Citizen Science 101: How Anyone Can Contribute to Scientific Research and Development

A citizen scientist is someone who is not a trained or professional scientist but helps to conduct and contribute to scientific research. Citizen scientists can offer hypotheses, design experiments independently or as part of a larger group, collect and report scientific data, analyze the results, and offer solutions to problems. Through citizen science projects, anyone can help to make scientific breakthroughs happen.

Citizen scientists have made some major contributions to scientific research. For example, William Herschel was a citizen scientist who discovered Uranus in 1781. His sister, Caroline, was also a citizen scientist who focused on astronomy, and she became the first woman to discover a comet. She also discovered three nebulae. Anna Atkins was a citizen botanist, an avid photographer, and the first person to publish a book that included photographs. One of her biggest scientific accomplishments was her botanical reference book, British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions. And Mary Anning was a citizen scientist and amateur paleontologist who discovered marine fossils from the Jurassic period in the cliffs along the English Channel in southwest England. She was largely uncredited during her lifetime, but her life story and findings piqued the interest of the scientific community posthumously. It's not uncommon for citizen scientists to be credited after their death; even Hans Christian Oersted, the scientist who discovered aluminum, wasn't recognized for that achievement until a century later.

Citizen scientists are valuable ambassadors for the scientific community and play a key role in informing and educating the general public about important problems that the scientific community is trying to solve. They spread awareness of problems that impact our global community and help others better understand how a problem could impact them personally. By making science relatable and accessible, citizen scientists help bridge the gap between scientists in the labs and in the field and member of the public who need to be aware of how big-picture problems have real-life implications.

There's no age requirement for who can be a citizen scientist. Whether you're an adult, a teenager, or a little kid, you can help contribute to scientific research and spread awareness of causes that are important to you.

Citizen scientists are invaluable to the scientific community because the work of scientists requires a lot of data. By partnering with citizen scientists all over the world, scientists can access more and more varied data to include in their research. The more data that is gathered, the better informed the research will be.

Many citizen scientists feel called to become involved in voluntary scientific research as a way to popularize science and help the general public to gain a better understanding of some of the serious problems that could be lessened with global support and effort. Understanding how problems in the scientific community impact everyday life can help people feel more invested in and committed to making small, personal changes.

Promoting scientific research as a citizen scientist also offers a great opportunity to get out and explore nature. Getting into the field and interacting with professional scientists and researchers is also a great way to make connections, which can be valuable if scientific work is something you are interested in as a profession. Fieldwork offers practical learning experiences that can better prepare students of all skill levels and interests for future career opportunities.

To become a citizen scientist, research the opportunities out there and find one that interests you. Many different websites, organizations, and government agencies offer ways that citizen scientists can lend a hand with research studies. Once you've decided on a scientific problem that speaks to you, connect with an organization that can provide the information and resources you need to contribute your time and talents.

Image (above) by Mark Mags from Pixabay