Guide to Being a Citizen Scientist

Updated: Feb 14

Contributor: Ria Bagga

Tom Jacobs, a US citizen, helped discover a giant gaseous planet about 379 light-years from Earth, all from the comfort of his own home. Interestingly, Jacobs wasn’t a scientist by profession – rather, he was a “citizen scientist”, and you could be one too. Today, Citizen science projects are open to everyone around the world and allow curious volunteers to collect data that could assist professional scientists in making exciting breakthroughs. After all, the more the merrier!


But with so many projects to choose from, it can get quite difficult to find one that really speaks to you. To get you started, here’s a quick summary of a few you can dive right into! By involving yourself, you can gain invaluable skills, unexpected experiences, and develop a unique resume to help you out in whatever your future endeavors may be. Each project works towards gaining a better understanding of the world – and who knows, your curiosity might be key to the next big discovery!


Planet Patrol

Thousands of potential planets that orbit stars beyond the Sun, called “exoplanets” have been discovered using data collected by a diverse range of individuals. Some of these, such as the planet Jacobs was involved in unveiling, has even been confirmed as real planets! You might be thinking, don’t we have computers or something to do that instead? Well, we do, but they often cannot distinguish between other bright spots (like stars) in images, called “background noise”. At Planet Patrol, you’ll help distinguish between different images, and sort imposter planets from real ones.


Solar Jet Hunter

Ever look at the Sun and think – “wow, that really looks like a giant ball of exploding, gooey cheese?” Well, our old pal Sol can give some of the credit for its fiery appearance to solar jets, bursts of plasma shooting off its surface. Considering that the Sun is our closest star and has many mysteries revolving around it that are yet to be solved, studying solar jets might prove to be rather worthwhile. The project is led by a small research team, but their true strength relies on the many astounding individuals who help the team sort through the large number of images from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. To help learn more about our good old gooey friend, visit the Solar Jet Hunter website.


Galaxy Zoo

Help us do what a computer cannot and classify galaxies! Just like a fingerprint, you can tell a lot about a galaxy's life story just from its shape and size. It can reveal whether it was formed from a collision between 2 smaller galaxies (generally elliptical), or if it is filled with energy to form future stars (generally spiral-shaped galaxies). The images are collected by Dark Energy Camera Legacy Survey (DECaLS), which observes from the Victor Blanco 4 meter telescope in Chile – and you can have access to them! Join GalazyZoo to help explore galaxies near and far, to help uncover what galaxies can tell us about the past, present, and future of the Universe.


Placenta Profiles

Let's shift gears here for a second and change fields. Are you looking for a bit of detective work? Get a start with being a placenta profiler, unearthing its structure and its essential role during pregnancy and how it allows babies to grow. In addition to its critical role, a placenta has a complex structure. Using highly magnified images of the organ, you can help understand why and how some placental abnormalities can lead to pregnancy complications. Mapping the placenta could lead to a clinical breakthrough, and every bit of help counts.


OpenWorm

For anybody who has, is, or at some point will take genetics, you’re bound to hear about Caenorhabiditis elegans, or C. elegans, a microscopic, transparent roundworm. With fewer than 1000 cells, the seemingly simple organism can perform functions such as feeding, mate-finding, and predator avoidance. In addition to its role as a model organism in genetics, C. elegans could be key to computationally modeling a simple nervous system. Why would we want to use our brains to map a brain? As much as we know about the brain right now, there is a lot about its complexity that is yet to be explored. OpenWorm offers roles to coders, scientists, writers, artists, webmasters, philanthropists (phew!), or just curious citizens.


Colony B

What if research looked like playing a game on your phone? Well, in the case of Colony B, that’s exactly what it is; a mobile game designed to contribute to research on the human microbiome and human health. Your task would be keeping track of a colony of bacteria, and learning more about different bacterial clusters. You can learn more about the unique microbes living inside our gut


The projects listed above are just the tip of the iceberg – there are many, many more to discover, from tracking beluga whales, observing rainfall in your backyard, to finding out more about climate change through studying leaves.


You don’t need to be in a lab to be a scientist; in fact, you don’t even need to study something related to science! Citizen scientist projects have made it possible for individuals around the globe – irrespective of their profession, background, or age – to work together and learn more about the world (and in some cases, the Universe) around us. Who knows, might pick up a new hobby or two, and get to share something new.


References

https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/stephenresearch/beluga-bits/about/research

https://science.nasa.gov/science-news/citizenscience/join-nasas-latest-citizen-science-project-solar-jets

https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/zookeeper/galaxy-zoo/about/results

https://www.nationalgeographic.org/idea/citizen-science-projects/?page=3

https://davidsuzuki.org/take-action/volunteer/citizen-science/

https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/marckuchner/planet-patrol/about/research

https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/msbrhonclif/science-scribbler-placenta-profiles/about/research


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