Summit 2012 coverage on GridCast

Growing the Ranks of Citizen Science - Scistarter, CERN@School

Yesterday afternoon at Citizen Cyberscience Summit, I found at how the grassroots movement is developing, and gained some insight into some of the resources and tools available.
We heard from Darlene Cavalier, who is an advocate for science literacy, and is encouraging citizen scientists enter discussions relating to scientific policy in the US. She also started up the website to help people with no hard academic background to participate in science at a recreational level.
Scistarter offers a place to go not only for citizen scientists, but also for those interested in setting up a Citizen Science project. You can find tools for developing data collection, sorting and visualisation, as well as ideas for building communities and designing a website. Scistarter has an impressive media partner – Discover magazine. Darlene is a senior advisor to the magazine. Adding you project to the scistarter Global project finder promises to connect you to our community of doers!
Demonstrating that you really don’t have to have in higher education to contribute to Citizen Science were A-level students, Louis Wilson and Chris Lundy (from Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys in Kent), who described a project that started from a school trip to CERN. CERN@School gives students an opportunity to use chips (named Medipix) from the Large Hadron Collider.  Eleven schools in the Kent area are now using these chips to gather data about secondary cosmic rays in the atmosphere, and Queen Mary University’s GridPP project is helping them to process the data.

Chris and Louis are in the process of designing an app for smartphones (with smaller mega-chips e.g. USB stick in size) and are hoping to collaborate with application software developers at the Summit.

Science by Citizens

The citizen cyberscience summit brings together so many disparate activities and people, all with the basic premise that everyone should be doing science and be involved. They also have the attitude of “Don’t Panic, Organise!” Well three projects which are doing this are the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science (PLOTS), London Zoo and EveryAware.

Shannon Dosemagen and Sara Wylie from PLOTS are interested in open source development of tools for grassroots science. They want civic science to solve the problems of engaging the community in environmental science and health research. What matters to them is that citizens are interested in different kinds of needs and data types outside usual standards. So they are trying to develop science which is community orientated and owned.

Their first project used balloons and digital cameras in 2 litre soft drink bottles to do aerial mapping/photography. It was first used in Louisiana so that actual on the ground stakeholders could get involved in tracking and monitoring the oil spill form the Deep Water Horizon disaster. They now have over 200,000 images and have also transformed all of the data into to industry standard but also created non-online data e.g. maps that were handed out at diners and shops. It has now been used for pollution monitoring at the Gowarnus Canal superfund site in Brooklyn NY as well as by protestors in Jerusalem, Wall Street and Santiago to show the extent of their movements.

Not everything is so urban though Alasdair Davies from Zoological Society of London presented the Instant Wild application. They have 6 camera traps in 4 locations like Sri Lanka, and Kenya. When they are activated by a mammal moving past them the photo is sent to a volunteers phone so they can identify what animal it was they are now upto 80,000 downloads to iPhones and over 325,00 identifications. They have had some real surprises like a fishing cat in Sri Lanka or leopards in Kenya but the most important one was a mountain mouse deer which has only been photographed once before in 3 years (before that it wasn’t even officially recognised as existing). They hope to move forward with 21 new cameras and new locations as well as supporting the Android platform.

The last project was EveryAware presnted by Vittorio Loreto from La Sapienza University of Rome. It is a platform that integrates objective and subjective monitoring to improve awareness and possibly change behaviour. They combine various technologies from sensor boxes to smart phones with their flagship project being “Widenoise”. Measureing actual noise (objective) and a user’s prediction (subjective) it helps build up a noise map of the area but also engage the user in what the noise levels are around them

These are only 3 of the projects trying to bring people to bear on science and engage them actively in thinking about their local environment as well as the global.

Developing Skills for Citizen Science – Tom Igoe

The first day of the Hackfest sparked off a great deal of discussion. Tom Igoe, is an Associate Arts Professor at Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) in NYU, and runs a truly inter-disciplinary course that takes in a hundred graduate students a year from different backgrounds (dancers, musicians engineers, librarians) and trains them in communications technologies, programming, electronics, media production and app development. All useful skills for developing citizen science projects!

During the two-year graduate ‘Physical Computing’ programme,  students get truly inventive, exploring more intuitive ways of interacting with technology and computers to solve problems. A computer’s physical interface is fairly limited (i.e. keyboard, mouse, interactive display), but the ITP projects delve further utilising micro controllers and sensors that respond to humans in a more intuitive way.

One of the themes is to examine sustainable practices, and think about solving environment issues guided by students own motivations. One project, ‘Botanicals’ uses a simple temperature and humidity sensor that tweets you when your plant is sick. The group is also working to improve the work of conservationists that track monkeys in the forests.

Digital fabrication (more customer-centric “maker” culture) can also be used for humanitarian research goals, and ITP are working alongside  UNICEF. Some projects have implications for healthcare/assistive technology. Students have designed a special balance board to help stroke victims regain their balance using micro controllers with two pressure sensors.
Most of the tools used by students are developed at low cost and are simple to use.  Tom is also a co-founder of Arduino, the open source hardware platform for electronics prototyping platform. It’s flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software. It’s intended for artists, designers, hobbyists, and anyone interested in creating interactive objects or environments.
ITP Alumni often come back for Summer School for refresher courses, and some projects are transferred into a real world context. Two ex-students, a carpenter and dancer set up Groundlab, and have designed a Lion collar (with inbuilt GSM/GPS sensors) to help African farmers. When wild lions come close to a farm-yard area the collar sends an SMS to the farmer to alert them.
Takeaways from the presentation: “A project only really makes a difference when you can see how it reflects on your own life, and others lives. It’s all about generating ideas, and it is worth being promiscuous with your own ideas. The ‘things’ we make are less important than the relationships they support. We can get lost in the novelty unless we remember why we are developing the ‘thing’ in the first place.”




Citizen Science, getting stuck in

Science is sometime shown as gleaming labs and shiny white coats, we all know that is not how it really is. Two talks from the second afternoon session at the London Citizen Cyberscience Summit showed how far this view can be from reality.

Lilian Pintea from the Jane Goodall Instituteis using community based monitoring in western Tanzania to protect the chimpanzee and their forest habitats. They use a holistic approach engaging and empowering communities to look after their natural resources (including chimpanzees). Based on Google’s Open Data Kit they get locals to get identify and tag local landmarks. However it is not always so high tech they have pulled data from maps drawn in the sand. It is still a bottom up approach, with the team just being a catalyst and facilitator, providing tools, training and stipends.

Jon Parsons from the Global Canopy Programme is using Technology to enable non-technical people to record the natural environment. He started his work in the UK with the Woodland Trust with a project digitising  phenology (plant and animal life cycle events) datasets from as far back as 1736. They then asked for help from the public to do observations on ancient trees and the BBC programme Springwatch got involved and they had a massive uptake. They now have 75,000 catalogued and validated and almost 20,000 more. He then moved to more foreign climes, Guyana. The project uses a native community to monitor, record and verify areas and landmarks in the rainforest. It was not a normal project testing included making sure the phones could survive a dunking and mango fall! One of the stranger problems the encountered was that older members of teh community had very dried out skin so could not use the touch screen without licking their fingers first.

These are only 2 of many projects showing that citizens are not just people sitting at home analysing data on their home PCs, sometimes they are local tribes avoiding falling mangos.