NEW - Citizen Science at Museums and Science Centers

Atrium of the Smithsonian Natural History Museum
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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.

I've recently begun 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.

Some of the best citizen scientists have worked with museum collections, been inspired by museum visits, or have their achievements praised in museum exhibits.  Just like our friends Orville and Wilbur Wright....citizen scientists whose Wright Flyer is now in permanent display at the Smithsonian for everyone to admire.

Links to Museum Citizen Science Projects:

Wright Flyer at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum
Photo Courtesy:
One of the best reasons to donate is supporting 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?
  • Smithsonian 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.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.
  • 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.  
  • TemperatureBlast: 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?

Starting Citizen Science Activities in Museums, Zoos, Aquariums, Science Centers, and Technology Centers - Tools and Resources


  1. Thanks so much for highlighting the important role museums have in facilitating citizen science! A new section of now offers resources to museums, science centers, zoos, and other informal science institutions interested in getting into citzen science:

    These resources were developed in conjunction with the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC), which has seen growing interest in citizen science among its membership over the past few years and has been supporting citizen science in science centers and beyond.

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