STEM & Citizen Science


Conservation Biology & Ecology
The connections between biology and citizen science are endless. From animal biology to neuroscience to health, citizen science has allowed the public to contribute to the study of biology, natural sciences, and biomedical research. Because many citizen science projects are orientated around monitoring and data collection, the public can more easily participate in these projects. Just as bird watching was an early form of citizen science, the first monarch butterfly volunteer programs began in the 1950s. Knowledge of monarch butterfly biology can credit citizen science in part due to volunteers helping monitor migration patterns across vast distances in North America, for example.

Likewise, citizen science projects help monitor plant life in specific regions. For example, the Invaders of Texas citizen science project had volunteers survey and monitor invasive plant species, which allowed project creators to establish an online, state-wide monitoring map. The goal of this project was to create a publicly accessible database of invasive plant species data to be used by scientists, land management, and policy makers. This project also created a training program and manual for volunteers to ensure they were equipped with the skills and knowledge needed for this massive undertaking. Specifically in conservation biology, ecology, and zoological research, citizen science capitalizes on the interest in popular science and nature; it provides public participants opportunities to interact with the natural world and contribute to scientific progress.

Human Biology and Health Science
The proliferation of apps has provided a new avenue for health-related citizen science projects. Users can track personal health data, for example, to provide scientists statistics from a wide range of participants; however, this also brings up issues of bioethics and privacy. Health sciences, specifically, already has a history of utilizing communities in biomedical research, especially in address health inequalities. While bridging the gap between scientists and the public, it is important to acknowledge how participant information is being used and stored. Especially with COVID-19, citizen science projects offer opportunities to help track populations, movement of people, and symptoms, which aides scientific breakthroughs in biomedical research and cell biology. Citizen science projects like FoldIt, Phylo, and EteRNA, for example, gamified cell biology to provide easier understanding and access of complicated biological terminology and knowledge. Health-related citizen science projects have overwhelmingly adopted apps and games to appeal to participants, teach complex biological topics, and improve our scientific understanding of human biology.

Curtis, Vickie. “Online Citizen Science Games: Opportunities for the Biological Sciences.” Applied & Translational Genomics 3, no. 4 (2014): 90–94.

Gallo, Travis, and Damon Waitt. “Creating a Successful Citizen Science Model to Detect and Report Invasive Species.” BioScience 61, no. 6 (2011): 459–465.

Hard, Adam, et al. “The Role of Citizen Science and Volunteer Data Collection in Zoological Research.” International Journal of Zoology 2012 (2012): 1–3.

Ries, Leslie, and Karen Oberhauser. “A Citizen Army for Science: Quantifying the Contributions of Citizen Scientists to Our Understanding of Monarch Butterfly Biology.” Bioscience 65, no. 4 (2015): 419–430.

Wiggins, Andrea, and John Wilbanks. “The Rise of Citizen Science in Health and Biomedical Research.” American Journal of Bioethics 19, no. 8 (2019): 3–14.

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