Citizen Science at NC State and How to Get Started

Since thousands of citizen science projects are available for interested individuals, getting started can be overwhelming. Luckily, the Citizen Science Campus program and SciStarter make this initial decision easier for aspiring citizen scientists.

Picture of a monkey from a camera trap used in the OSA Camera Trap Network (https://instantwild.zsl.org/projects/osa-CTN).

Many students in Forestry and Environmental Resources (FER) are introduced to citizen science in the classroom or during internships. For those unaware of these inclusive projects, citizen science is a way to involve the general public in data collection for ongoing research. These projects are also helpful tools for introducing students to data collection before pursuing research positions. Citizen science projects can be used to track the locations of certain species, record tidal differences, or even identify astronomical bodies.

Incoming NC State students are already delving into Citizen Science, specifically the Crowd the Tap project ran by Dr. Caren Cooper, a FER Associate Professor and Public Science Cluster faculty member. About 5,000 students received water chemistry kits as a way to introduce them to citizen science. However, upperclassmen can join in on the fun as well!

Thousands of citizen science projects are available for anyone interested in collecting data. Since there are so many different projects, how can someone choose one? Where should a beginner citizen scientist start? Dr. Caren Cooper offered this advice for interested students:

  1. Go to https://citizenscience.ncsu.edu/ and select the “Click here to access your SciStarter Account” link at the bottom of the page.
  2. From there, log in using your Unity ID and password, so your participation will be considered a part of the Wolfpack effort.
  3. Pick a Citizen Science project and start logging data!

After logging in, students can review each of the listed citizen science projects used by the Citizen Science Campus Program. Most of the projects displayed on the page are Citizen Science initiatives involving NC State. However, a few projects focused around the spread of COVID-19 are listed as well.

NC State Projects:

The graphic explains plumbing layouts while introducing the main idea of the project.(https://scistarter.org/form/crowd-the-tap).

Crowd the Tap (https://crowdthetap.org/about/) – This is an Environmental Protection Agency funded project about safe drinking water. When participating in this project, citizen scientists will test tap water to help identify areas in need of infrastructure replacement.

Sourdough for Science – Individuals will create their own sourdough bread from scratch and take measurements to monitor microbial growth. Go one step further, and use different flours to see if flour types affect microbial growth.

Instant Wild: OSA Camera Trap Network – A large-scale monitoring program in Central America is using camera traps to monitor species in need of conservation. To participate, students can download the app or access the website to tag these species.

COVID Projects:

COVID Near You – Help track the spread of COVID by reporting how you are feeling. Recording associated symptoms and testing activities can provide local and global perspectives of the virus. Reporting symptoms and heath as a healthy individual is also important in this project!

Eterna – Fight COVID using Eterna by helping scientists at Stanford create medicine. This project helps citizen scientists learn more about RNA, design RNA-based medicines, and receive feedback on their designs.

Foldit – This project is a fun, competitive computer game taking the user’s puzzle-solving abilities to fold proteins to create a more efficient pattern-folding computer program. By playing this game, citizen scientists are helping researchers find a drug to stop coronavirus.

Upcoming Project:

A new citizen science project will be used by the Citizen Science Campus program, the Marine Debris Tracker! Citizen scientists are encouraged to go to their favorite body of water and record the category and quantity of litter. Even though this is a “marine debris” tracker, inland citizen scientists are important participants.

There is no time like the present to start participating in citizen science initiatives! While choosing a new project can be overwhelming, the Citizen Science Campus program eases this daunting task by providing 6 different citizen science projects. Each of the projects has a different format and level of difficulty, so anyone can collect data regardless of experience and background knowledge. Getting started is incredibly easy, so log in to SciStarter today and start collecting data!

For those wanting a more in-depth experience, the Citizen Science Club is a great resource. Future citizen scientists can fill out the form here to join the club.

Written by: Leslie Smith