How I Become a Citizen Scientist

If you have read my last post you might have a small insight into why I was never attracted to pursuing a career as a scientist. If you haven't  read it, it can be summed up as, "Science is amazing, I like writing apps ".

If you want to become a Scientist it generally needs a big dollop of brains, dedication and be motivated by new discoveries.   I would say my brain level would rank at "not thick", my dedication somewhere around "fairly but wouldn't want to study yeast for years"  and my motivation by new discoveries I'm somewhat "meh, would rather be  flashing LEDs on and off" But after attending the Citizen Cyberscience Summit the past few days I learnt a lot that my levels of brains,dedication and motivation could be useful.  I might never have a Boson named after me but I could certainly make somebody's life a little bit better.

Day 1 of the Summit was a overview of what Citizen Science is.  There are top down projects where Scientists are using the power of the internet to categorise data.  A lot of data can be categorised by computers. But there is some data that computers struggle to deal with. The Zooniverse project has collections of these. They started with an Astronomy  project the Galaxy Zoo , asking people to classify galaxies into spiral or elliptical. The popularity of this led to other projects and spread away from Astronomy.

Other projects presented on day one looked at working with communities in developing countries, mapping Neurons in the brain and games to solve Quantum research challenges, while using

The concept of levels of Citizen science involvement was also touched on, from a more passive role,sitting down at a computer in spare time and identifying images through to 'Extreme citizen science' projects controlled and lead by the citizen.

Day 2 was  "Look beneath the surface" It was a mix of talks and workshops.  There were different tracks. I spent a good part of the day in the Everyaware Symposium and it was during this that it started to come to the realisation that Citizen Science isn't just about the Science its also about the Citizens.

It was the session called "Recruiting Bipedal Sensing Platforms or Participatory Community Sensing?"  which roughly translated to get people to do the sensing that it really hit me.  This was all about a project in the Chiswick area of London that actively recruited people to monitor the noise of aircraft from Heathrow airport.  I spoke to Christian afterwards who was  open that it was a campaigning project that was using data to support the cause.

Later on in the day I went to the "Learning through Research and Open Data in Digital Humanities" There was  museum related content in this.  I learnt a new word Philology  from Stella Dee talking about the open Philology project  and my favourite was the outreach work that the  URE Museum at Reading is doing and the Panoply project taking ancient artifacts and developing them into animations like Clash of the Dicers

The last session I attended on day 2 was the really cool stuff.  The Sensors track, the P2P food lab ,Using science and technology to improve how people grow food. Not a science research project but a grass roots (literally) way to improve what people eat.

The Maker Movement, Citizen Science, and How They Overlap This was David Lang talking about OpenRov project . A underwater robot that can explore caves. David talked about how their 1st design failed but by being able to collaborate over the internet they were able to succeed.  And now the same garage that was the base for the the OpenRov project  went on to be base  for planet-labs The largest earth imaging satellite network.

After that  Paula Nerlich talked on her research into Using Arduino to track emotional reactions to patterns and texture of fabrics I'd already read about this as it was going to be a part of the Hack day on saturday and was keen to work on it.

So Saturday, Day 3 the Hackday.  All the projects that were part of the hackday had posters already displayed  and the project leaders introduced their own project.  I had intended to work mainly on Paula Nerlich's project i mentioned above, dip into the other projects and make some of the talks.  I actually spent all of the day working on the arduino code with Paula.  Her textile work is amazing she is able to take 2D knitting and give them a 3D structure. The programming and Arduino is as unfamiliar to her as weaving and knitting are to me.  Paula had taken the example programs that come with the Pulse monitor and Galvanic skin response sensor and has them working but would really like them to be able to display the data in a single window as well as log the data.

I managed to make some progress to getting them working during the day  and fully understood what was happening with each one, which I was reasonably happy with,.

As well as myself and Paula we were joined by  Erinma Ochu who had given a talk on "The Creative life of #CitizenScience " on Day 1 of the conference.  Erinma had worked with MOSI on the Turing Sunflowers project  and the Everyday Growing Cultures  in Manchester and Sheffield. So I loved the connections.

Erinma took one of the arduino boards hooked up to the Pulse monitor and GSR sensor along with a box containing some of Paula's textiles. She walked around the space hooking up people to the sensors and asking them to touch the textile and find out what it reminded them of and what memories it evoked.

I had taken my museum wearable project with me and was able to show it to a few people and explain how it worked and what it did.  Paula suggested a few things that would make it better.

The Hackday finished at around 4pm followed by the keynote - Citizen Science in the age of disruption from Jeff Howe, the man who coined the term Crowdsourcing.

Finally was the presentations of the Hackday projects. Paula introduced the project. Erinma gave a demonstration of the interviewing she had been doing and I talked about the coding work.

One of the coolest presentations was from Casper Addyman who had used the Gather platform to prototype a mobile app that parents could use to help him with his research at the Birckeck babylab

Because this was a scientific conference the winners of the Hackday challenge were decided by audience clapping and the data was recorded by a decibel measuring microphone. The scientists insisted on good data collection not just best judgement and err somehow we won, that  was quite a surprise .  We each won two Publiclab foldable mini spectrometers .  I'm not exactly sure what I'll do with this, but I think it will be interesting to work out how it works and you never know i might actually be motivated to do some more citizen science.


And even better than that myself and Paula have already started emailing to discuss helping each other with our wearable/textile  projects.  I think that is what being  a Citizen Scientist is really about.

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