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Discovering Science in Your Neighborhood

April 20, 2021

The great thing about science is there are always questions to be answered. Even in gathering data and completing a research project, scientists often come up with new questions and sometimes the answer involves an area too vast or too time-consuming for one person to gather all the data alone. That's where volunteer citizen scientists come in. Typically not professional scientists, these are people who gather data that will assist in research.

Check out some examples of citizen science at work:
Protecting Wildlife: An ornithologist studying the population size and flight pattern of a migratory bird may want to know if the birds migrated earlier this year compared to last year. They can ask the citizen science community to take a picture and upload it anytime they spot that bird species in their backyard or when out walking in a park. This provides them with data on when the bird is first observed in the area during the year and how rare a sighting may be.
Developing Better Radar: Scientists may want to develop a better radar to predict how much rain will fall during a storm. Because radar cannot see what is happening on the ground, citizen scientists report on the amount of rain they are receiving in real-time. Researchers use that information to compare what's happening on the ground to radar returns. This information can be used to develop new techniques and technologies to help predict storms.
Writing a Computer Program: Some projects can be done from the comfort of your home. For example, NASA has more than 4 million photographs of Earth taken by astronauts that are used by researchers in many different fields. However, the pictures are not searchable as they lack labels for features such as rivers or islands. This program uses citizen scientists to collect training data which means they help identify these features to create labels. From there, it's up to the experts to create a computer program that will organize the photos and make them easier to find.
Become a citizen scientist today!
Visit citizenscience.gov or scistarter.org for a list of active projects. You can also download the iNaturalist app and upload pictures of the plants and animals you see in your neighborhood.