Citizen Science

Citizen Science is the term used to describe science conducted by amateurs. In the past all scientists were amateurs. Science was often the hobby of gentlemen scientists who funded their own research. For example Charles Darwin was born into a wealthy family. Nowadays most scientists are professionals. Employed mostly by universities and other research institutes as well as in private companies. Just because most scientists are professionals doesn’t mean there aren’t ways that amateurs can contribute to science. In some cases professionals couldn’t do the research they do without the help of amateurs.

Around the world amateurs contribute to science in a wide variety of ways. Due to the huge amount of data to collect, professionals could never possibly collect it all. Some amateurs contribute to science by carrying out surveys and measurements. These can vary from recording weather measurements to carrying out wildlife surveys. In the field of astronomy, amateurs can carry out observations that support research for example some amateurs count meteors and others record the brightness of variable stars. Some amateur astronomers have very sophisticated setups and spend hundreds of thousands of euro on telescopes and cameras. The images taken by these telescopes can also be used by professional researchers.

If you fancy a chance to go out and collect data yourself, there is a new project called The Toilet Roll Challenge. It is being run by Prof. Brian Espey of Trinity College Astrophysics. The basic idea is that you go outside and count the number of stars you can see through a toilet roll holder. The data from this will be used to help the study of light pollution in Ireland. You can do it from the comfort of your garden. All the information and instructions are available here.

Over the last number of years another problem has arisen for professional scientists. Around the world there are vast amounts of data being collected in all disciplines of science and all of this data needs to be processed and analysed. In some cases this can be automated by computers but sometimes the human eye is much better suited to tasks such as pattern recognition and transcribing handwriting. A number of websites and apps have now been created to allow amateurs do this work. There are lots of projects out there that you can contribute to from the comfort of your home and even from your mobile phone. Given the current situation regarding COVID-19, contributing to Citizen Science could be a really positive way to spend some of the free time created by the restrictions currently in place. Citizen Science is also a great activity to get kids involved in provided you find a project that sparks their interest. Probably the best website I have seen for citizen science is the Zooniverse.

Galaxy Zoo was created in 2007 by Oxford University Professor of astrophysics Chris Linton and was created to categorise large numbers of galaxies. After multiple versions, Galaxy Zoo eventually grew into the Zooniverse. The Zooniverse contains projects from Galaxy Zoo and also multiple other projects in every area of science you can imagine. There are projects on astronomy, history, biology, marine biology, meteorology and many more. Zooniverse comes with an app for your mobile phone or tablet which allows you to process science data anywhere.

The website is easy to use. You can create an account at and begin to process real science data. There are tutorials on how to process the data and the data you process will be included in scientific publications. Why not find a Citizen Science project that interests you and get involved today?

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