Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology has just begun its 24th year of Project FeederWatch. This annual winter citizen science program asks participants to maintain bird feeders in a clearly defined observational area, like your backyard view from the kitchen window, and count maximum numbers of identifiable birds on selected observation days.

The observational period runs from November 13 through April 8, and anyone may still register to get involved in the 2010-2011 season. Registration may be quickly completed online and costs $15. With this fee, you will receive an observational kit including a bird-identification poster, bird-feeding information, and instructional materials.

The data collected from participating citizen scientists is extremely valuable for monitoring the distribution of winter birds all over North America. And, because the program requests reporting to be completed every week, if possible, a very detailed and dynamic view of bird populations can be developed during the observational period.

The FeederWatch project is a perfect opportunity for anyone who is a casual backyard bird watcher to take only a small step to observing birds at the next level. The information provided to the Lab or Ornithology will be used by engaged researchers who are dedicated to monitoring and protecting our avian friends.

This program also offers a great educational experience for families to enjoy together at home. Through making observational identifications (which is made much easier with the provided poster and additional online resources–see All About Birds), recording and submitting data, and reviewing and exploring current data online, young learners will have a self-guided experience to develop critical skills along with a new appreciation for nature and the scientific process.

Dynamic Patterns Research has just registered with Project FeederWatch, so we will be participating in the current season. After our first observational days and reporting has been completed, we will post our results and experience here on DPR.

If you are also participating, please let us know by commenting below or contact us. We would like to share your observations with brief summaries here on Dynamic Patterns Research to report on active citizen scientists and their efforts and experiences.

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Learn more about Project FeederWatch

Learn about Project FeederWatch’s resources for homeschooling families.

Register Now for Project FeederWatch 2010-2011 Season

 

Last year, DPR AmSci Journal wrote about a great new citizen science program called Citizen Sky [read from August 26, 2009]. This project is collecting observational data on the current eclipsing of the variable binary star system epsilon Aurigae. The primary star is estimated to be 300 times the diameter of our Sun, and the eclipsing object orbits at about the equivalent distance of Neptune from the Sun.

Measured eclipse durations of epsilon Aurigae
Eclipse durations measurements of epsilon Aurigae. Courtesy CitizenSky.org.

Discovered in 1821 by Johann Fritsch, the system has continued to be a mystery with its odd 27-year eclipsing cycle coupled with a 600+ day eclipse, which has been increasing in length during each cycle.

The most recent plausible hypothesis to describe this interaction was proposed in 1965, which suggests that an edge-on disk, possibly surrounding another star or planet, is orbiting the giant star. This idea was just recently confirmed with the direct observation of the current eclipse from an international team lead by Brian Kloppenborg at the University of Denver, and joined by groups from the University of St Andrews, Georgia State, and the University of Michigan.

Combining the images from four separate telescopes, this innovative method uses optical interferometry to generate a spectacular view of the eclipse estimated to be 140 times sharper than what the Hubble Space Telescope could generate.

CHARA-MIRC Image of Eclipsing epsilon Aurigae
CHARA-MIRC Image of Eclipsing epsilon Aurigae. Courtesy University of Michigan Astronomy

The eclipse began in August 2009, and will be in its dim minimum throughout 2010 until returning to normal brightness in the summer of 2011. Over one thousand citizen scientists have been participating and more are still being requested to help collect as much data as possible over the next year.

With all of the participants in this science program, and the hundreds of thousands of citizens working with the ever-growing collection of real science opportunities for the public, it is interesting to start considering how this participation actually influences the individual volunteers.

Graduate student and staff member at the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO), Aaron Price, has been developing his thesis in science education at Tufts University to begin exploring this important connection between science literacy and the volunteer citizen scientists. Using a series of pre- and post-surveys administered to actual users of the Citizen Sky project, Mr. Price develops quantitative reviews of how some aspects of scientific literacy can be impacted by direct participation in collaborative citizen science programs.

This type of research should become an important building block for the continued success and development of future citizen science programs. By learning to focus in on how to best connect a broader population into an increased level of general scientific understanding and appreciation will not only allow for scientific advances to progress more efficiently, but the participating cultures will benefit as a whole with more sophisticated ways of living.

You may watch Mr. Price’s dissertation defense live, and even participate yourself with questions, on November 1, 2010. With this streaming event, we should participate as active citizen scientists to help guide the professional scientific community in the underlying understanding of how these projects connect with the participants so that future citizen science projects may be improved and developed with new education innovations.

WATCH LIVE
“Scientific Literacy of Adult Participants in an Online Citizen Science Project”
Time: Monday, November 1, 2010 at 4:30pm (EST)

Location: Crane Room, Paige Hall, 12 Upper Campus Road, Medford, MA 02155

If you do watch the defense and participate, please comment below or on the DPR Facebook page to tell us what you thought of the discussion. How do you feel your personal scientific literacy has changed since participating in citizen science programs? Do you think that these projects are valuable methods for expanding the general public’s appreciation for scientific understanding?

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“Online streaming of dissertation defense about Citizen Sky” :: blog posting by Aaron Price :: October 22, 2010 :: [ READ ]

“Scientists capture ‘terrifying’ Tolkien-like eclipse (w/ Video)” :: PhysOrg.com :: April 7, 2010 :: [ READ ]

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Learn more about the Citizen Sky project and register to prepare to submit your own observations of epsilon Aurigae. There is still plenty of time to participate as the 600-plus-day long eclipse in only half-way complete.

 

Skimming by Earth as close as 11 million miles on October 20, the apparently young Hartley 2 comet will be nearly visible to the unaided eye. With binoculars, it will appear even better as a fuzzy, green blob, and a backyard telescope will offer excellent viewing. The next several days should be busy mornings for amateur astronomers, and will also be a great time for anyone to do some easy viewing of a special celestial event.

Head outside while it is still dark before sunrise, and look upward to the north. Passing through the constellation Auriga will be an unusual green blip from October 17 through October 20. If you are skilled in taking photographs… or, just want to give it a try!… please post your images on our Facebook page and tell us about how you took the image and what equipment you used. We are very interested to see the results from experienced amateurs as well as first-time astro-photographers.

Sky map for Comet 103P/Hartley 2 on October 17 through 20

Sky map for Comet 103P/Hartley 2 on October 17 through 20. Courtesy Spaceweather.com

Discovered in 1986 by Malcolm Hartley, Comet 103P/Hartley 2 orbits the Sun about every 6 1/2 years. Based on current estimates of mass loss, it’s expected to last for another 700 years. [ READ MORE ] What’s particularly interesting about this comet is that it is relatively small–just less than a mile in diameter–but the nucleus is still very active. On November 4, 2010, NASA’s Deep Impact/EPOXI spacecraft will venture only 435 miles away from the comet to frantically take images and data about the unique comet. At this point in the comet’s orbit, it will be about at its closest approach to the Sun, called the perihelion distance, and the ice formed during it’s long journey in the outer solar system will be vaporizing at rates that are much higher than other previously observed comets. EPOXI will be close enough to take stunning images of out-gassing, and it will potentially observe physical features directly on the surface of the nucleus at a resolution of 7 meters per pixel.

Orbit Diagram of Comet 103P/Hartley 2 generated from NASA's JPL Small-Body Database Browser

Orbit Diagram of Comet 103P/Hartley 2 generated from NASA's JPL Small-Body Database Browser.

This study is so important because Hartley 2 will be only the fifth comet nucleus viewed up close and personal by NASA. And, comets are critically important because they represent untouched remnants from the formation of our solar system. These chunks of pre-system debris did not get sucked into a forming planet long ago, so they contain material that was present way before even the Earth started preparing itself for the development of life.

Be sure to learn more about this exciting Comet 103P/Hartley 2 and how NASA is preparing to study the orbiting body [ READ MORE ]. Take the time this week to head out in the early morning and look up for the green, glowing blob that might prove to be a treasure trove of new scientific understanding.

 

What a special weekend for citizen scientists, amateur researchers, and do-it-yourself enthusiasts of all kinds (from techies to crafties)! The World Maker Faire is going on right now at the New York Hall of Science in Queens… the site of the 1964 World’s Fair.

This grand event features a plethora of wonderful projects, how-to’s, and hands-on experience for doing more cool things yourself. Key people in the DIY-world are presenting at the Faire, including Stephen Wolfram, creator of Mathematica and Wolfram|Alpha, who spoke on Saturday about discovering and creating on your own interesting computational programs that do remarkable things.

If you aren’t attending this year’s Faire, you can keep track of the events taking place by checking out their daily postings.

If you are attending, please tell us what exciting things you discover, and post a picture on the Dynamic Patterns Research Facebook page.

 

The scientific elite have been moving forward with their advancements in science at an accelerated pace over the past one hundred years. It is this exponentially speedy development that is providing modest hope to even the Gen-X babies at reaching the moment in the near future–maybe as early as 2042–where living forever will be a technological reality.

This seemly unbounded, fast-forward approach is presumed to be an unquestioned modus operandi for the professional scientist. One must publish or perish in the academic world, and one must be the first to figure out the new science or you can just forget about that tenure track and lifetime job security.

It is also assumed that science, in general, is searching for the truth, and, it would seem that everyone might want to know the truth. And, if we are moving toward the truth sooner than later, then there should be nothing wrong with these sorts of noble, fast-pace, truth-seeking efforts. But, what does the broader populace think about all of the advances, and does what the non-scientific professional think and care about actually matter?

Margaret Wertheim, the director of the Institute of Figuring, recently wrote an opinion article for the Australian Broadcasting Company that presents a clear frustration about how seemingly unchecked advancements in science and technology are allegedly leading to the demise of the planet’s global environment, especially that of coral reef ecosystems. A native of Australia and currently residing in Los Angeles, Ms. Wertheim focuses a great deal through the Institute on publicizing the crises being experienced by coral reefs and believes that citizens can really do something about it.

The idea presented is to develop influential panels composed of concerned citizens who can hear and learn about recent scientific advances, and then help evaluate and predict the potential repercussions of implementing the new science. This sort of “citizen science advisory panel” would possibly provide generalized recommendations, and even offer representative wishes from the masses as to what is desired to come out of new science and technology. The goal with this idea is to open up the dialog to not only present the new science, but to actively discuss its ramifications.

New opportunities for involved interactions between citizens and their society’s professional scientists are becoming more critical for the continued advancement of science. The results of these sorts of interactions today offer more efficient and wide-spread data collection capabilities for the professionals, and they provide an outstanding method for informal education so that more people will appreciate and understand the universe from the backyard to other galaxies.

Opening a formalized dialog between citizen scientists and professional academics can add to this productive collaboration. However, the purpose of the Ms. Wertheim’s proposed panels could also offer a detrimental effect on the advancement of research if not focused correctly. The concern seems to be that advancing science is somehow out-of-control and directly leading to the destruction of ecosystems. Although it is certainly true that some technologies negatively impact our environment, there must be a clear distinction between the discussion about the study and research of new science and the implementation of new science.

A worrisome extreme case of a negative citizen science panel might be a group of non-scientists who collectively don’t want to see certain advancements move forward for personal, religious, or narrow view-points. The panel would act to restrict the research either by trying to influence political policy decisions or filing lawsuits. Scientists would become so frustrated with the red-tape required to “make the masses happy” about their own work that it becomes entirely uninteresting to even pursue a career in academia. And, private research companies–who could possibly avoid the wrath of the panel–might become the primary source for science discovery, but then resulting in extreme secrecy, competition, and the exclusion of knowledge sharing to only further stifle new advancements.

On the other hand, a positive citizen science panel might be one that also participates in the research being considered, or at least is a representative body for a large-scale collaboration of citizen scientists from around the world. The panel could perform their discussion online or by web-based conferences hosted by local academic institutions.

If the panel is designed for a more generalized dialog with scientists with the goal of keeping the professionals in groove with the culture in which they work, the goal of the panel’s feedback should be more focused on the implementation of a particular scientific advancement. Although a hypothetical citizen science advisory panel in the 1940’s might have limited the development and utilization of an atomic bomb during World War II, for example, it should have maintained a role of addressing concerns about implementation of the science, and not on restricting the timely advancements in understanding of quantum mechanics and nuclear interactions.

In addition, professional scientists would have a long-term advantage to take part in the development of citizen science panels, whether they be advisory or collaborative. There can only be positive repercussions from bringing more people to a higher level of understanding of both established scientific understanding and cutting-edge research. With a broader appreciation from a culture, financial support of professional work will become easier to obtain and more individuals will be motivated to follow into the scientific research world.

This appreciation will also bring a more sophisticated approach to science policy-making by elected government officials. Sometimes it seems that governments lack so much understanding of basic scientific principals, that they rely heavily on resources that they can only hope to trust. This certainly increases the risk of irresponsible, illogical, and even dangerous science policy decisions being followed by a nation. By bringing more people into a realm of science appreciation, so much of this risk could be avoided.

Today, a few examples of citizens guiding science directions already exist. In particular, the Florida Citizens for Science is a group of people from all across the state who’s mission is to promote good science, especially in the classroom. And, although this is not a panel organization that directly influences new scientific discoveries, it is a useful model for how citizens work together in an organized and responsible way to affect science learning in the United States. Many more of these grassroots organizations across America supporting science education can be found through Citizens for Science.

Most recently, a new network of professional and citizen scientists is currently being developed called ECAST, the Expert and Citizen Assessment of Science and Technology. The goal of this future group is to help policymakers evaluate new science and technologies to better understand the potential social, economic and environmental impacts before making decisions on their implementation.

ECAST will not be comprised of only citizen scientists, but will be a broader collaboration between nonpartisan policy research institutions, universities and other science centers. The founding partners include The Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes at Arizona State UniversityThe Loka InstituteThe Museum of Science, BostonScience Cheerleader, and the Science and Technology Innovation Program from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

So, with the successful implementation of ECAST, a key test will be seen as to how effective and beneficial broader scientific advisory bodies can be for the positive integration of new science and technologies into society. Through these types of review committees, citizen scientists can become more involved in real scientific advancement and increase their importance in the development of new technology.

Another existing organization that could bring citizen scientists into a policy advising role is the Society for Amateur Scientists. This membership group already has collective of active citizen scientists who largely work independently on personally-interesting science and technology projects and research. Together, however, they could mobilize through the SAS to offer a new advisory council of active and motivated citizen scientists through partnerships with government and professional research centers. In addition, SAS might be a useful vehicle to develop participatory panels of volunteers. These panels would not only maintain an open and ongoing communication with the scientists on a particular research program from development, implementation, to analysis, but would also offer direct involvement with the data collection and reporting results.

To become involved with the exciting SAS organization, visit their active Facebook group and join online.

If you are interested in finding a seat at either a future science policy advising or participatory table, please contact us at Dynamic Patterns Research to express your ideas and motivation. We would like to begin to develop a list of citizen scientists who believe that participatory and advising panels should become a critical element in future science research and implementation. We can then together move forward to prove this growing and important interest from citizen scientists, and consider joining an existing advising organization, or possibly create a new participatory panel that will partner with science research teams from around the world.

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“Time to face the dark side of science” :: ABC Science, Margaret Wertheim :: August 17, 2010 :: [ READ ]

“Reinventing Technology Assessment for the 21st Century” :: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Richard Sclove, Ph. D. :: April 28, 2010 :: [ READ PRESS RELEASE :: READ FULL REPORT – PDF ]

Get involved with ECAST today by joining their mailing list [ JOIN ]

 

Citizen Science throughout the Southern Hemisphere has been growing recently, in particular with thanks to increasing efforts in Australia. In fact, Dynamic Patterns Research has just updated an Australia Regional list in our Opportunities section to feature some of these exiting new programs (view).

The most recent event, just launched on September 1, 2010 and sponsored by the citizen science-centric Australian Broadcasting Company and radio station 891 ABC Adelaide, is Operation Spider. This new “down under” citizen science program hopes to encourage people to get to know their crawly co-inhabitants, and report to the program what species of spiders exist in their spaces and how they behave when encountering a spider. (Yes, part of this research is to understand human behavior as well as the spiders!)

The main element of the project asks Southern Australians to complete a two-part online survey. First, is a review about how the observer feels toward spiders, and asks specific questions about how one would behave when encountering a specific species of spider. For example, if you see a daddy-long-legs in your living room would you (a) kill it yourself, (b) have someone else kill it for you, (c) “rescue” it and take it outside, (d) or leave it alone.

Second, the survey includes a worksheet to use while perusing your house and garden for recording observations of specific spiders. Images of certain anticipated species are available to assist in identifications.

Steve Donnellan and Chris Daniels presented a spider information talk to students from Rostrevor, Eden Hills and Belleview schools. (Brett Williamson)

View more images of the launch of Operation Spider on September 1, 2010.

An informative set of six Fact Sheets have also been developed to provide a nice range of educational materials for learning about spiders in Southern Australia. These include a general introduction to invertebrates and their evolution, how spiders live, eat, and make webs, and information on specific species that are expected to be found.

For the compositionally-creative citizen scientists, Operation Spider is also hosting a spider Poetry Competition. They are looking for 8-line short poems about spiders, and winners from four categories will be awarded a spider “prize pack” (valued at over $100!)

If you live in the southern “Down Under,” then start getting friendly with your spider neighbors, and take part in this fun citizen science project. The next time you want to squash an eight-legged crawly creature, you might discover that your feelings have changed from murderous to creepy affection!

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Operation Spider Fact Sheets [ VIEW ]

Operation Spider Survey from the University of South Australia [ VISIT ]

Operation Spider Poetry Competition [ SUBMIT ]

 

Last updated November 17, 2019