Getting started with Citizen Science

June 24, 2019

I'm probably a little late to the game in extolling the virtues of citizen science. Although I've previously participated in projects and research, such as the BBC's Big Personality Test and the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch, I hadn't realised that Citizen Science has become a global phenomenon...

What an amazing time it is we live in when anyone can contribute to the advancement of science and research, be it from the comfort of our home or on the move using our mobile phones!

What is Citizen Science?

In a nutshell, citizen science is people-powered research.

Citizen science projects invite members of the public to meaningfully contribute to scientific research. Such projects are usually sponsored by organisations, such as universities or wildlife charities. Activities can range from transcribing sections of old manuscripts to observing and gathering data about local wildlife. Generally speaking, online participation is required, whether this be by visiting the organisation's webpage or using a dedicated app.


Image by Becky Kinnard, from the Zooniverse Artwork Pack
Zooniverse is the world's largest and most popular organisation for people-powered research. There are currently 100 live projects citizen scientists can participate in, while many more have already been completed. The research enables by thousands of volunteers across the world has enabled Zooniverse to produce dozens of publications which would otherwise not have been possible.

Through Zooniverse, you can choose to participate in 10 different categories of citizen science projects, including:
  • Arts, where you could identify and classify 19th century microscopy illustrations
  • Biology, where you could explore the bottom of The Great Lakes to help better understand the impact of invasive species
  • Climate, to help unearth some of the UKs earliest weather records
  • History, to help track the life histories and criminal careers of Australian prisoners
  • Language, to help Zooniverse unlock the mysteries of the Cairo Geniza
  • Literature: transcribe handwritten documents by Shakespeare's contemporaries
  • Medicine: spot the difference between brains using the Brain Match game
  • Nature, where you can watch and listen to help Zooniverse better understand the red-tailed hawk.
  • Physics, to explore galaxies near and far with Galaxy Zoo
  • Social Science, to help classify soldier reflections on war and military service dating back to WWII
It's easy and free to register as a volunteer with Zooniverse; even children can participate, though if you're under 16 you'll need your parent or guardian's permission. If you find yourself spending lots of time on the platform, you may want to consider signing up for beta-testing of new projects, or even volunteer as a Project Moderator. Comprehensive forums allow you to discuss your research with others.

Other Citizen Science Projects

There are many other citizen science projects and portals, some of which began to harness the power of people-powered research before the advent of home-based internet. 

Here are a few of my favourites:
  • ARTigo is a social image-tagging platform, featuring games and online resources to help the organisation add meta-data to art reproductions in order to improve computerised search results.
  • Foldit is an online puzzle game about protein folding, through which he highest scoring solutions are analyzed by researchers, who determine whether or not there is a native structural configuration (native state) that can be applied to relevant proteins in the real world.
  • Moth Night is the annual celebration of moth recording throughout Britain and Ireland by moth recording enthusiasts with local public events aimed at raising awareness of moths among the general public.
  • Stardust@Home allows participants to search for interstellar particles retrieved from NASA's 1999 Discovery mission.
  • RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch has been collecting data from citizen scientists for over 40 years!

You might also want to take a look at Wikipedia's List of Citizen Science Projects for links and information to current and historical projects from all over the globe.

Do you participate?

I'd love to hear of your experiences or recommended sites for citizen science involvement. Please feel free to leave your comments below.

Header image credit: Abe Russel, via Flickr

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