!
Friday, April 18 – Sunday, April 27
Come check out the diverse spectrum of citizen science projects out there! On April 19th during the Science Carnival event, our friends at EyeWire, Games With Words, GoViral, NOVA Labs, Public Lab, and Project MERCCURI will be joining us and demonstrating how to participate in their projects.
Saturday, April 26 – Sunday, April 27
SciStarter will be partnering up with PaleoQuest to demonstrate their Shark Finder project. The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center will also be coming by to tell you about their new citizen science initiatives! Project MERCCURI will also be on deck. Stop by and say hello!
Friday, April 25 – Saturday, May 3, 2014
The Philly SciFest always brings a plethora of activities to choose from! SciStarter and Project MERCCURI will have a booth during the Science Carnival event on May 3rd. Come help us end this season of science festivals with a bang!
Interested in volunteering with us for any (or all) of these events? Shoot an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org!
By Jenna Lang April 4th, 2014 at 11:18 am | Comment
If you think science is out of reach, think again! Here are some citizen science apps you’ll always have at your fingertips!
With this App from The Science Channel, you can spy on nature and contribute to science. Share photos and observations, contribute to research initiatives. Get started!
Capture and share observations of sky and ground conditions near you to help researchers check the quality of satellite data. You’ll receive the satellite image captured at your location! Get started!
“Invasive” plants crowd out food sources for wild animals and create other headaches in nature. Use this app to help identify and locate them for removal. Get started!
Capture wildlife encounters and use them to develop your own wildlife calendar. Partner of National Wildlife Federation’s Wildlife Watch working with scientific studies to extract citizen science from your recorded encounters. Get started!
Want to run your own Citizen Science project? There’s an App for that, too! SENSR can help you create a mobile data collection tool for your project. Get started!
Calling hackers and developers! SciStarter is organizing pop-up hackathons to develop open APIs and other tools to help citizen scientists. Sign up to join us at hack days and science festivals in Boston, Philly, NYC, or Washington, DC in April!
Want to bring citizen science into the classroom? Check out our Educators Page to learn more about how to integrate projects into your curriculum.
SciStarter and Azavea (with support from Sloan Foundation) spent the last year investigating developments in software, hardware, and data processing capability for citizen science. Here’s what we found.
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