Team Member Spotlight: Jonathan Brier

Want to get to know the people behind the curtain a little bit better? Tune in to our “team member spotlight” series! You’ll meet the people who make SciStarter work and learn what makes them tick. One thing we all have in common? A love for citizen science. This week, we’re featuring Jonathan Brier.

Jonathan Brier

Picture of Jonathan

Contact email brierjon@scistarter.com

Title at SciStarter Strategic Advisor

Twitter Handle @wolfgang8741

Role at SciStarter I’ve worn many hats at SciStarter over the years. I joined the team when SciStarter was just emerging from being known as Science for Citizens, and I was mostly in the role of adviser and consultant. Over the years I’ve done some QA, policy setting, analytics, and CMS configuration. I’m always helping shape the technical and social design. More recently, I’m taking a smaller role as I focus on my PhD responsibilities. My list of things to-do with SciStarter is always growing.

Professional Experience Currently, I am a full time Ph.D. student at the University of Maryland College of Information Studies. My primary area of research is citizen science infrastructure and community health and sustainability. This basically means I study citizen science to find out how to build and maintain the technical and social infrastructures that make citizen science possible. I’m what you would call a sociotechnical researcher.  I hold a Master of Information degree from the University of Michigan School of Information, where I focused on social computing. This basically means I studied a range of technologies that make communication and social media on the Internet function. I studied the features, design, and management of online communities, usability, and user experience research (i.e. how to make something intuitive), as well as programming. My undergraduate degree ended up being a B.S. in Media and Information Technology from Michigan State University, in which I studied the Internet infrastructure, and I really jumped around from my starting point in Electrical Engineering.  But in those five years, I found my passion and never looked back. Between my B.S. and Masters I implemented a crowdsourcing project and worked in county government, and between my Masters and Ph.D. I spent a few years in research at the University of Michigan under supervision of Tom Finholt. Through the years, I have been affiliated with citizen science either as a participant or involved volunteer. For many years, up until my Ph.D., I volunteered with GridRepublic, which runs a manager for the BOINC volunteer computing middleware. This spurred Charity Engine and Progress Thru Processors.

Why citizen science?  …Why not? Seriously, though, I’ve always had a curiosity that I needed to itch and citizen science provides so many ways to scratch it. It is always changing, so I never get bored. I was initially hooked from the movie Contact, which inspired a web search where I stumbled across Seti@home. This was new idea at the time, using a screensaver to run computations on small pieces of data while your computer was idle. The ability to parallelize the science and processing fascinated me. Our ability to engage populations to do projects still inspires me. Seti@home, now referred to Seti@home classic, evolved into Seti@home on BOINC.  More projects appeared and I was hooked on trying to find new science I could participate in and help grow. Throughout my undergraduate years, I played with Stardust@home and various other projects that appeared. Citizen science really highlights that science is something that everyone can do to make a difference in their own lives, own community, and the world. It provided me with new connections internationally and has changed my life. I only can hope that citizen science can continue to change lives and inspire new curiosity not only about science, but also about being involved in the here, now, and future of our world.

Part of SciStarter’s mission or work/project that resonates most with you That is a hard choice. I’m mixed between the collection of all the projects and helping match people to projects. If I had to choose, helping people discover projects that are of interest to them is the thing that resonates the most, because citizen science is nothing without people to make it happen.

Something people might find surprising about you People who know me as an Eagle Scout usually find my hobby of lock picking and security penetration testing a bit surprising. For me, this is all about the puzzle and improving the system’s design. If you’re asking for something funny, maybe the time I strutted my stuff as the Climate Change Penguin at Michigan State.

Favorite place to do citizen science Wherever I am; usually online. 😉

What do you hope to accomplish in citsci? I hope to accomplish all I mentioned above and to help people understand and do things that make our world worth living in. Finishing my Ph.D., helping projects grow, and doing good science would be my more selfish hope for accomplishment.


I know it’s a hard choice, but name a project in the SciStarter directory that you’ve enjoyed recently and explain why.  I’ve become addicted to OpenStreetMap volunteer geographic information. Not only because people get to decide what is mapped and thus we can show bias in information, but also because the shapes are used to power SciStarter’s locations (hint hint, helping map, helps make SciStarter better). I’m also interested in this for the broader impacts, such as enhancing Wikipedia maps, powering some common GPS mapping systems, and making it easier to do science when linked to Wikidata. HOTOSM helps map for humanitarian efforts such as disease mitigation and after disasters change the landscape.

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About the Author

Caroline Nickerson

Caroline Nickerson

Caroline Nickerson is a Master of Public Policy student at American University with a focus on environmental and climate change policy. She is passionate about science communication in the policy space and engaging citizens and voters. Caroline currently serves as secretary on the national board of the Commission on Local Debates (localdebates.org), an emerging nonprofit seeking to leverage technology to make debates for local elections better and more accessible. She also works as a textbook and curriculum development consultant for the University of Florida Psychiatry Department. In her role there, she is a project manager for the Christensen Project, which honors and furthers Dr. Richard C. Christensen's legacy of advocating for homeless and under-served individuals.