Friday, November 28, 2014

Citizen Science Holiday Buying Guide - 2014

The Holidays are back. It's a time when we reflect on the many things we are thankful for and look ahead to what the next year will bring. At the top of the list are my wife and child, and the joys of family. But I'm also thankful for the wonder of science, and the chance to play a direct part in it through citizen science.  These are fantastic opportunities I love to share. So if you want to share them with your friends and family this Christmas, or if you have a loved on who enjoys citizen science as much as I do, this 2014 Holiday Gift Guide is for you.

As an added bonus, many of the gifts below were created or initially designed as part of a successful crowdfunding campaign.  Not only will your loved ones enjoy their gift, but you are also encouraging future citizen science projects.  Sounds like a win-win to me!

Read All About It: Want to teach a loved one why citizen science is so exciting, or do you want to help them understand your love of it instead?  Either way, a gift of Diary of a Citizen Scientist is the perfect gift.  It will teach them what citizen science is and help discover many new projects you may not have known existed.  Bu more importantly, you get a first-hand view of an individual woman's journey into the field as she digs into the ecology near her home, finds out there are many unanswered questions about some of the local inhabitants (tiger beetles), and works with some professional researchers to answer those questions through patient lab technique and field work.  It's a personal recommendation of mine, and you can read a short review and excerpts from the book here.  In fact I'm picking it up for a family member as well.

Trace Your Roots: Citizen science doesn't have to be cold and academic.  It can also impact our lives as well as tell us more about who we are.  Products like the National Geographic Genographic Project can take your DNA and help discover where you come from and how your ancestors may have lived.  The project database is built on previous participants as well as the data you submit yourself, so it continually learns more.  Feel free to check them out directly or look at my personal experience with the project here. Similarly, for you pet lovers, Wisdom Panel 2.0 can help you figure out which breeds have contributed to your dog's pedigree and where they came from as well.  All it takes is a cheek swab.

Do-it-Yourself Biology: Not content to just send samples to a lab and wait for the analysis?  Want to do your own sampling, your own testing, and your own analysis (like a true citizen scientist)? Then the tools are coming for you. It used to be that setting up your own lab for testing was prohibitively difficult and expensive, but the DIYBio community has helped change all that. So for gift ideas think of giving some personal lab equipment. For example, the miniPCR ( for DNA testing. Isolating DNA can be done at home (examples abound on the Internet) but now you need to amplify that signal. The miniPCR can do that in a machine a tenth (or more) of the cost of industrial machines. So whether your loved one has a home lab or is working again community Biospace, this can be the perfect gift.  Available for pre-order now.

3-D Printing: The Maker movement is one of the newest additions to the citizen science community, and in many ways they embody the future of the field.  So what better way to keep up than with your own home 3D printer, such as the MakerBot Replicator.  Design your own creations or download one of the many publicly available designs for a quick start. The only downside is that at $2899 it's not cheap. For a more affordable alternative, check out the 3Doodler Enthusiast Bundle for $170. It's a pen-based 3D printing tool complete with starter kit of supplies.  A great way to get your loved ones feet wet before taking the big step to a full-blown printer.

Wildlife Photography: Birdwatching is one of the oldest citizen science fields and one that remains highly popular to this day. It is great for solo amateurs as well as people wishing to join large citizen science projects. So there are always good gift options for them. This year I'm recommending the Windscapes Timelapse Camera.  Place it out in the wild or just your backyard, and beautifully capture all the feathered visitors for posterity. And if you are so inclined, it can help with species identification and your involvement in any number of projects, such as Project FeederWatch or the Great Backyard Bird Count. All for the price of $78.

Astronomy: Citizen scientists don't just stare down into tiny cells.  They also love to gaze high into the heavens. And when they do, projects like the AAVSO Citizen Sky program are available and  looking for volunteers. So you can enjoy the night sky while making meaningful research contributions.  My recommendation for a good starter telescope is the Meade StarNavigator 102.  It comes with and and comes well reviewed by many reputable review sites. But if this specific one doesn't work for you many buyers guides are available, such as this one at

Board Games: Citizen scientists aren't always wandering the woods are out sky watching late at night.  They enjoy a restful night at home with their families too. So this year I also found a few board games for family game night the first is Compounded. A game for 2-5 players, each person is a lab manager who must build various compounds by managing their elements and trading wisely with other players.  Perfect for the chemist in all of us.   For those with a more historical bent, The New Science let's you take on the role of a famous 17th scientist.  Help them perform their research, publish their studies, and climb the ranks of the Royal Society.  Many Society members (and the scientists featured in this game) could be considered citizen scientists as well so it's a perfect fit for us!

Still trying to find that perfect something?  Check out my 2012 Citizen Science Holiday Gift Guide for even more great gift ideas.


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