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.

Wanna Watch a Wildebeest?

The only place where no gnus is not good gnus.
The only place where no gnus is not good gnus.

Project: Wildebeest Watch

Human beings love to watch things moving in lockstep. We enjoy marching bands and synchronized swimming, and we are particularly entranced by our cousins in the animal world. A murmuration of starlings, for example, can be mesmerizing.

Inevitably, no matter what we’re watching, the same question comes to mind: how do animals know which way to go when moving en masse? Or, better yet, how do they not all crash into one another?

It’s an important question, because many animals move in groups, and in cases where they are being pursued by predators, being able to move in a group effectively means the difference between life and death. No where is that more true than for the wildebeest, the perennial favourite of lions and hyenas.

Scientists would love to know more about the ‘collective intelligence’ of wildebeests (also known as gnus), and want to know how they use group movements to maximize their chances of finding food while staying safe. They’ve gathered images of wildebeests from a project known as Snapshot Serengeti, and now they need your help sorting the pictures. You can either mark the directions of the shadows (for calibration purposes) or the direction of the wildebeest.

“We combine your answers about where the sun and shadows are with the timestamp on the photo to calculate the camera direction,” explains the site, led by Ali Burchard. “Then we’re able to turn the left, right, towards, and away wildebeest markings into compass directions for the computer simulation models.”

To participate, sign into the wildebeest project using your existing Zooniverse login (or create one), and follow the classification instructions on screen. Try to resist breaking out into songs from The Lion King soundtrack while you work.



Help Explore The Final Frontier

Photo credit: E. Prince at The Commons
Photo credit: E. Prince at The Commons

Project: Mach 30

Space exploration has long been the preserve of astronauts and rocket geeks. Escaping Earth’s gravity is an expensive and often dangerous proposition, so the only way most of us get to experience space is vicariously, either through following NASA’s exploits, or checking out the latest offering at the movie theatre.

At least one organization wants to change that. Called “Mach 30,” the group believes that anyone who wants to visit space should be able to do so.

“We … believe that while government agencies like NASA and private companies like Space X may have similar end goals, their current paths will not lead toward regular space access in our lifetime,” states the website. “We believe the best path to that goal is through sustainable leadership, open source hardware, and the use of mature technology.”

The idea behind open source hardware is to use and adapt readily available hardware designs, create new hardware where necessary, and further, to make the designs for the new and adapted systems freely available to others. Mach 30 has two main projects in development at the moment: a Shepard Test Stand for Estes rocket motors, and a Ground Sphere CubeSat ground station.

To get involved, you can sign up for their free newsletter, make a donation, or get in touch to see how you can contribute to current and future projects. Mach 30 has partnered with the School Factory, and is also working with Southern Stars for their SkyCube project, a nanosatellite launched into space early in 2014.

Channel Your Inner Goodall

Photo Credit: Thomas Lersch via Wikimedia Commons

Project: Chimp & See

Like many of you, my earliest memories of “science” in the classroom center on the films we saw about the life and work of Dame Jane Goodall, the English primatologist, anthropologist, and ethologist, whose 55-year study of Gombe chimpanzees has been groundbreaking on countless fronts.

So it’s with great pleasure today that I write a citizen science post on her favorite subject. Chimp & See is a project that allows you to study chimps in their natural habitat… from the comfort of your living room. A team of researchers has collected 7000 hours of footage from camera traps in 15 countries throughout Africa. They want you to watch these videos and tell them what you see.

“By scanning the videos from these traps and identifying the types of species and activity that you see, you’ll help us to understand the lives of these apes—their behaviors, relationships, and environments—and to extrapolate new ideas about human origins.”

The project is part of the Zooniverse group, and thus has their usual expert touch: a great user interface, very clear tutorials, and a method to save your progress. If you already have a Zooniverse login, you can dive right in. If not, you can register once and also access the wide range of projects Zooniverse has in other areas. Meanwhile, be sure to check out the background to the chimpanzee study.


Don’t Just Talk About The Weather… Document It.

Photo credit: Public domain image via Wikipedia Commons.

Project: iSeeChange: The Almanac

For decades, anyone who relies on the weather for a living has depended on almanacs, those annual calendars with weather statistics and tables, to roughly predict the current weather. But with climate change making patterns harder and harder to suss, a new project called iSeeChange wants you to help document what’s going on to create a living almanac.

Started by Julia Kumari Drapkin at the Colorado public station KVNF, the project is going nation wide, and is designed to combine citizen science, public media, and satellite and sensor monitoring of environmental conditions. Specifically, the project is joining forces with the NASA mission Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2, to provide “ground truth” or ground-level observations in conjunction with satellite measurements of CO2 levels.

“Combining these two perspectives—a global view of the earth from space and a granular view from individuals on the ground—offers an unprecedented opportunity to match big science with daily life, and surface hidden patterns and stories.”

To participate, you simply need to create a login for the site, and post what you have noticed going on in your area. This might be an observation about the arrival of the first dandelions being very early, or the fact that you have noticed several bird species overwintering that never have before. You could also write about what’s thriving or not in your garden, how the local frog and toad population seems to be faring, and so on.

The site has a trailer on the Get Involved page that helps to illustrate the project’s purpose. For more information, you can also contact Julia at [email protected].