11 Citizen Science Projects That Need Your Help

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons / Wikimedia Commons

Love science, but don't have a degree? No problem. Citizen science projects recruit ordinary men and women to help gather crucial research data. So if you’d like to help advance human knowledge but aren’t too keen on suffering through several years of grad school in the process, why not join one of these fine initiatives?

1. Count Birds for the Audubon Society

Bonus points if you spot a partridge in a pear tree. Founded in 1900, this annual avian census monitors the populations of birds throughout the western hemisphere. Volunteers tally up their feathered friends’ numbers within a 15-mile radius from mid-December to early January.

2. Be an Earthquake Witness

The scope of a given earthquake can prove difficult to decipher—so the United States Geological Survey urges witnesses to lend some much-needed clarity by filling out a brief questionnaire in conjunction with its “Did You Feel It?” earthquake hazards program. “It’s very simple to be a very valuable participant,” says seismologist David Wald. “You just have to observe what happened during an earthquake.”

3. Search for Aliens With SETI

It might sound like some very creative spam, but by downloading a special computer program, you might actually help prove the existence of extraterrestrial life. Today, several million internet users lend their computers' power to help astronomers search for radio waves of other-worldly origin via the SETI@Home organization. For more information, go here.

4. Help Scientists Understand Odor Perception

According to the endeavor’s official website, “Medical professionals often do not ask patients about changes in their sense of smell. Therefore, little is known about this topic. With your help we will change this.” Anonymous responders who’ve experienced shifts in odor perception help a team of physiologists learn more about this poorly-documented phenomenon

5. Predict Future Weather By Uncovering Weather of the Past

Old news can still be useful. “[If] we wish to understand what the weather will do in the future, then we need to understand what the weather was doing in the past,” says climatologist Clive Wilkinson. Volunteers digitize handwritten weather notes from bygone decades (and even centuries) to help create more accurate climate-projection models for future generations.

6. Discover New Stars and Galaxies

Almost as vast as the universe itself is the debt astronomy owes to the findings of dedicated amateurs. Through the Milky Way Project, volunteers identify celestial objects photographed by the Spitzer space telescope. As of this writing, they’ve categorized several thousand star clusters and galaxies.

7. Keep an Eye on Flies That Turn Bees Into Zombies

One nasty parasite is causing quite a buzz. For a brief run-down on the Apocephalus borealis fly, check out the video above. This insect plants its eggs in unsuspecting bees. After the larvae hatch, they attack their hosts’ nervous systems and transform them into “zombie-like” drones. Concerned citizens can help track these unsavory freeloaders by joining San Francisco State University’s “ZomBee Watch” campaign.

8. Track Who's Pollinating Flowers

Speaking of bees, detail-oriented volunteers count the number of pollinators that visit a given plant over various stretches of time in conjunction with the yearly Great Sunflower Project.

9. Define Verbs to Help Understand the Human Brain

Human thought itself, claim the Verb Corners initiative’s founders, can be better understood by studying verbs and what they really mean. On their website, you can help amass precious data by answering a series of questions. These queries are designed to help root out the message you intend to convey with a given verb in various contexts.

10. Tweet Your Local Snowfall

Thanks to twitter, advancing science is just a hashtag away. The next time you find a blanket of snow covering your driveway, measure the depth and tweet it to #snowtweets with your location/zip code. A gang of friendly Canadian meteorologists from the University of Waterloo will file away the input. Best of all (at least for Americans), using the metric system is strictly optional.

11. Fight Noise Pollution With Your Smart Phone

Society’s getting louder, or so it seems. Help fight sound pollution by turning your smart phone into a portable noise sensor! Above is a (surprisingly quiet) demo video.