Ever see a scientist doing something cool and think “I wish I could do that ?”. You may feel that you’re not qualified to “Do science” but you don’t need a degree, just an interest. The first biologists were amateurs. Often monks, vicars or priests, who looked at nature in their spare time. Since then, scientists have enlisted volunteers to help, or even do their work for them.
This has been going on for centuries, but there’s been a recent surge in popuarity thanks to modern technology. Now thousands of people can take part in a project- all you need is internet access.
Arguably, the first large scale citizen scientist project was galaxy zoo. Kevin Schawinski was experiencing a “data deluge”. He had to look at one million images and classify every galaxy they showed. It would have taken him months and probably driven him insane. Then his team had the idea of putting the images online and asking members of the public to classify them. In the first day, they averaged 70,000 classifications per hour. Galaxy zoo has since grown, with more than 250,000 participants producing more than 30 research papers.
It has also grown a spin off website- the Zooniverse, bringing lots of projects together on one site. You can search space, the ocean floor, or the Serengeti, model the earth’s climate, learn whale or bat speak, even spy on penguins- and all from the comfort of your armchair.
Prefer to get outside? Why not join the Open Air Laboratories (OPAL)? Or take part in a wildlife survey from the Natural History museum, CEH, or RSPB? There are guides and apps to help you. Some apps even do the work for you- take a picture of what you find and it will be sent, with your location, to a database; so scientists can build up a picture of what species are where.
So what are you waiting for? Go outside, get online, and be a scientist!