The potential for AI to propel citizen science efforts forward is incredible; from rapidly analyzing your data or identifying insects, to helping you find and join the best project for your research goals. Here are some ongoing citizen science projects and research efforts that involve AI and citizen science to maximize the efforts of participants and scientists.
The SciStarter Team
Citizen Science Day is an annual celebration presented by SciStarter and the Citizen Science Association in an effort to connect people to real research in need of their help. It taps the curiosity and observations of people to contribute to significant scientific research efforts.
This year, the featured event of #CitSciDay2019 was the StallCatchers #Megathon, a gamified method of identifying stalls in blood flow in the brain, which is believed to contribute to Alzheimer’s. Because of the participation of citizens around the world, over the course of a single weekend, citizen scientists had accomplished 2,566 research hours, or 3.5 months of lab-equivalent research time. The StallCatchers team reported that preliminary research results indicate “high blood pressure is associated with an increased rate of stalls in mice, and much more so in mice that have been engineered to get Alzheimer’s disease.” They will continue to explore and verify this finding, which is just an early glimpse of the ultimate research result.
In the months leading up to the Megathon, SciStarter and partners, including the Human Computation Institute, Arizona State University’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society, the National Network of Libraries of Medicine Pacific Southwest Region, and the Citizen Science Association, hosted weekly calls to engage librarians and event organizers and activate libraries as hubs for citizen science. SciStarter and ASU provided Citizen Science Day resources, including the Librarian’s Guide to Citizen Science, bookmarks, posters, press releases, a social media tool-kit, and more.
At the start of World War I, thousands of soldiers were coming down with a baffling condition: they became blind, deaf, lost their memory, or developed uncontrollable shaking despite no obvious physical injury. Even stranger, this malady could be triggered by memories of the war even after the fighting had ended. At the time, doctors called what they were seeing “shell-shock,” though today we would call it by a different name: post-traumatic stress disorder. Anything that brought back memories of the trenches could precipitate this condition, but one of the most common triggers was loud noise. An engine backfiring, a firecracker on Independence Day or, in at least one case, simply speaking the word “bomb,” could cause afflicted soldiers to become catatonic or act out memories from the war. All this, the result of a sound.
Clearly, sound can have a dramatic effect on our bodies and our minds. But it doesn’t have to be linked to memories of trauma to affect us. Indeed, studies have shown that even exposure to seemingly innocuous sound can impact our health. Low volume, low-frequency traffic noise, for instance, is linked to all sorts of health consequences including poor sleep quality, difficulty concentrating, and even cardiovascular problems.
A team of researchers at the Human Computation Institute and Cornell University seek to understand what causes a 30% reduction of blood flow to the brain in Alzheimer’s patients.
Preliminary findings from the Schaffer-Nishimura Biomedical Engineering Lab suggest that restoring blood flow to the brain could delay the onset of Alzheimer’s and restore cognitive functioning. But there is too much data to sift through, and the blood flow imagery is too subtle for most algorithms to classify into capillaries that are either flowing or stalled. So instead, citizen scientists are helping analyze the videos in a gamified effort called “Stall Catchers” — and, through this crowdsourcing effort, are doing so at a much faster rate than the lab.
Really, any day is a good day to engage in citizen science. Need some inspiration? “American Spring LIVE,” aired last week on PBS NATURE and it featured lots of citizen science projects in need of your help. Catch the recorded series on Facebook!
The SciStarter Team
Lead water pipes have been a fixture of modern civilization for more than two thousand years. Ancient Romans channeled water into homes and bathhouses through lead piping. In fact, the Latin word for lead, plumbum, is where we get the English word “plumbing.” Yet we have also long recognized that lead can have a serious impact on our health. Vitrivius, who lived during the first century BCE, wrote at length about the physical harm caused by lead exposure, concluding that “water should therefore on no account be conducted in leaden pipes if we are desirous that it should be wholesome.”
Two millennia later, we are still working to to follow that advice. Despite an initiative in the 1950s to replace lead pipes with copper, a 1986 ban on installing new lead pipes, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations that there is no safe level of exposure to lead, many homes in the US still get their water from lead pipes. How many, exactly? We don’t know the answer. But thanks to a new EPA-funded citizen science project called “Crowd the Tap,” people all over the US are being empowered to understand what kinds of pipes provide their drinking water. Findings from the project might one day lead to new data about disparities in environmental risk.
Kurlansky, Mark and Stockton, Frank (Illustrator). World Without Fish. Workman Publishing Company, 2014. 208 pages. Paperback $US10.46
Day-to-day encounters of fish—at the grocery store, through an aquarium—passively reinforce a notion of triviality about aquatic life until we are prompted to take a pause and spare a thought for a breathtaking world beyond the shore. This month’s selection in our ongoing book review series, World Without Fish, prompts such reflection; however, as the pages turn, we witness the marine world’s vulnerability alongside its majesty. Through Mark Kurlansky’s words and Frank Stockton’s art, we are challenged by the crisis of disappearing biodiversity in our oceans. This graphic novel reveals how inter-dependencies of aquatic systems, both within themselves and between the human world, are snowballing into an unwelcome reality.
Calling all tree lovers! This Arbor Day, help scientists study trees near you with TreeSnap, an easy-to-use app.
Are you a tree lover with a smartphone? If so, you can help out scientists who are trying to breed stronger trees. Like all living beings, trees face a variety of challenges and illnesses. In addition to threats like climate change, pollution, and loss of habitat, they also can be attacked by bugs or fall ill. Luckily, many scientists and community members are working together to better understand trees’ survival and help trees flourish — and you are invited to join them!
What if everyone had access to powerful tools for scientific learning and problem solving? Scientific discovery tools — from telescopes to magnetometers — help us answer questions and generate knowledge. But many powerful tools are too expensive or too difficult for non-experts to use.