Thursday, September 27, 2012

Banding Together...and Banding Trees...for the Smithsonian

Atrium of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
Photo Courtesy:

All my readers know the importance  of citizen scientists supporting museums.  But what do they do for us?  For starters, they are a great source of fun projects we can all participate in.

One great example is the Smithsonian's Treebanding Project.  Primarily targeted towards kids and schools groups, the project aims to create the first global observatory of how trees respond to climate.  With hundreds, and soon thousands, of trees being measured it is possible to watch tree growth over many years and see where it may be changing.

After signing up for the project, each teacher (or class or organization or science center) receives a tree-banding kit with tree bands of all different sizes, fasteners to hold them in place, and directions for identifying and tagging trees being measured.  It also comes with a nice set of calipers for measuring limbs and trunks of very young trees.  They just identify 3-5 trees to follow over the course of a few years, follow the directions in the handy User's Guide, and set up an account so all  the measurements can be recorded.

Photo Courtesy:
The banding is relatively simple and makes a good class project.  There are lesson plans and classroom activities available to build upon the treebanding activity.  It teaches about the life cycle of trees, what helps them grow, and how climate can impact tree health.  Everything an energetic science teacher needs to help tomorrow's ecologists.

Once the bands are in place and measurements are taken, see what other schools are doing and check out their results on the Tree Data web page.  And for those of you wanting a cold hard look at all the data, check out the reports available here.  You have to be a registered user to get access (since its your trees) but that's a very simple process.

The best time for banding is spring...right before the new year's growth begins and a full year of fresh data can begin.  But interested teachers should contact the Smithsonian soon to reserve a kit if they want to get involved.  There are only so many to go around.  The equipment costs money and their sponsors can only provide so much.  Leaving a shortage for the many interested schools, teachers, and students wishing to participate.

This is where you can come in.  The Smithsonian has already taken the first steps of setting up the project, finding the equipment for you, and organizing a data system.  But they can't do it without your participation and your financial support.  So won't you help?  Just donate whatever small amount you can afford on the right-hand side (marked "Donate").  You'll help a few more schools access the program, and you'll feel good helping us advance the field of citizen science together.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Continuing with the Smithsonian!

Just a short time left to go!  Our campaign to help the Smithsonian and advance citizen sciecne in museums is a few weeks old but we are still waiting for many of you to help.  Remember, this doesn't just help the museum or individual citizen science helps advance hte field and make new opportunities available for us all.  So if you can spare $10 or $20 just clikc on the "Donate" button on the right and help us all out.  We appreciate it.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Helping the Smithsonian: In Their Own Words

Photo Courtesy:  OpenScientist

For the last few weeks I've been talking about the many great things museums offer and how instrumental they can be to citizen science. Our fields are interconnected and we can both help each other succeed. So if you have just a few dollars to spare won't you help by contributing to the Smithsonian this month? They are the nation's largest free museum and they provide help to other museums across the country. Just click on the "Donate" button to the right and I will also contribute $5 for every person who chips in.

So far the fundraising is admittedly behind where it should be, but let's keep pushing for the next two weeks and have a successful finish.

As a reminder of the Smithsonian's role, I received a timely e-mail last week that must be shared. It describes a $400,000 fundraising goal they are trying to meet by September 30 and the good things they are doing with their money. So don't just read my reasons to support the Smithsonian, here they are in the Smithsonian's own words.

People like you are making amazing things happen.

Planets are discovered, endangered species and ancient are revealed.  These things happen in no small part because of the generosity of people just like you.  Your gift to the Smithsonian truly matters.

As our fiscal year draws to a close, we're turning our attention to the next 12 months.  We have ambitious, exciting plans and were setting a BIG goal to help realize our dreams: we need to raise $400,000 before September 30 -- can you help us reach our goal?
Your gift helps make it possible for us to offer millions of people inspiring experiences that can only be found at the Smithsonian.  For example:
  • At the National Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center, people of all ages marvel at a true icon of American space travel, the Space Shuttle Discovery, our nation's longest-serving orbiter.
  • At the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the Roads of Arabia exhibition provides visitors an eye-opening look at the largely unknown ancient past of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
  • At the National Zoo's American Trail exhibit, a new habitat for seals and sea lions (plus beavers, river otters, bald eagles, and wolves) delights visitors while providing important information about America's indigenous wildlife.
We simply couldn't maintain amazing exhibits like these without the generosity of individuals like you.  Make a gift today and help us continue to provide the exceptional Smithsonian experiences that thrill visitors year after year.

The Smithsonian relies on both federal funding and private philanthropy.  While federal funding supports our infrastructure, it is the private philanthropy of individuals like you that truly makes it possible for the Smithsonian to continue to be a groundbreaking institution and a universal lens for learning.

Thank you for your dedication to the Smithsonian, and for making your special gift before September 30.

Warm Regards,

Laura Brouse-Long

Director, Friends of the Smithsonian
Smithsonian Institution
Of course you can always donate directly to them here.  But by using the "Donate" button on the right you help show the value of citizen science and the importance of our community.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Smithsonian Celebrates Orville and Wilbur Wright

Wright Flyer at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum
Photo Courtesy: OpenScientist
One great thing about Washington, DC is visiting all the various Smithsonian museums.  They feature one-of-a-kind artifacts and world-class collections and make them available for free to all visitors.  Add a heavy concentration on scientific exhibits, and you have the perfect organization for supporting citizen science.

One thing they also do well is telling the story of science and the people behind important technological advances.  Nothing illustrates the story-telling, and the power of citizen science, better than the "Wright Brothers and the Invention of the Aerial Age" exhibit at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum.  So when you help support the Smithsonian you help tell the story of how two bicycle mechanics with a vision changed the world and created the era of powered flight.

While much has been written about the entrepreneurial spirit of Orville and Wilbur Wright, and about their place in history, much less has been written about the duo as citizen scientists.  But the James Tobin book "To Conquer the Air" does a great job of it.  The book is also the story of competition between the scientific "establishment", personified by Samuel Langley and his attempts to build the first powered airplane, and that of the Wright's. For despite the resources Langley had at his disposal they were never enough. In fact, he spent over $70,000 (a huge sum at the time) on his own flying machine while the brothers spent just under $1,000 in materials and travel to Kitty Hawk by the time of their first sustained flight.

It is also a book about experimentation and challenging assumptions that have never been tested.  For example, pioneering scientist Otto Lilienthal had created a series of tables on lift that helped define how wings should be built and dictated the size of potential planes.  Everyone followed these tables except for the Wrights.  Through work with hand-constructed wind tunnels they re-wrote these tables and used the calculations to design their own flying machine. 

Otto Lilienthal and Octave Chanute had warned that any glider with wings longer than twelve feet was inherently dangerous, since it could not be controlled by shifting one's weight. Will had never made a free flight in a glider. Yet ... he chose to defy the world's only authorities on the basis of only his own calculations and preliminary experiments. 

Replicas and examples of these are showcased at the Smithsonian's exhibit, so you too can perfrom the same tests and learn more about the dynamics of flight.  But despite this success the book also describes the less-glamorous side of citizen science and the experimental method.  In one memorable passage, Tobin writes:
"[Learning to fly] was going to be an athletic endeavor, and its principal goal would be proper balance, as in skating or bicycling or gymnastics. When first mounting the parallel bars or the bicycle seat, you simply tried it, expecting to fall.  So it would be with this.  In the instant of the fall you might have an idea about how you could have turned your body differently or placed a hand elsewhere.  You tried again, fell again, considered, adjusted.  In this way he would learn new things.  He would attempt to build on others' successes, paricularly [Otto] Lilienthal's, with the aim of  answering the question he an Orville apparently had discusse off and on for years."
Wilbur Wright also dealt with the problems of how to become a voice in the growing field while being a non-degreed amateur with bright ideas.  Despite his personal confidence and the important insights being developed in their Ohio bike shop, he needed the intellectual and emotional support of the scientific community.  So they continued to blaze forward, even sharing many of their insights with famed Octave Chanute who took them under his wing for a time.  In a letter to Chanute he wrote:

I make no secret of my plans...for the reason that I believe no financial profit will accrue to the inventor of the first flying machine, and that only those who are willing to give as well as to receive suggestions can hope to link their names with the honor of its discovery.  The problem is too great for one man alone and unaided to solve in secret. 
Of course this part wasn't exactly true.  There was money to be gained...not just by the sale of patents and the Wright's sale of planes to the military but also in the many prize purses offered by countries and foundations to stimulate flight.  Everyone had an interest in those days and wanted to see powered flight.  So flight challenges and races were a popular way to move the field forward.  These would be the precursor to bounties won by Lindbergh when he crossed the Atlantic, and which organizations like Innocentive and XPrize use to stimulate citizen science today.  But the love of science for its own sake still remains, as Tobin summarizes the brothers' efforts over the years:

In 1899 and 1900, Wilbut Wright had pursued the problem of flight as a diversion, a hobby, a sport, with only a distant glimpse of the possibility of fame and fortune.  His brother had joined for the fun of it.  In 1901 and 1902 the hobby became a hermetic scientific quest.  Orville joined in earnest, and all the brothers cared for was to solve a mystery that obsessed them.
All of this is shown, and told, at the Smithsonian.  The story is fascinating and the exhibit is open to anyone, free of charge.  All this wonder and excitement, and a piece of history, made available through the generosity of James Smithson and the American taxpayer.  But won't you help them out?  Keep this exhibit and all others promoting citizen science by making a donation to the Smithsonian today.  I've set everything up for you on the right hand side of my blog, and I'll donate $5 of my own to every person who contributes.  Together we can preserve these stories for the future and encourage a whole new generation of groundbreaking citizen scientists.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Help Museums and Science Centers Teach Climate Change

All this month we are talking about museums and the role they play in nurturing citizen science research.  We've specifically talked about the Smithsonian and highlighted projects at other American museums as well.  Now it's time to discuss a very similar set of organizations; the zoos, aquariums, and other science centers located all across the country.

There's a huge amount I can write about both the commonalities and difference between those organizations. But that's not what you're reading OpenScientist're reading to find out about the projects they offer.  So we will start off by discussing Temperature Blast.  It's a project that both teaches about weather and helps scientists better understand climate change.  It's also another mobile application we can add to the growing list projects available on our Mobile Citizen Science Apps! page. 

Climate change research has been an important part of citizen science in the world of science centers for the last few years, and this application is a great example of it.  It is based at the Maryland Science Center and focuses on Baltimore-area data, but it is available nationwide and the science it teaches is universal.  As the Science Center itself describes the project:

Citizen Scientists collect live and archived Weatherbug data from select stations in the Baltimore region to compare temperatures and log this data for scientists. Scientists at the Baltimore Ecosystem Study then use this data to test models of temperature patterns across the city to aid in urban planning. This data illustrates the Urban Heat Island effect on the area, a phenomenon classified by temperature differences between a metropolitan area and more rural landscape nearby. An Urban Heat Island is not an effect of climate change, but rather of our activity shaping the environment around us. Citizen Scientists are asked to consider the question; if we can make changes on a local scale, how may be contributing to changes globally?
Sounds simple enough, right?  Let's get to it.

Getting Started is Easy:
  • Visit the Maryland Science Center: Citizen Science web page to learn more about Temperature Blast and the other programs they have available.  You can also register for the program online at
  • Download the Temperature Blast app in the Apple App Store or Google Play Store for Android.
  • Once installed and registered you can start right up.  Up first is Intro screen showing a map of local weather stations.  Thins will give you a better understanding of where each one is and the type of area (city, rural, suburban) which may impact the local weather.
  • Once finished, click the large yellow arrow to see the current conditions at each site.  Again, click on the yellow arrow when you're done.

  • This next step asks questions about the conditions at each weather station.  Not only does this help teach about reading weather information, but you will also learn about the various factors impacting how hot or cold a place is.

  • Finally, once all the information is submitted take a quiz about weather, citizen science, and science in general.    That's all there is to it!
Hopefully you'll have a chance to play with this's fun and helps teach kids about climate change.  But remember that these projects do cost money for science centers and museums to create.  Scientists put a lot of effort into designing them and computer programmers put a lot of time into coding too.  So if we want to see more of these valuable projects we need help those museums.

Won't you join the cause?  On the right side of this blog is a giant "Donate" button that collects money for the Smithsonian through the non-profit Network for Good organization..  As the nation's largest free museum group it's the perfect place to show the size and dedication of citizen science volunteers.  There is much they can do to support the any amount you can afford helps.  I will even pitch in an extra $5 per donation for every donor (up to 100 donors) as encouragement.  It only take a few minutes and a few dollars on your part, but it can turn into a giant boon for citizen science in the future.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Museums Support Citizen Science...Will You Support Them?

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
Photo Courtesy:
September is Citizen Science Supports the Smithsonian month.  It's our chance to show appreciation for everything museums do to help us, and to show that we can return the favor too.  On the right-hand side of this blog is a large "Donate" button provided by  I'm not asking for much, but if you could donate any small amount you can afford they'd greatly appreciate it.  And I'll even match $5 for every person who donates through the web site.  My goal is to demonstrating the power of our numbers so it's just a little incentive for every person that helps.

One of the best reasons to donate is to support the many projects that museums have previously put together as citizen scientists.  They are free for us to join but they do cost money.  Money to digitize collections so amateurs can classify images, money to pay researchers to organize and publish the data, and money to develop the computer programs used to collect the data.  Below are examples of some museum-sponsored projects we've highlighted in the past.  Won't you give back in return?

  • Project Firefly: Project from the Museum of Science in Boston to track the fate of these amazing insects. With your help, they hope to learn about the geographic distribution of fireflies and their activity during the summer season. Fireflies also may be affected by human-made light and pesticides in lawns, so they hope to also learn more about those effects.
  • Frogwatch: As the flagship citizen science program of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, this project allows individuals and families to learn about the wetlands in their communities and help conserve amphibians by reporting the calls of local frogs and toads.  They also organize volunteers into self-supporting chapters that provide a community of like-minded citizen scientists you can interact with.
  • LifeMapper: Tool for mapping animal habitats and testing how those habitats may be altered due to global climate change. Users can tap the database of geographic data for over 900,000 species and 20,000 environmental species models to graphically display where animals have recently been observed, how their habitat may change as the environment changes, and how that environment may change based on various economic development models.  All species observation data comes from the Geographic Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), a repository for data from governments and museums representing over 50 countries that have pooled their collections data in this one central facility. It also includes data from many museum-sponsored bio-observation projects. In other words, the citizen science projects you've been reading about on this very website! So now that you've worked on all these projects and diligently added your data to the collection, it's finally time to use it.
Of course this list just scratches the surface.  Museums everywhere need your help...both as citizen scientist participats and as financial donors.  It only costs a little bit to help but can make a world of difference to supporting our common cause.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Citizen Science Supports the Smithsonian

Atrium of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
Photo Courtesy:
The past few years I've written about the field of citizen science and highlighted interesting projects that anyone can participate in. These projects need your help to understand our planet, explore the universe, and make our world a better place. And you've already responded generously with your time and effort.  Now I'm asking for your charitable help too.

All through September I'm starting the first Annual "Citizen Science Supports the Smithsonian" Drive.  We need to support our local museums that introduce citizens to the world of science, and we need to show them the power of citizen science to invigorate their research mission.  They have large collections of specimens and data waiting to reveal their secrets...the one thing they don't have is the scientific workforce to analyze all of it.  So on behalf of museums everywhere I'm asking for donations to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.  It is the largest and most well-known museum in America and is free for all visitors.  They also run a world-class scientific enterprise.  Making them the the perfect beneficiary for this drive.

To help with the drive I've partnered with Network For Good for all the logistical aspects.  Just click the large "Donate" button on the right side of this blog to go to their web site and make a donation.  None of your money goes to me..NetworkforGood handles it all so you don't need to worry about how the money is administered.  From there it goes straight to the Smithsonian.  Meaning all your money supports the cause with safety, security, and as few hoops as possible.

In connection to the drive I will also be highlighting many citizen science project currently run by museums and discussing the many ways museums can expand their citizen science offerings in new, exciting directions. There will also be some analysis of the things museums do well and how they can continue to improve. So even if you didn't know the good things Smithsonian and other institutions perform you'll hopefully be a believer by October.

Lastly, September is also the final month of the Smithsonian's fiscal year, the time when they are most in need and can best use the funding we provide.  So won't you make a donation?  Every little bit helps.