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Calling all citizen scientists!

July 9, 2015

“ … the power of citizen science is not going to be kept in a tidy box. The potential of citizen science will still surprise us.”

-Sharman Apt Russell

 

Power and surprise: two intriguing elements of any person’s life.  There are reasons why people revel in the unexpected and yearn for power; such heady feelings offer welcome interruptions to the repetition of daily life. And according to OSU Press author Sharman Apt Russell, the field of citizen science offers both.

 

The aforementioned quote appears in Russell’s provoking Diary of a Citizen Scientist, DiaryofaCitizenScientistpublished in 2014. A teacher and amateur scientist herself, Russell uses her own experiences to demonstrate the growing field’s immense personal and public benefit. Diary of a Citizen Scientist encourages readers to pursue their passions, all the while contributing to something bigger than themselves. Luckily for her readers, there is no dearth of diverse opportunities. In fact, a growing project facilitated in part by Oregon State University researchers centers around the very idea of “bigger.”

 

Introducing “the blob”: an abnormally warm section of the Pacific Ocean, located just off the western coast of the United States. Researchers at OSU and the University of Oxford believe the warmer water may correlate with current drought conditions and unusual weather patterns. Based upon the knowledge that ocean temperatures affect continental weather conditions, the scientists theorize that the blob and Oregon’s current heat wave are far from mutually exclusive. In order to prove—or disprove—their hypotheses, however, a computer model comparing historic data with present conditions must be run thousands of times. That’s where you come in!


 ClimatePrediction

 

The research team is looking for capable volunteers willing to download and run the climate model on their personal computers. The program, according to a report by the Oregonian, runs while the computer is not in use, but pauses automatically whenever the owner begins utilizing his or her device. Thanks to an accompanying set of detailed graphics, volunteers can watch the project and data coalesce instantaneously.

 

“People can watch the results unfold in real time,” Phil Mote, director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute, told the Oregonian. “Volunteers can find out at the same time we do.”

 

To participate in the project, simply put on your citizen scientist cap and follow the instructions on www.climateprediction.net. Within minutes, you’ll be contributing to a study that may solve the mystery of western North America’s persistent drought.

 

WesternDroughtGIF

GIF from www.climateprediction.net

 


Russell explains the prevalence and importance of such projects at the very beginning of Diary of a Citizen Scientist by noting that “citizen science projects are proliferating like the neural net in a prenatal brain,” completely reshaping the way research is conducted. Who knows: maybe it’s time for you to spark some synapses yourself and be a part of the research revolution.

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