Penguin Watch is a citizen science project that is using people power to help propel scientific research. Citizen science projects are a great way for scientists to cast a wider net and collect more information than they might be able to with their own resources. Almost as importantly, from my perspective, these projects allow kids, families, schools and individuals a chance to contribute to real-world science projects. We are all part of this world and we all deserve to question and understand it.
The purpose of Penguin Watch is to identify penguins in the photographs being taken by 90 cameras set up by two study groups in Antarctica. The cameras are set up at locations identified as potential breeding grounds. Reviewing these photos for penguin activity is crucial to understanding what the population truly is and the activity of the birds at the breeding grounds. The project has amassed over 200,000 pictures, much more than a few researchers can realistically review. When you visit the Penguin Watch website you can learn how to identify several different species of penguins and their chicks. If you choose to participate, you can click penguins you identify and submit your results to the scientists. It is easy and fun; some of the pictures are empty landscapes, yet others have too many penguins to count, most are somewhere in between. Eventually the human generated data will help "train" computers to assist scientists in counting penguins too. This would be a fun activity to do with your kids or in the classroom.
Penguin Watch is part of the Citizen Scientist Alliance's Zooniverse. The Zooniverse is a collection of citizen science projects on the internet ranging from Astronomy to Oceanography. There are projects here for any interest. Many feel like you are solving a puzzle, you identify, measure, decipher and just click to send it to a researcher. Much like a game of computer solitaire it gives your brain a break by working on something different -yet relevant- which is arguably more useful than beating solitaire...and just as addictive!
Citizen science projects are certainly not limited to those that are completed on a computer. Many involve getting outdoors. Cornell has several citizen science projects ranging from counting birds at feeders to observing bird nests to mapping out your yard for potential habitat. Projects Feederwatch, Nestwatch and Yardmap are just a few of the projects that can be found on the Cornell Citizen Science Blog.
If you enjoy trees and other plants, then Project BudBurst may be your cup of tea. Project BudBurst collects life cycle data on a variety of flowering plants to better understand our changing climate. Project BudBurst can be completed by adults or children. They offer a project geared towards children called "BudBurst Buddies". Project BudBurst also offers excellent professional development courses for teachers through the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) at very reasonable rates. I have implemented use of this program with students as young at second grade with great success.
Another project introduced to me by a family that participated in it on their summer vacation is the Lost Lady Bug Project which teaches how to find, collect and photograph ladybugs to better observe shrinking native populations and growing introduced populations of ladybugs.
If computer games are more your thing you can try Eyewire, or Fold-it. These evolved from some of the first computer network citizen science projects like SETI@home (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) and Rosetta@home which both used the computing power of idle computers in homes and dorm rooms during the late 1990's and early 2000's. Eyewire is a game that is helping to map the brain by training people to identify and map neurons. Fold-it allows players to puzzle their way through the many possibilities of folding proteins and is making way for important research in medicine.
Citizen science can be a fun and rewarding way to spend time on your own or with children to truly get involved in science. There are so many options out there for projects, they are definitely worth a look!
Citizen Science Projects to Try!
- Penguin Watch
- Cornell Citizen Science Blog
- Project BudBurst
- Lost Lady Bug Project