At Professional Geek, we talk a lot about hobbies. Sometimes we're turning our hobbies into careers, sometimes we’re striving for self improvement, and sometimes we simply want to learn something new for fun. These are enriching pursuits. Some hobbyists, thought, turn their hobby into scientific discovery. These “Citizen Scientists,” who are often not formally trained, pursue their scientific hobby only for the love of the subject, and in the process, often collect massive amounts of data that only they can collect.
Hobbyists have been pursuing citizen science for most of recorded history. Before science was a professional field, science was only practiced by people who had spare time to dedicate to science. More recently, William Herschel, the man who discovered Uranus, was a musician who was simply hooked on looking at the night sky. Uranus was an object which he assumed was a comet. Without this curious lover of space, we may not have discovered the 7th planet until much later. Professional Geek’s 21st guest, Emily Graslie, got into her field with a position that could be considered citizen science when she took a volunteer position at the Philip L. Wright Zoological Museum in Missoula, Montana.
Citizen scientists can seek any number of personal goals through their hobby, but dedicated volunteers can collect and process massive amounts of data that professional scientists may not have the time to gather and analyze. Volunteers do everything from categorizing galaxies, to observing animal migration patterns! This is data that anyone can help with regardless of skill level or education, and it’s important to our understanding of the world.
Would you like to dedicate your free time to science? It’s easy to start! SciStarter.com has a searchable database of over 1600 volunteer projects to donate your time to. Here are just 6 of our favorite projects that you can volunteer for:
Stream Selfie is a project of the Izaak Walton League of America, a conservation organization, dedicated to mapping and monitoring water quality in streams all over America. By snapping photos of local streams, you can help them make a map of volunteer locations and local water quality!
A titan in citizen science, SETI at Home is a passive program which uses part of your home computer's processing power to analyze the huge amount of data that comes in from radio telescopes around the world in order to search for extraterrestrial life. (SETI: Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence.) This project is a cool brag, even if you’re not actively looking for little green men.
There are so many galaxies! Galaxy Zoo asks users to answer a few questions about photos of galaxies that need classification. The website runs users through a series of questions like, is this a sphere, a spiral, or a star? Is it flat, side on, or in between? Is there dust in the way? The answers to these questions help scientist develop metadata about each of these billions of galaxies.
Globe at Night asks users to submit photos of their local area in order to collect data about and raise awareness of light pollution. This data will help inform not only facts about how light affects our view of space, but surprising things like health and energy consumption
Another photo analysis website, CosmoQuest helps collect metadata for 1.5 million photos that astronauts aboard the ISS have shot. CosmoQuest shows the user a photograph and asks for data like weather patterns, landmarks, and actual global location.
A massive citizen science approach to following the migration of the Monarch Butterfly! Users can log in and report sightings of these regal bugs on their way to and from Mexico each year. In addition, this website allows users to follow the migration in real time as data streams in from excited butterfly fans all around the country, as well as teaching users everything there is to know about the Monarch.
Citizen science is one of my favorite things that people do, and I think that even though it’s a hobby at an amature and not professional level, the goals of citizen scientists line up perfectly with the spirit of this blog. Citizen scientists do what they love, only because they love to do it. We should all be so lucky.