SciStarter Hackfest Coming to CitSci2015!

By Arvind Suresh (Editor) | November 14, 2014 12:40 pm

A hackfest to make citizen science easier for project managers and participants. Join us in San Jose!

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on the CitSci2015 blog at the Citizen Science Association

What: A hands-on meet-up where everyone participates in dreaming up AND building creative tools to improve the field of citizen science!
Where: Citizen Science 2015 Conference, San Jose, CA
Who: The SciStarter team and YOU!
Why: To capitalize on the collective wisdom (and desire to act!) at the Citizen Science Association Conference

The inaugural conference of the Citizen Science Association will take place February 11-12 in San Jose, California and the SciStarter team is looking forward to soaking up new information during the scheduled sessions and talks!

We’ll also contribute to these conversations through a few presentations and a VERY interactive, “roll-up-your-sleeves!” hackfest designed for anyone interested in building connections and interoperability between projects and communities!

Will you join us?

Citizen Science participants and project owners face barriers – multiple types of logins for projects, coupled with an inability to track contributions and understand  motivations, retention, and learning outcomes across silo-ed projects/platforms, are some examples. We know that people do-and want to-participate in more than one project. Let’s make it easier!

In the process, we may help improve efforts to recruit and retain volunteers. At the very least, we believe a single login, smarter GIS tools, consistent project taxonomies, and a personal “dashboard” will most certainly provide much-needed support for those awesome citizen scientists.

With the incredible growth in the number and types of projects, we believe these barriers need to be addressed now…and in collaboration with you! Consider this your formal invitation to join our hackfest as a citizen scientist, practitioner, researcher, designer, programmer, student, educator, cheerleader, concerned citizen…you name it. You are invited!

During this hackfest, we will build upon what we learned at our workshop in February 2014 at the Citizen Cyber Science conference in London (organized by SciStarter, and NYU with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation) and a follow-up workshop in April 2014 at Drexel University (also funded by Sloan). We’ll also share preliminary plans for a new match-making prototype we are sketching out to help connect the people who have data/information to the researchers and reporters looking for that data/information (this work is supported by the Knight Foundation Prototype Fund).
At CitSci2015, we want to work with you to bring these things together.

The hackfest also provides space for new ideas to emerge. Perhaps you’d like to explore ways projects can share data, volunteers, tools and other resources to rise the tide of citizen science and enable better cross-platform analytics for project leaders while improving the experience for participants. This is your chance to bring your ideas to the table and connect with people who can help you advance your idea, too!

Where do I sign up?

First, make sure you have registered for the Citizen Science 2015 Conference

Then, fill out this form to let us know you’re coming so we know how many people to expect.

Bring your creativity, enthusiasm and talents and we’ll make sure you’ll have fun!


Help Us Support This Blog And Citizen Science Stories With Beacon

By Angus Chen | November 13, 2014 11:00 am

Citizen science runs on the sweat of volunteers — that’s one of the things that makes it so incredible. And for a long time, so has the SciStarter blog network. This has been great for us, and we would love to keep doing that. But if we’re going to expand and bring you more stories, deeper stories, we need to be able to really let our contributors focus on creating. So, we’re hoping to change raise funds with this new campaign from Beacon Reader, and we’re asking you to help make that a reality.

Like every editor and contributor at the SciStarter blog network, which includes the Discover magazine “Citizen Science Salon” and Public Library of Science Cit Sci blog, I have another job. I’m a freelance reporter, editor, and radio producer. Some of our contributors are scientists and experts, and some of them are, like myself, professional journalists and writers.

One of the greatest pleasures in my professional life is getting to write and edit for these blogs.That’s why we’re still here. The stories we can find and create with citizen science are some of the best, and we’re about to make this blog even better. Not that it isn’t already pretty awesome, but with your contributions, we’re going to be able to tell citizen science stories that are more in depth, better reported, and have a wider reach of topics and ideas.

I believe that information is precious, that stories about science are a perfect complement to citizen science, and that they help us learn something that we would otherwise never have learned. I believe that our people have told great stories which I’ve loved, and I believe you have too. All the money will go directly to our contributors and our editors for the blog only, letting us dedicate more of our time to covering these stories.

That’s why we’re asking you to join us and the hundreds of other talented storytellers on Beacon. You’ll improve the quality and depth of the stories we create on this blog. You’ll get a subscription to every story by every writer on Beacon Reader, on science, politics, art, and more. And if you support us at $80, we’ll send you an awesome robot t-shirt in the mail. But most importantly, you’ll be supporting something that matters to you and to thousands of other people.

With my sincere thanks,

Angus Chen

Managing Editor SciStarter Blog Network

Discover Magazine “Citizen Science Salon”, PLoS “Cit Sci”

Groundbreaking Air Quality Study Demonstrates the Power of Citizen Science

By Arvind Suresh (Editor) | November 6, 2014 2:54 pm
Air Sampling in Progress (Courtesy: Global Community Monitor)

Air Sampling in Progress (Courtesy: Global Community Monitor)

Editors Note: This is a guest post by Gwen Ottinger, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Center for Science, Technology, and Society at Drexel University.  She has done extensive research on community-based air monitoring and community-industry relations around oil refineries.  She is author of Refining Expertise: How Responsible Engineers Subvert Environmental Justice Challenges (NYU Press 2013).

A study released last week in the journal Environmental Health breaks new ground in our understanding of the environmental effects of fracking—and shows the power that citizen science can have in advancing scientific research and promoting political action. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Citizen Science, Environment

Two days left to apply to participate online! Informing NASA’s Asteroid Initiative: A Citizen Forum

By Arvind Suresh (Editor) | November 4, 2014 2:40 pm
What do you think NASA should do about asteroids? (Asteroid Capture, Artist Rendering Image Credit: NASA)

What do you think NASA should do about asteroids? (Asteroid Capture, Artist Rendering Image Credit: NASA)

In August, we shared information about NASA’s Asteroid Initiative and Cooperative Agreement with ECAST (Expert and Citizen Assessment of Science and Technology), to enable everyday citizens to have a say in the future of space exploration.

How does the online citizens’ forum work?

Two in-person deliberations will take place on 11/8 in Phoenix, AZ at Arizona State University and on 11/15 in Cambridge, MA at the Museum of Science. To make sure anyone, anywhere can participate, SciStarter (a founder partner of ECAST) created a three tiered online deliberation platform which will be ready for YOU next week! But you’ll need to sign up by Thursday, 11/6 to be eligible. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Citizen Science, Space & Physics
MORE ABOUT: asteroid, NASA

Tracking Rogue Earthworms With Citizen Science

By Carolyn Graybeal | November 3, 2014 9:10 pm

Can’t get enough creepy crawlies? Check out our Halloween themed citizen science projects handpicked from SciStarter’s project database!

The invasive Asian 'jumping' earthworm

The invasive Asian ‘jumping’ earthworm. (Image Credit: Modified from Tom Potterfield / Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The humble earthworm. Familiar and easy to forget, except perhaps after a rainy day, these benign wriggly creatures are undeniable environmental do-gooders, gently tilling the soil beneath our feet. They are the crux to a health ecosystem. That is the popular notion anyway. Unfortunately, some members of class Oligochaeta are tarnishing that good reputation.

In their native habitats, earthworms play a crucial role as decomposers and are an important food source for other animals. Unfortunately, researchers at the University of Minnesota have found that  earthworms in the Great Lakes Forest are quite the vandals.

Earthworms are newcomers to the Great Lakes region. They were inadvertently brought over in the soil carried on European ships.  Prior to European settlement, earthworms had not been present in the area since the last ice age, approximately 14,000 years ago. In this time, the region developed an ecosystem dependent on fungi and bacteria for decomposition. With their arrival, earthworms have changed the structure of the native ecosystem. They churn through organic litter faster than fungi and bacteria, destroying a critical habitat for native Great Lake plant and animal species. Ryan Hueffmeier a junior scientist at the University of Minnesota and program coordinator of the Great Lakes Worm Watch, a citizen science project tracking earthworm populations, says the effects are in plain sight. “Earthworms are removing the nutrient dense ‘duff layer’ of fallen organic matter. We are seeing areas that are just black dirt with very little plant diversity or density. As earthworms alter the nutrient cycle and soil structure, there are cascading effects through the Great Lakes Forest.”

Animals that nest and forage in the healthy understory (left) are being threatened by habitat loss after earthworm invasion (right). Image credit: Great Lakes Worm Watch.

Animals that nest and forage in the healthy understory (left) are being threatened by habitat loss after earthworm invasion (right). Image credit: Great Lakes Worm Watch.

To help preserve the Great Lakes Forest, researchers need to identify the species, behavior and population growth of these foreign earthworms. “Knowing where and what species are present, and perhaps more importantly not present, across the landscape can aid in efforts to slow their spread into currently earthworm-free regions,” says Hueffmeier. “Of particular [importance] in the past five years is the spread of the Asian species Amynthas, also known as the ‘Alabama jumper’ or ‘crazy worm’. Our work helps track their movement and as we all know the best way to handle invasive species is to avoid their introduction in the first place.”

Citizen scientists can make important contribution to the research by helping scientists conduct landscape surveys. Individuals can choose from three different studies depending on their experience and commitment level. The simplest is the ‘Document and Occurrence’ study. Participants count the number of earthworms present in a specific area and report back to the Great Lakes Worm Watch researchers. The remaining two studies require participants to collect and mail in preserved earthworm samples so the researchers can identify the species. Protocol sheets, equipment, web tutorials and additional information are all available on their website.

“Citizen scientists help track earthworm movement at a scale otherwise impossible with our current resources. Plus it is a chance for citizens to learn more about forest, soil, and earthworm ecology that has the possibility to increase ecological and environmental literacy,” says Hueffmeier. “And of course it is fun.”

There is a lot of work to be done. If you are interested in helping or learning more, visit SciStarter’s link to the Great Lakes Worm Watch.

(Correction: Note this article was first incorrectly attributed to Arvind Suresh.)


Mysterious Crickets Squat in American Homes

By Arvind Suresh (Editor) | October 30, 2014 5:07 pm
The greenhouse camel cricket. Just a transient visitor or here to outcompete the native species? (Image Credit:

The greenhouse camel cricket. Just a transient visitor or here to outcompete the native species? (Image Credit: Flickr / USGS CC BY 2.0)

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Khishaana Johnson, describing a recently published study about Asian camel crickets that was aided by the efforts of citizen scientists across the country in the Camel Cricket Census a part of the Your Wild Life project. Khishaana is a graduate student in the Professional Writing certificate program at North Carolina State University.

In 1898, a biologist named S.H. Scudder reported a bizarre striped insect with a large humped back that had been sent to him from a Minnesota greenhouse. He declared it the greenhouse camel cricket, a pest, and then the critter was lost from the archives for over a century.

Holly Menninger, an entomologist at North Carolina State University, was part of a triumvirate of scientists that uncovered the species creeping into North American homes, quiet and undetected. She gestures at the boxes of camel cricket corpses stacked at her feet and apologizes for the smell. “These giant crickets managed to invade our homes with no one really noticing.  Which is kind of crazy,” Menninger says.  “They don’t bite.  They don’t sing.  They don’t sting.”  Read More


Five Halloween Treats for Citizen Scientists

By Arvind Suresh (Editor) | October 20, 2014 7:42 am

 Zombees and spiders and bats,
Oh MY!
Drag your bones over,

give these projects a TRY!

Happy Halloween!

From the SciStarter team.

Here are  five projects to put a smile on your skull. 




Loss of the Night
Bring Citizen Science with you to Trick or Treat this year! This App helps you learn constellations as you  contribute to a global real-time map of light pollution. Get started!

zombee watch scistarter

There’s a Zombie Fly threatening our honeybees! Learn how to set a trap, catch a bee, and see if it’s been infected by the Zombie Fly.  Get started!


Bat Detective
By sorting the sounds in recordings into insect and bat calls, you will help biologists learn how to reliably distinguish bat ‘tweets’ to develop new automatic identification tools.  Get started!

istock spider

Colorado Spider Survey
Little is known about the biodiversity of spiders in Colorado and the impact urbanization is having on species distribution. Learn how to collect and identify spiders, which will be sent to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. Get started! BONUS! The L.A. Spider Survey needs your help investigating these issues in the L.A. area!

istock earthworm

Great Lakes Worm Watch
Not fazed by creepy crawlies? Then this wormy project is for you! Help monitor earthworm distribution and habitat from ANYWHERE! Collect earthworms and habitat data, and learn how to do soil surveys. Get started!


Image Credits

Loss of the Night – NASA

ZomBeeWatch – US Geological Survey

Bat Detective – National Park Service

MORE ABOUT: citizen science

Citizen Scientists, Help SciStarter Empower You!

By Arvind Suresh (Editor) | October 19, 2014 12:59 pm
Help us empower you, citizen scientist! (Image Credit: Sutterstock /

Help us empower you, citizen scientist! (Image Credit: Sutterstock / kraphix)


SciStarter wants to make it easier for you to learn about and get involved in way more opportunities to make the world a better place. We have some big ideas, (and we know you have the potential to do BIG things!) but we want to hear from you first.

And keeping true to our citizen science roots, we’re seeking your thoughts to help us empower you! Consider completing this brief survey by Wednesday 10/22.


MORE ABOUT: citizen science

SciStarter among 18 winners of Knight Prototype Fund!

By Arvind Suresh (Editor) | October 16, 2014 7:48 am


The Knight Foundation today announced the latest winners of its Knight Prototype Fund. Eighteen projects will receive $35,000 to help them bring their concepts closer to fruition and one of the 18 projects is ours:

SciStarter ‘s project will connect data journalists and researchers with citizen scientists who are interested in helping them collect data about specific issues (i.e. water quality in a particular neighborhood).

The fund, launched in 2012, also gives winners a support network and the opportunity to receive human-centered design training in an effort bring early stage media ideas to a formal launch.

We are very honored to be in such great company and will post developments here.

Learn more about the other winners and the Knight Prototype Fund .



Citizen Science on the Radio

By Lily Bui | October 9, 2014 12:40 pm
Listen to the sound of citizen science!

Listen to the sound of citizen science!

Editor’s Note: This guest post by former SciStarter editor Lily Bui originally appeared on the SciStarter blog

Listen. Let’s get one thing straight: I am an unabashed public radio nerd.

So, when citizen science and public radio come together, I am nothing short of ecstatic. But it’s not just my public radio nerdiness for its own sake. Rather, this convergence speaks to a larger narrative (for me, at least) — that of citizen science being a form of public participation in science and public radio playing the role of representing public discourse.

Read More

MORE ABOUT: citizen science

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Citizen Science Salon, brought to you by SciStarter, is where science enthusiasts can join forces with top researchers. We'll feature weekly collaborative, crowdsourced, and DIY research projects that relate to what you're reading about in Discover, so you can take science into your own hands. You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter.

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