STEM & Citizen Science


The concept of citizen science within the field of chemistry has gradually began to unfold within the last couple of decades.  The gradual implementation of citizen science in the field is brought upon the complexities and inherent challenges that are presented in the field.  Particularly, the safety and handling of certain chemicals, the accessibility to chemicals, the financial resources necessary to provide access to specialized equipment, and the high degree of training required to use the specialized software and or hardware in the field.  Nevertheless, despite these critical challenges, chemistry researchers have successfully designed citizen chemistry projects.

The Dragonfly Mercury Project

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the University of Maine, and the National Park Service (NPS) Air Resources Division designed the Dragonfly Mercury Project, a citizen science driven approach to linking surface-water chemistry and landscape characteristics to biosentinels on a national scale.  Working in partnership at more than 50 national parks across the United States, and with citizen scientists as key participants in data collection, to develop dragonfly nymphs as biosentinels for mercury in aquatic food webs to validate the use of these biosentinels, and gain a better understanding of the connection between biotic and abiotic pools of mercury, this project also includes collection of landscape data and surface-water chemistry including mercury, methylmercury, pH, sulfate, and dissolved organic carbon and sediment mercury concentration.  The participation of citizen scientists working in each national park provided the project a broad geographical coverage.  In total, the project had the assistance of 824 citizen scientists contributing 3,951 hours to the overall scope of the project.

In addition, the success of the project was also attributed to the detail scientists from the USGC and University of Maine provided the study, design, sampling protocol, and training materials.  Each participating national park provided NPS staff from their resource management or interpretive division, or they linked with other partners, such as teachers from the community.  These staff coordinated, trained, and lead citizen scientists in collecting samples.

Expanding The Scientific Process

Citizen science creates the opportunity for both longtime scholars and beginners to advance the research and knowledge of chemistry.  Chemistry professor Chonq Qiu designed his research, which investigates chemicals, such as amines-nitrogen-containing organic compounds and their impact of air quality on climate change, weather forecasting, and human health, to provide middle school, high school, undergraduate, and graduate students the opportunity to gain experience into the scientific process.  Students were provided the opportunity to conduct laboratory experiments, computer modeling, and field work, using and testing low-cost devices that measure pollutant levels in the atmosphere.

The success of the project was made possible by the large number of citizen scientists involved.  In 2019, Professor Qiu was awarded a five-year, $700,000 National Science Foundation Early Career Award for his aerosols research project.


Carbery M.; MacFarlane, G.; O'Connor, W.; Afrose, S.; Taylor, H.; Palanisami, T. "Baseline Analysis of Metal(loid)s on Microplastics Collected from the Australian Shoreline Using Citizen Science.Marine Pollution Bulletin 2020, doi: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2020.110914. 

Flanagan Pritz, Colleen, et al.  The Dragonfly Mercury Project: A National Scale Assessment of Mercury Bioaccumulation and Risk in US National Parks Through a Citizen Science Framework.”  Washington: American Geophysical Union, 2021. ProQuest. 15 Mar. 2021.

Hennessey, Jackie.  “Chemist Discusses Power of ‘Citizen Science’.”  University of New Haven: The Charter Blog.  Accessed March 10, 2021.

Quinlivan, L.; Chapman, D.; Sullivan, T. "Validating Citizen Science Monitoring of Ambient Water Quality for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.Science of the Total Environment 2019, 699, 134255.

Thornhill, I.; Chautard, A.; Loiselle, S. "Monitoring Biological and Chemical Trends in Temperate Still Waters Using Citizen Science.Water 2018, 10, 839.

Weigelhofer, G.; Polz, E.; Hein, T.  "Citizen Science: How High School Students Can Provide Scientifically Sound Data in Biogeochemical experiments."  Freshwater Science 2019, 38, 236.

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