Archive for the ‘Physics’ Category

Are We Alone? Citizen Science and the Search for Exoplanets

By July 20th, 2016 at 9:56 am | Comment

Image Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

Image Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser CC BY 4.0

Recently I attended a lecture by award-winning astronomy professor Dr. Andrew Fraknoi, who spoke about the most exciting research happening in astronomy today. He said that while black holes and gravity waves are interesting, the research he finds most intriguing is the search for planets in other solar systems, called exoplanets.

What sets exoplanet research apart, he said, is that it takes us a step closer to answering the fundamental question humans have always wondered … are we alone?

I was excited by his statement because I also recently met a couple of scientists at Mauna Kea’s Keck Observatory in Hawaii who have created a new citizen science project—called Project PANOPTES—focused on the search for exoplanets. Read the rest of this entry »

Two days left to apply to participate online! Informing NASA’s Asteroid Initiative: A Citizen Forum

By November 4th, 2014 at 3:47 pm | Comment

What do you think NASA should do about asteroids? (Asteroid Capture, Artist Rendering Image Credit: NASA)

What do you think NASA should do about asteroids? (Asteroid Capture, Artist Rendering Image Credit: NASA)

In August, we shared information about NASA’s Asteroid Initiative and Cooperative Agreement with ECAST (Expert and Citizen Assessment of Science and Technology), to enable everyday citizens to have a say in the future of space exploration.

How does the online citizens’ forum work?

Two in-person deliberations will take place on 11/8 in Phoenix, AZ at Arizona State University and on 11/15 in Cambridge, MA at the Museum of Science. To make sure anyone, anywhere can participate, SciStarter (a founder partner of ECAST) created a three tiered online deliberation platform which will be ready for YOU next week! But you’ll need to sign up by Thursday, 11/6 to be eligible.

As a registered participant in the online deliberation, you will have access to the same background information as the folks at the in-person events will have and you’ll be able to ask questions, and weigh in with thoughts and opinions while guided by an online facilitator. AND, you will have three days to drop in and out at your convenience.

All responses will be aggregated and included in a formal report to NASA. If you can’t make the in-person or online deliberation next week, don’t worry! You’ll  still have a chance to weigh in on the outcomes of deliberations in the coming weeks!

Who can participate?

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to participate. You also do not need to know any information about the Asteroid Initiative as all the background information required will be provided.  In fact the forum is centered around the idea that every citizen who is interested in contributing will be able to do so. So your interest in participation is all that counts!

Why should you act now to be a part of this?

The online deliberation is scheduled for next week and in order to participate, you have to register quickly as the deadline is fast approaching. Sign up on the ECAST website before November 6th and complete the required demographic and opinion survey to access the online deliberation platform. This is your chance to help NASA make the next giant leap in space. Don’t miss it!

Categories: Citizen Science,Physics,space


MIT Museum Sets Off Annual Chain Reaction on the Friday After Thanksgiving

By November 30th, 2013 at 3:57 pm | Comment


Remember the game Mouse Trap? For those of you not familiar with it, Mouse Trap is a board game in which players build a contraption, using various tools and materials, in order to capture a toy mouse on the run. Players often build creative, elaborate traps that operate in various stages, with each distinct stage setting off a another. The game is based on the concept behind Rube-Goldberg machines, devices that perform a very simple task but require an elaborate chain reaction to operate between start and finish. Just like in Rube-Goldberg machines, the value of Mouse Trap is very much in the journey, not the destination.

Now, imagine an even larger version of this game, without the mouse. This is the MIT Museum’s annual Friday After Thanksgiving: Chain Reaction event. Aptly shortened to F.A.T. for the Friday After Thanksgiving, the event is an innovative way to get families out and about after Thursday night’s collective feasting. This year, the Chain Reaction took place at the Rockwell Cage Gymnasium on MIT’s campus and was attended by approximately 2,000 people.


Here’s how it works. Each year, the MIT Museum invites its community to join the event as spectators or participants. Participants and teams build individual sections of a larger chain reaction. The aim is to be as creative as possible, and believe me when I say that participants take this creative license very seriously. Upon strolling around the basketball court-sized area set aside for the entire machine, I spotted everything from action figures, straws, water balloons, Arduino robots, monkey wrenches, bicycle wheels, legos, Daleks, and yes–even mouse traps.

Because the event is open to anybody and everybody, participants every year range from Girl Scout troops to artists and engineers, from MIT clubs to high schools and family teams. Teams have also come from as far away as Michigan and California to contribute. This year, artist/inventor Arthur Ganson and local artist/MIT alumnus Jeff Lieberman both emceed the event.

The F.A.T. Chain Reaction event is not only a creative way to get the family together during the Thanksgiving holiday season, but it’s also an opportunity for kids (ages one to ninety-two) to engage and experiment with the basics of engineering. Who knows? Perhaps participating could set off a chain reaction that results in even more collaborative citizen science in your future.

You can view a live video of the 2012 Chain Reaction below (2013 video forthcoming):

Lily Bui is the Executive Editor of SciStarter and holds dual degrees in International Studies and Spanish from the University of California Irvine. She has worked on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.; served in AmeriCorps in Montgomery County, Maryland; worked for a New York Times bestselling ghostwriter; and performed across the U.S. as a touring musician. She currently works in public media at WGBH-TV and the Public Radio Exchange (PRX) in Boston, MA. In her spare time, she thinks of cheesy science puns. Follow @dangerbui.

8 Spooky Citizen Science Projects for Halloween!

By September 27th, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Comment

Most of us live in fear of what we don’t know. In science, however, the Unknown is exactly what keeps us hooked. Even the most revered physicist of all time (I’m talking about Einstein, of course) had a little trouble explaining the universe at times, calling what we now know as entanglement in quantum mechanics “spooky action at a distance.” The Unknown can be spooky, indeed, but with citizen scientists in hot pursuit of knowledge and data, we can collectively un-entangle scientific mysteries that come our way this Halloween.

This holiday brings out the dark, the macabre, and the sometimes inexplicable. We put on costumes to temporarily assume roles that we usually don’t play in our normal lives. Here are some Halloween-themed citizen science “costumes,” or roles, that you can don this October.

1. Extraterrestrial Tracker
Astronomy and Space
SETI Live, Zooniverse, NASA


Photo credit: NASA

Are we alone? With an ever-expanding, vast universe beyond our tiny blue planet, SETI thinks not. SETI Live is a citizen science project (part of Zooniverse) that invites you to help scan astral objects for radio waves and signals that might be transmitted by extraterrestrial life. The Allen Telescope Array (a name that looks conveniently like “Alien Telescope Array” from afar) scans the skies and sends data back to the SETI Live website, where citizen scientists are able to help sift through information and classify stars with exoplanets.

Or, if you’d rather Be A Martian this Halloween, you can do that, too! On this highly interactive site, you can create Martian profiles to become “citizens” of the planet. (We like to think of it as citizen scientist-ship.) You can count craters, ask questions about Mars in the forum, and tag photos taken by the rovers Spirit and Opportunity, the Curiosity’s predecessors, with descriptions of what you see. No matter where you land on this site, your experience is destined to be out of this world.

2. ZomBee Watcher
Nature and Animals
San Francisco State University Dept. of Biology, SFSU Ctr. for Computer for Life Sciencies, Natural History Museum of LA County


Photo credit:

The ZomBee apocalypse is upon us! Run—or buzz your way—to Zombee Watch! Researchers suspect that the parasitic fly Apocephalus borealis is responsible for infecting large populations of honeybees. The fly lays eggs inside the body of honeybees, which then serve as incubators. As the eggs grow, they suck up nutrients from their bee hosts. The hosts become disoriented as their bodies change from within, often leading them astray from their natural habitats. Eventually, newborn fly larvae crawl out of the honeybee’s body and grow into adult flies, beginning the cycle all over again. Citizen scientists can contribute to ZomBee Watch by helping collect sick-looking or dead bee specimens to observe whether parasitic pupae emerge. See what the buzz is about.

3. Vital Signs
Nature, Animals, and Plants
Vital Signs Maine

vital signs

Photo credit: Vital Signs Maine

When distinguishing the un-dead from the living, it’s important to look for the right Vital Signs. This citizen science project brings scientists and novices together to investigate invasive species in Maine. Are certain ecosystems at risk of being overrun by invasive plants and/or animals? Participants can help scientists observe both invasive and native species by taking photographs, then entering data into the online application. The site provides helpful how-to guides for those just starting out and offers a huge database of observations made by other citizen scientists.

4. Secret Agent (Sci)Spy
Nature, Animals, and Plants
Science Channel (Discovery)


Photo credit: Discovery

Our mobile technology today is analogous to the gadgets of Hollywood’s most sophisticated spies. Use your spy cameras (or phone cameras) to spy on nature and contribute to science. Created by Science Channel (Discovery), SciSpy enlists agents to document the natural world of their backyards, parks, cities, and towns. Report back to base by sharing photos and observations and contribute to research initiatives that rely especially on amateur participation. This project is sure to leave you both shaken and stirred.

5. Archaeologist
Paleontological Research Institution, Cornell Dept. of Education


Photo credit:

Dig deep into the past with Fossil Finders and uncover hidden clues about human history. Participants will help paleontologists from the Paleontological Research Institution identify and measure fossils in rock samples from central New York, enter their data into an online database, and compare their data with the data of other schools. Local participants can sign up for trips to important sites, whereas online participants can engage in virtual tours. Fossil Finders’ learn-by-doing approach to science unearths a sea of knowledge for those who contribute.

6. Tastemaker
Biology, Genetics
Denver Museum of Nature and Science


Photo credit: DMNS

If you find yourself hording sweets this Halloween, perhaps this next project is just your flavor. The Denver Museum of Nature & Science, supported by the Science Education Partnership from the National Center for Research Resources and National Institutes of Health, has spearheaded a project called the Genetics of Taste: A Flavor for Health. The study aims to increase public understanding of genetic research, while also making strides to better understand the genetic ancestry of the gene Tas2r38, which dictates the ability to taste bitter, and its affect on the health of modern day humans. Don’t mind lending your taste buds to science (after consuming all that Halloween candy)? The opportunities are so tangible, you can almost, well, taste it.

7. Ghost HunterSmart Phone Apps
Northwestern University


Photo credit:

Photo credit:

Earlier this year, Professor Fabian Bustamente of Northwestern University developed an experimental augmented reality Android phone app that allowed users to participate in citizen science while simultaneously playing a game. Participants “zapped” ghosts that showed up on a map of their surrounding area by taking photographs, which were then stitched together into panoramic shots. Commentators believe that augmented reality apps like these could pave the way for future mobile app-based citizen science.

8. Bat Detective
Nature and Animals

Courtesy of USGS

Photo credit: Zooniverse

Here’s a citizen science project that gives you a glimpse into the lives of these creatures of the night. Bats, nocturnal creatures, are very hard to spot with the naked eye. This project enlists the help of citizen scientists to screen over 3,000 hours of acoustic surveys of bats’ calls, which researchers believe “leak” information about their behavior into the environment each night through echolocation. These classifications will later be used to create a new algorithm to help researchers more easily extract information from their sound recordings to monitor threatened bat populations.

While Hallow’s Eve has you captivated by the curios, be sure to stay curious too! With these citizen science projects, it’s all treat, no tricks. Make sure to visit SciStarter to find over 500 more citizen science projects!

You can discover the next comet…from your couch!

By October 18th, 2011 at 5:39 pm | Comment

SOHO’s 2000th comet, spotted by a Polish astronomy student on December 26, 2010. (Photo: NRL)

SOHO’s 2000th comet, spotted by a Polish astronomy student on December 26, 2010. (Photo: NASA/NRL)

In December 2010, as people on Earth celebrated the holidays and prepared to ring in the New Year, a European Space Agency (ESA)/NASA spacecraft quietly reached its own milestone: on December 26, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) discovered its 2000th comet.

Drawing on help from citizen scientists around the world, SOHO has become the single greatest comet finder of all time. This is all the more impressive since SOHO was not designed to find comets, but to monitor the Sun.

“Since it launched on December 2, 1995, to observe the Sun, SOHO has more than doubled the number of comets for which orbits have been determined over the last three hundred years,” says Joe Gurman, the U.S. project scientist for SOHO at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Of course, it is not SOHO itself that discovers the comets — that is the province of the dozens of amateur astronomer volunteers who daily pore over the images produced by SOHO’s LASCO (or Large Angle and Spectrometric Coronagraph) cameras. More than 70 people representing 18 different countries have helped spot comets over the last 15 years by searching through the publicly available SOHO/LASCO images online. The 1999th and 2000th comets were both discovered by an astronomy student at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland.

“There’s an ever-growing community of amateur astronomers who contribute to this project,” says Karl Battams, who has been in charge of running the SOHO comet-sighting web site since 2003 for the Naval Research Laboratory, where he does software development, data processing, and visualization work for NRL’s solar physics missions. “These volunteers are absolutely fundamental to the success of this program. Without them, most of this tremendously valuable astronomical data would never see the light of day.”

Read the rest of this entry »