You can do science too! Learn how you can make a difference by doing real science to help solve our planet's most pressing problems.

Have You Got Your Finger On The Pulse?

Photo Credit: Constant314 via Wikimedia Commons
Photo Credit: Constant314 via Wikimedia Commons

Project: Place Pulse

We are frequently admonished not to judge a book by its cover; with Place Pulse, you’re free to judge a city by its street views.

Place Pulse, a project from the MIT Media Lab, wants to learn more about how people perceive their cities. According to principal investigator César Hildago, “Cities are not just collections of demographics, but places that people experience. Urban environments are known to elicit strong evaluative responses, and there is evidence and theories suggesting that these responses may affect criminal and health behaviors. Yet, we lack good quantitative data on the responses elicited by urban environments.”

“Place Pulse is an effort to help collect quantitative data of urban perception to help advance these research efforts and open new avenues of research.”

To participate, you can simply go to the website and answer some “hot or not” style questions. You’ll be presented with two images and asked to chose between them, based on questions like “Which looks safer?” or “Which looks livelier?” So far more than 1.2 million opinions have been rendered.

“With enough user participation,” suggests the website, “Place Pulse can identify which neighborhoods in Bangkok are perceived better than neighborhoods in New York City or to examine how the distribution of a certain perception in Mexico City compares with that same perception in Tokyo.”


Data Rescue


Photo Credit: Niklas Bildhauer via Wikiamedia Commons
Photo Credit: Niklas Bildhauer via Wikiamedia Commons

Project: Data Rescue @ Home

Pity the poor, unloved bit of historical data: Unloved, unanalysed, and *gasp* analog, instead of digital. Brother, can you spare some time?

The Data Rescue @ Home project would like your help in digitizing historical weather data, to help researchers better understand climate change. The project is currently working with two historical data sources: German radiosonde data from the Second World War and meteorological station data from Tulagi (Solomon Islands) from the first half of the 20th century.

The WWII data includes measurements from Germany, France, Danmark, Italy, Poland, Austria and Estonia. Geodynamic height, temperature and relative humidity were recorded from 1000 hPa to 50 hPa.

The Tulagi data measurements include air pressure, dry and wet bulb temperature, maximum and minimum temperature, humidity, wind direction and speed, cloud cover, weather, and precipitation amount.

According to the website, “The old data are expected to be very useful for different international research and reanalysis projects (e.g. the Twentieth Century Reanalysis, new surface temperature datasets), and the prolongation of the currently available observational series into the past is of crucial importance for our understanding of the climate system.”

The project is a joint effort between the University of Bern and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

To participate, simply use the registration link at the top of the project’s website, and start digitizing/transcribing the data presented. You’ll be doing valuable work to help us deal with one of the most urgent problems of the 21st century.


Cosmic Software: Turn Your Phone Into A Cosmic Ray Detector

Photo Credit: NASA


Project: CRAYFIS

Flip through any popular science magazine, and you’re sure to find a piece or two about the latest theories and findings in astrophysics and cosmology. That’s because the mysteries of the universe — and by extension our place in it — never fail to fascinate.

In general, though, the ability to directly participate in research in these fields has been limited… until now. An intriguing new project called CRAYFIS wants you to turn your phone into a cosmic ray detector.

When cosmic rays come to Earth, they hit the atmosphere and produce a shower of particles several kilometers wide. Very-high energy rays produce very large showers, but they are rare, and these can only be detected by equipment with a huge surface area. Previous attempts to study these particles have been done with large, expensive, and dedicated facilities, like the Pierre Auger Observatory.

Your phone likely has a camera with sensors that can detect cosmic ray showers; all you need to do to become an astrophysicist is download an app to make use of the existing equipment on your phone. Once installed, you can forget about it. If particles are detected, the software will make note of the location of the phone and upload the data.

In addition to becoming part of a very large detector array, which is kind of cool all by itself, if your device collects data used in a scientific paper, you’ll be given author credit. To join the project, simply fill in the beta tester form on the front page of the site. If you’d like to read the paper about the project in the meantime, check it out here.

Thinking About Thinking


Photo Credit: Serge Melki via Wikimedia Commons
Photo Credit: Serge Melki via Wikimedia Commons


Project: Online Wisdom Lab (OWL)

If you have ever formally studied psychology, one thing probably stood out: the subjects of the studies you read about were nearly always college students. A forthcoming set of apps hopes to change that.

The Online Wisdom Lab at the University of Birmingham is developing a series of surveys and games to learn about changes in thinking skills, decision making, and health behaviour during adulthood.

“We currently have no idea how our thinking changes as we progress through adulthood, the time when we make many of the most important decisions of our lives,” says Lily FitzGibbon, one of the researchers involved in the project. “To tackle this obvious gap in our knowledge, we’ve designed an app full of tests and questionnaires to see how and when changes happen as we get older and wiser.”

The project is being funded by the Economic and Social Research Council in the UK, and the apps are due to be launched in May of this year. If you live in Birmingham, you can check out a number of events taking place ahead of the launch to generate interest. Otherwise, you can check out the Facebook page and Twitter feed for the project to get a notice when the project launches.