email a friend iconprinter friendly iconThe Big, Record-Breaking, Green, Disease-Busting, Deep-Sea, Crime-Fighting IDEAS for 2009
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Photograph by Reinhard Dirscherl/Agentur Bilderberg/Aurora Photos
Age of Citizen Science

Crowdsourcing. Group thinking. Call it what you will, but in the past ten years, average Joes tasked with online assignments (from bird counting to cloud identification and more) have contributed reams of data to the scientific body. Just one thing: Few scientists ever took it seriously. That’s changed. Sites are better, questions keener, and citizens are becoming viable foot soldiers in legitimate scientific studies. “We have over 30 ornithology papers published in peer-reviewed journals that use volunteer-collected data,” says Rick Bonney of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Citizen Science Program. Here are four ways you can lend a hand.

GALAXY ZOO: Volunteers can study telescope images of ouoter space to help Yale and Oxford astro-physicists classify galaxies according to shape. Greatest discovery to date: A 24-year-old Dutch schoolteacher discovered a never before seen astronomical object that is now the subject of two peer-reviewed articles. (

REEF, pictured above: Home to the world’s largest marine sightings database (130,000 entries and counting), REEF relies on recreational snorkelers and divers to collect information about fish population and density. The site’s data has been used in more than 55 scientific papers. (

PROJECT BUDBURST:A Boulder-based plant phenology program, BudBurst asks citizens to keep tabs on the life cycles of plants around them— when flowers bloom, when leaves turn—and report them to climatologists. Latest buzz: The USA National Phenology Network is monitoring the site closely.

S'COOL ROVER:The NASA-funded project notifies participants every time a CERES satellite passes overhead so they can step outside and corroborate cloud cover readings. Why? Accurate estimates of incoming solar energy are critical for climate change modeling. (

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