Crowdsourcing Synthetic Biology

By Arvind Suresh | August 29, 2014 2:13 pm
Biology + Engineering = Synthetic Biology

Biology + Engineering = Synthetic Biology (Image Credit: Shutterstock / Tarchyishnik Andrei )

At first glance, the terms ‘synthetic’ and ‘biology’ seem like parts that wouldn’t quite fit with each other. Ironically though, not only do they fit together, but creating and putting parts together is what synthetic biology is all about. Except in this case, the parts aren’t made out of steel or plastic that are manufactured in a factory. The parts are made out of DNA, RNA and proteins. Building blocks that make up living things. Synthetic biology, as defined by the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (Synberc) consortium “is the design and construction of new biological entities such as enzymes, genetic circuits, and cells or the redesign of existing biological systems.” Synthetic biology, which is equal parts biology and engineering, is emerging as one of the hottest fields in basic and applied research around the world. The applications of synthetic biology are far and wide, ranging from engineering bacteria that can clean up waste to creating more effective vaccines and delivering drugs with precision.

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SciStarter’s Back to School Citizen Science Backpack!

By Arvind Suresh | August 29, 2014 3:38 am
SciStarter Goes Back to School!

SciStarter Goes Back to School! (Image Credit: Shutterstock / YuriImaging )

It’s that time of the year when SciStarter goes back to school! Our Project Finder is full of citizen science projects perfect for the classroom. Why citizen science in the classroom you ask? Well here are 8 great reasons why citizen science works in the classroom!

We highlight 10 projects here that can be used in the classroom, as homework assignments, or as after school family activities across a variety of subjects and age groups. For more classroom projects take a look at our classroom picks!

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MORE ABOUT: citizen science

How Citizen Science is Helping Us Cross the Quantum Computing Barrier

By Arvind Suresh | August 29, 2014 2:03 am
Quantum Computers - The Future of Computing

Making Quantum Work – The Future of Computing (Image Credit: Shutterstock / winui )

“Every story has its own beginning”, writes Jacob Sherson, an associate professor of Physics at Aarhus University (AU) in Denmark on his blog. The story of his citizen science project, Quantum Moves, began at the Max Planck Institute in Garching, Munich where he was a post-doctoral. Along with his colleagues, he was working on an experimental system that could manipulate individual atoms, a fundamental requirement of creating a quantum computer.

I’m no physicist myself and it took me a while to even begin to understand how a quantum computer might work. So bear with me here as I attempt to describe it to you. The guts of any computer are really tiny transistors that can be in one of two states; 0 or 1. Thus all information that passes through a computer is represented by a string of ‘bits’ which are either 0s or 1s. One way by which computing power has increased exponentially over the years is by manufacturing smaller and smaller transistors. This allows us to pack more of them within a given space hence increasing the ability of the computer to process larger amounts of information at once. But as you can see, there exists an inherent size limitation here. We will soon reach a point where the smallest transistor would have been made with currently available technology. So where do we go from there for more processing power?

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, Uncategorized
MORE ABOUT: citizen science

Informing NASA’s Asteroid Initiative: Your Chance to Participate!

By Arvind Suresh | August 28, 2014 1:00 pm
Asteroid Sample Retrieval

Asteroid Sample Retrieval

August 28, 2014


In its history, the Earth has been repeatedly struck by asteroids, large chunks of rock from space that can cause considerable damage in a collision. Can we—or should we—try to protect Earth from potentially hazardous impacts?

How about harvesting asteroids for potential economic benefits? What do we do if we find an asteroid that threatens Earth? How should we balance costs, risks, and benefits of human exploration in space?

Sounds like stuff just for rocket scientists. But how would you like to be part of this discussion? Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, Uncategorized

Weigh In: What’s the Next Revolution for Medicine?

By Lisa Raffensperger | August 27, 2014 9:00 am


Medicine looks incredibly different than it did a century ago (which I think we can all say thank goodness for that). From new technology such as MRI scanners and antibiotics, to improvements in logistics, such as widespread immunization programs and organ-donation schemes, medicine seems to be constantly modernizing.

But for every revolution in medicine that’s complete, there must be a dozen more that haven’t even started. Quick lab diagnostics are great — now how do we make those affordable for clinics in rural Africa? Patients are gathering their own genetic and lifestyle data — now how can doctors use that to improve their medical care?

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts
MORE ABOUT: personal health

Citizen Science with Our Canine Friends – It’s National Dog Day!

By Arvind Suresh | August 26, 2014 11:44 am
Citizen Science with your Canine Friends!

Citizen Science with your Canine Friends! (Image Credit: Shutterstock / Kuznetsov Alexey )

August 26th is National Dog Day. Here are some amazing dog-themed citizen science projects that we’ve come up with using SciStarter’s Project Finder just for you. Participate and celebrate our canine companions!




dognitionHelp researchers learn more about dogs by recording and sharing specific interactions with your dog. You’ll learn your dog’s cognitive style by playing fun, science-based games –- an experience that gives you the insight you need to make the most of your relationship with your best friend.

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Exploring a Culture of Health: Repurposing Medicine to Help More People

By Carolyn Graybeal | August 22, 2014 1:17 pm

How can we use medication efficiently to help more people? (Image Credit: Shutterstock/ Steve Cukrov)

This post is part of Exploring a Culture of Health, a citizen science series brought to you by Discover Magazine, SciStarter and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, serving as an ally to help Americans work together to build a national Culture of Health that enables everyone to lead healthier lives now and for generations to come.

Each year in the U.S. millions of dollars’ worth of useable medication is destroyed. While at the same time one in four working adults cannot afford their medication. It is a confusing and unnecessary contradiction.

Fortunately innovative organizations recognize that by recycling or repurposing medication it is possible to limit waste and conserve resources while helping individuals live healthier lives. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Uncategorized
MORE ABOUT: Culture of Health

Exploring a Culture of Health: Reimagining Medical and Health Education

By Carolyn Graybeal | August 13, 2014 1:51 pm
How can we reimagine online health learning? (Image Credit: Pixabay CC0 1.0)

How can we reimagine online health learning? (Image Credit: Pixabay / CC0 1.0)

This post is part of Exploring a Culture of Health, a citizen science series brought to you by Discover Magazine, SciStarter and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, serving as an ally to help Americans work together to build a national Culture of Health that enables everyone to lead healthier lives now and for generations to come.

What we know about health and medicine is ever changing and improving. So should the way we teach and learn about it.

For several years now, Khan Academy has been reimagining teaching and improving access to education. As part of their mission to provide “a free world-class education to anyone, anywhere”, they develop free online video lessons to help students, teachers, and parents tackle subjects ranging from algebra to art history to computing. With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), they are now turning their attention to medical and health education.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Uncategorized
MORE ABOUT: Culture of Health

Super Moon, Super Meteor Showers, Super Citizen Science

By Ian Vorster | August 9, 2014 7:54 pm

On Sunday August 10, join Slooh and citizen scientists as they observe the Super Moon.

Don’t miss a live interview (Sunday at 7:30 ET) with SciStarter’s founder Darlene Cavalier on Slooh, the telescope and astronomy website devoted to stars and the cosmos.

Credit NASA

There is a tendency to prefix anything dramatic, unusual or super with…well, the prefix ‘super,’ which is partly why the Moon is called super twice more this year. Let me explain.  When a new Moon coincides with the closest approach the Moon has on its elliptical path to the Earth (because of this the Moon’s orbit typically varies between about 222,000 miles and 252,000 miles from the Earth), it actually appears from 7 to 30 percent larger and brighter, especially when it’s close to the horizon. That happens on the 10th of August—tomorrow—and again on the 9th of September 2014.  Slooh will be broadcasting live coverage of the event.

The term ‘super moon’ is not used in professional astronomical circles, but rather has its roots in modern astrology—the high tides created at this time are believed by some to cause earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and it has actually been blamed for sinking the Titanic (although there has not been any evidence to support this), and for the 2011 tsunami in Japan.

What’s so super about the Moon this weekend? The perigee (that’s what astronomers call it) will coincide with meteor showers. Named Perseid, it is possible to see as many as 100 shooting stars every hour; probably peaking between August 10 and August 13, with the best time to view the shower at about 2 am.

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Is our thirst for energy killing the ecology of the Grand Canyon?

By Angus Chen | August 8, 2014 9:39 am

A new citizen science project invites volunteers to help study insect diversity in the Grand Canyon.

Christian Mehlfuhrer. A shot of the south side of Glen Canyon Dam and the Colorado River.

A shot of the south side of Glen Canyon Dam and the Colorado River.

Every night when she’s on the water, Gibney Siemion, a river expedition guide in the Grand Canyon, crouches at the edge of the Colorado River right on the line where the sand turns from wet to dry. Her equipment is rudimentary: a jar of grain alcohol poured into a plastic Tupperware with a glowing bar of black light perched on its edge. But this is an effective insect trap. Siemion, and citizen scientists like her, are using these traps in a 240 mile experiment to understand how energy demand and dams on the Colorado River are washing away key insect species.

“The flow of the Colorado River is extremely unnatural,” says Ted Kennedy, an ecologist with United States Geological Survey.  As energy demands in the U.S. West peak and ebb over the course of a day or season, the amount of water flowing through a dam like Glen Canyon, just north of Grand Canyon, varies tremendously. All this regulation “could be limiting the diversity of insects that we have here,” Kennedy says.

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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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