How do you think of science? Do you see it as an abstract subject you took in school? Is it a field of study for brainy people with a string of degrees? Thanks to dozens of user-friendly citizen science projects, everyone can do science. While enjoying the benefits of interacting with the natural world, a citizen scientist contributes valuable information to the field of science.

It doesn’t take a lot of fancy equipment or a college degree to practice science. Citizen science can be as simple as reporting what you observe in your back yard. Many projects are designed to be user-friendly by allowing participants to upload data via a cell phone or a computer. That data is then reviewed by scientists who use it in many ways to further understand and advance the scientific world.

Below, Austin Alexander Burridge, an Environmental Science Major, explains how anyone in the world can introduce science in their daily lives to work towards a greener world.

1. Discover the benefits of being a grassroots scientist.

You won’t be paid for your labor, but volunteering your efforts is not without rewards. Here is just a short list of what you might enjoy as a citizen scientist.

  • Citizen scientists provide valuable data that would be nearly impossible, financially, to duplicate by trained scientists.
  • Helping with a project broadens your knowledge of the subject.
  • Many projects include meeting new people.
  • Your community may directly benefit from the projects.
  • Whether participating with family or a school group, kids learn that science can be easy, fun, and exciting, and our nation benefits by turning out more scientists.
  • While so much of our population is becoming addicted to electronic virtual reality, citizen science reintroduces the virtuous reality of communing with nature.

Being a citizen scientist can open up many new opportunities for you and your family. Citizen science is the perfect hobby for those who want healthy, outdoor activities that make a positive difference.

2. Choose your level of involvement.

No matter how busy you are, you can find a project that suits your schedule. Some projects require as little as a few hours per year. Other projects allow you to participate every day, or whenever you have the time. You might even consider planning your vacation around a citizen science project.

Some projects provide, at a low cost, the necessary training and equipment for the task, such as the CoCoRaHS Network (cocorahs.org), a project to map hail, rain and snow. Other projects rely on people who are already skilled to provide data, such as Earth Dive’s (earthdive.com) citizen science project for scuba divers to record what they saw on their last underwater outing.

3. Choose your area of interest.

Have you always been secretly intrigued by insects? Do the birds who visit your feeders interest you? Or are you more interested in weather patterns, star formations, or concocting chemicals in your basement? Whatever you like to dabble in, or have always wanted to learn more about (if you had the time), you can probably find a citizen science project related to it.

Here are a few ideas of ongoing projects that anyone (kids, beginners, families) can participate in:

My Yard eBird – While eBird offers many different types of projects for birders, My Yard eBird lets bird watchers report only the birds they recognize, even from their own back yard. Once registered, users can file reports as often as they like.

Project Budburst – Green thumbs, green thumb wannabes and photographers will enjoy this project. Beginning in spring, you can report and contribute photos of the first signs of spring – the first leaf buds, the first shoots of green grass – and all the different phenophases of plant life.

Citizen Sky – Help solve a 175-year old mystery involving the Epsilon Aurigae star. No experience with star gazing is required. Training is provided, but you can participate even if you live in a city and do not own a telescope.

Of course, there are projects designed for those who want a more significant challenge. An online project finder is the best way to explore the plethora of opportunities such as the Citizen Science Central website, operated by the esteemed Lab of Ornithology.

Maybe you can’t shoot to the moon like Neil Armstrong or film the depths of the seas like Jacque Cousteau, but you can make a difference. Any new hobby or activity can have a ripple effect on your life. Being a citizen scientist may lead you down a new and exciting path in your life, but the odds are excellent that it will be a healthy and beneficial turn.

About Austin Alexander Burridge:

Austin Alexander Burridge is a student at Winona State University in Minnesota and is currently pursuing a Major in Environmental Science, with an emphasis in Biology, and a Minor in Sociology. He has a deep interest in understanding the relation of sustainable ecological systems to the environment and is an impassioned advocate for the conservation of natural resources.