The Roanoker - September/October 2020 - 38

Science Has a Job For You
Everyday citizens can now contribute to thousands of research projects
around the world.  written by christina nifong

Nearly every spring and
fall for the last four years,
Leon Vinci and his partner
have picked up their
supplies, met at a parking
lot off Apperson Road and
waded into a branch of the
Roanoke River.
There, they slip a mesh
net into the stream to
search for tiny river bugs,
some no larger than a
fingernail. They count and
categorize their catch,
measure the pH of the
water, make observations
about the water's level
and its clarity. After half a
day spent in the sunshine
and fresh air, the team
files a report to the
Roanoke River Project.
Their work as stream
monitors is complete for
another season.

38

SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2020

Unlike many
volunteer activities
- picking up litter or
beautifying a garden
bed, tutoring a student
or raising awareness
of homelessness - the
value of the stream
monitoring isn't in the
work itself so much as its
contribution to a larger
pool of information.
After years of collecting
data, city, county and
state agencies can see
trends in the health of the
rivers they're watching.
They can use the
measurements to devise
policy and create cleanup plans. The data are
available for researchers
to include in a variety of
undertakings.

Which is what
makes Vinci not
just a volunteer,
but a citizen
scientist.
It's a classification that is
both hundreds of years old and
relatively new. Think Benjamin
Franklin's discovery of electricity
or John James Audubon's study
of birds. Neither were trained
scientists. They were simply
observers, curious about the
world around them.
Today 's citizen scientists
are participants in typically
large-scale studies, designed by
researchers to count species,
gather data on soil or water,
document c hanges in the
natural world over time. They
are crowdsourced using apps
on phones and uploaded into
multinational databases. Citizen
science projects range from
observing the night skies to
monitoring weather conditions
to tracking the level of plastics
in the ocean.
While the work has been
happening for centuries, the
term "citizen science" has only
been widely used in the last
10 years. Driven by scientists'
desire to make research more
available to everyone and the
public's concern over the health
of the environment, and aided
by advances in technolog y
that make measurements more
precise and communication
easier, citizen science today
includes thousands of studies at
the local, statewide, national and
international levels.

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The Roanoker - September/October 2020

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