Looking for a new kind of adventure? Fancy a round-the-world trip? Maybe a journey into space? How about both in the same morning? Citizen science lets you get involved from the couch.
The world isn’t just a smaller place these days, it’s also accessible from your living room. Or bedroom. Or toilet… The day has finally arrived where you can go on an expedition whenever and wherever you like.
All over the world, scientists are looking for help with their research and you can be their new assistant! No lab or expertise required and often, no travel either. All you need is a desire to explore, a curious mind and an inclination to contribute to our understanding of the universe. Sign us up!
What is Citizen Science?
Science has long been the domain of the average citizen as well as professional scientists. Most of us know an original citizen scientist – grandads that recorded rainfall in their back gardens; aunts with a list of the dates their shrubs bloom; or neighbours with a rock collection.
But recent years and improvements in technology have seen a broader reach to more participants and a greater contribution of the general public to formal research, known as citizen science. In a well-designed citizen science project, the data collected by members of the general public is of equal quality to that collected by professional research scientists.
Although you may take part just for adventure, your contributions are valuable and citizen science has been credited with some major discoveries, like the finding of unknown planets, animals and fossils.
Citizen science is also used as an outreach and engagement tool. Projects are designed to draw you in and keep you enthralled, so chances are there’ll be one that excites you while making use of your expertise. And by expertise, I mean ability to hike, take photos, or sit about eating chips and surfing the internet.
Through the lens of a distant camera you can access wild things you might otherwise never see, from places you otherwise may never have the opportunity to go.
There’s a heap of projects that need your help processing camera trap photos, allowing you to get up close and personal with the wildlife of the African plains or the Western Australian Jarrah forest.
The Digivol program requires only a computer to join their ‘virtual expeditions’. Within moments you can be transported across the globe and through time to explore the archives, specimens and reports of some of the world’s leading scientific institutions.
Not content with being restricted to an earthly adventure? If you prefer wide-open space and a more heavenly perspective you can join Radio Galaxy Zoo on the hunt for black holes! Or lend a hand to physicists searching for ripples in the very fabric of spacetime by hunting for gravitational waves.
If that’s too mind-blowingly big, scale things way down and take a look inside the human body with Stall Catchers Alzheimer’s research.
The world is literally right there in your backyard, waiting to be explored in a way you’ve never seen it before. Get up close and personal with the birds and the bees!
The Aussie Backyard Bird count is yours to do, record the breeding behaviour of your local amphibians with FrogID, and the Wild Pollinator Count wants to know who’s pollinating your flowers, ahem, so to speak!
Even city dwellers can get in on the fun! If you live in a high-rise apartment in Sydney, you can unleash your inner Peeping Tom and spy on your feathered neighbours with the Wingtags project. If you spot a tagged bird, though your window or out and about on your lunch break, you can report its location to help investigate the use of city spaces by the birds.
Adventures in citizen science await any human, regardless of background, education and training. People of all shapes, sizes and abilities can find a project that suits them.
Many can be done from the comfort of your own home while others might take you on an expedition through your backyard or local park.
Some projects collect opportunistic records – like if you happen to spot a platypus during a day at the creek, map it with PlatypusSPOT – while others are more involved. Sign up for projects with a bigger time commitment, or more travel, like BirdLife or WaterWatch.
Some projects only require internet access, or a smartphone so you can take part in citizen science anywhere – hiking in national parks, on holiday, at the beach, or just lying in the bath!
The Australian Citizen Science Association lists lots of projects if you’re looking for one in your local area. You can also search Zooniverse and the Wikipedia list of projects. The opportunities to engage in our natural world, or to explore somewhere we cannot currently visit are boundless and exciting.
What are you waiting for?! Get out there. Or in there. Or wherever! Get sciencing, you might just make an important discovery.
Feature photo by @jezdrake