A lot of people think only scientists can do science.
They’re right. But then, anyone who does science is a scientist. You can do science. So, you wanna be a scientist?
For a while now, more and more regular ol’ people have been participating in science. It started a few years back with SETI@Home, where you could download software to automatically process data taken from radio telescopes using your CPU. Still, as advanced as computers are, there are still things that are just better done with human brains (what we call "wetware"). Pattern recognition. Pulling weak data out of strong noise. Seeing the anomaly in the field of sameness.
Citizen Science, it’s called. It’s a powerful new tool, crowdsourcing the work to people interested in helping out. And the cool thing is: it works. People categorize galaxies. They examine lunar craters. They look for lonely iceballs orbiting the Sun out past Neptune.
The only problem has been finding these projects… but that’s not a problem any more. SciStarter is your one-stop shopping for citizen science. Founded by my pal Darlene Cavalier (from Science Cheerleader), SciStarter has tons of projects with which you can participate. And not just astronomy and space science; there’s biology, archaeology, chemistry, health, climate…. the list is impressive.
Even better, Discover Magazine has partnered with SciStarter to create Your Research Mission, a weekly highlighted project in Citizen Science. It’s a great place to start if you’re looking to participate and make a real difference for science research. Of course, if you read my blog (and you do) then Astronomy and Space may be of particular interest to you. So why not check out what they’ve got there?
My pal Darlene Cavalier from Science Cheerleader twigged me on to a project she’s helped develop: Science for Citizens, a collection of websites for projects where citizens — that’s you! — can help do science. There are a lot of interesting projects there, from using Hubble to bird watching.
There are a lot of familiar ones there — Stardust@Home, for example — as well as educational projects for kids and older students. It’s a treasure trove of ideas! I’m a big fan of citizen science, in fact. Amateur astronomy has and probably always will be an important aspect of astronomy, since there is a vast amount of excellent science that can be done with smaller, personal observatories. Lots of other fields of science are figuring this out as well, so you should take a look and see if anything there captures your interest. There’s something there for pretty much everyone.