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Science by citizens

Last week the Citizen Cyberscience Center held the second London summit, bringing together many disparate activities and people to develop ideas and projects that involve everyone in science.

Two of the researchers at the summit, Shannon Dosemagen and Sara Wylie from PLOTS,  work in what they prefer to call "civic science". They  engage communities in environmental science and health research through the open source development of tools for use by the public.

What differentiates 'grassroots' science from that performed by researchers within academia is that citizens have different kinds of needs and are interested in non-traditional data types, the two researchers explained. PLOTS is looking to create a platform that allows community-orientated, and owned, science.

Watch the PLOTS' video explaining balloon mapping.

In 2010, they launched their first project: balloon mapping the areas of the gulf coast affected by the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. It used balloons and digital cameras to create an up-to-date picture of the oil’s progress, which meant public stakeholders could get involved in tracking and monitoring the oil spill. Using their MapKnitter application, they have collected more than 200,000 images, transformed all of the data into to industry standard and created non-online products, such as maps that were handed out at diners and shops.

Since then, it has been used for pollution monitoring at the Gowarnus Canal superfund site in Brooklyn, NY, as well as by protestors in Jerusalem, Wall Street, and Santiago to show the extent of their movements. This has led to a KickStarter project to make it even easier for people to get involved.

Do you know what animal this is?

A leopard caught on camera in Kenya. Image courtesy Instant Wild.

Not everything presented at the Citizen Cyberscience Summit was so urban or as hands on. Alasdair Davies from Zoological Society of London presented Instant Wild, an online tool where people identify the animals they see in images being sent directly from locations spread across the globe. They are using camera traps, which take a photo when motion is detected, in four locations; Sri Lanka, Kenya Mongolia, and the UK.

Each time a photo is taken it is sent to the volunteers' phones so they can try and identify the animal. With over 325,00 identifications and 80,000 application downloads to iPhones it is no surprise they have seen some real surprises. These have included a fishing cat in Sri Lanka and spotting leopards in Kenya, but most importantly was a mountain mouse deer that had only been photographed once before in the wild. The next steps for them are to install up to 21 new cameras and port the application to the Android platform.

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