When a new word makes its way to the pages of the Oxford English Dictionary, something’s up. Such was the case with the term “citizen science,” which entered the English language canon in 2014. For those unfamiliar, citizen science draws on the power of the people to help make scientific discoveries. And these volunteers often do: in 2011, a puzzle-solving, citizen science game called Foldit made headlines when configurations found by the players led scientists to discover the structure of an enzyme that helps the AIDS virus reproduce.
Since then, the Internet has only continued to expand the possibilities for connecting curious people with projects that seek to understand our world. For those interested in exploring the great outdoors, some projects involve outdoor monitoring of plant or animal species. But even the most dedicated homebody can participate in these projects, many of which require nothing more than wifi and a set of eyes.
So take a seat in your favorite armchair, cozy up to your laptop screen, and join the ranks of the amateur gentleman scientists of yore in the following citizen science projects:
1. Season Spotter
If you have an Internet connection and a few minutes to click through pictures of plants, you can help researchers from Harvard University and the National Ecological Observatory Network figure out how climate change affects vegetation.
Phenologists, scientists who study the way that plant and animal cycles change from year to year, have a wealth of images collected from PhenoCams. But these cameras produce about 6,000 images every day – far too many for a single lab group to keep up with.
By answering just a few multiple choice questions, you can help scientists sort each image and figure out when the seasons are starting each year, which will aid researchers in eking out patterns or significant shifts within plant and animal cycles.
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