Science

Was 2022 the year of the citizen science?

Getting involved in science doesn’t require a PhD.

Frankly it doesn’t even need you to have finished school. You certainly don’t need a lab coat.

This year, we discovered a mix of great citizen science initiatives which are connecting everyday people to the pursuit of knowledge in their communities.

As we look back on this year’s best citizen science stories, you might even find some inspiration for a project you’d like to get involved with in 2023.

They discovered a big skeleton in the dirt

Queensland museum network palaeontologists with the remains of an elasmosaur
Queensland Museum Network palaeontologists with the remains of an elasmosaur / Credit: Queensland Museum Network

This must take the cake. In December, the Queensland Museum announced the unearthing of a complete elasmosaur on a remote outback station.

It was only possible because of a group of hobby palaeontologists who call themselves the ‘Rock Chicks’ found the site.

When the pros from the museum came along to see what else was lurking underneath, the full skeleton of the plesiosaur – a class of ancient marine reptile distinct from a dinosaur – was uncovered. It was the first time a practically whole skeleton of this species is believed to have been found, although further tests may well find it’s a different species altogether.

Read more.

Mapping microplastics

A good story about combining the efforts of citizen scientists with academic research, the AUSMAP project (Australian Microplastic Assessment Project) has combined the volunteer work of people, corporate groups and not-for-profits, to plot hotspots for microplastics washing up on Australia’s coastline.

The Eureka Prize-winning initiative trains citizens to pan for microplastics and send them on to Macquarie University for analysis.

Read more.

Exploring strange new worlds

Look, it’s still about 41 years until (according to Star Trek) humans invent the first warp drive.

In the meantime, you can search for planets in far flung reaches of our galaxy from home.

The Unistellar Exoplanet Campaign pairs amateur astronomers with observational imaging to search for star dimming that might indicate big planets orbiting faraway suns.

Read more.

Foldit

Illustration of lots of squigly curly ribbons bundled together on white background
AlphaFold’s structure of the Free fatty acid receptor 2 of the American black bear. (AlphaFold)

Gamifying science is a new way of introducing new ideas to the wider public.

In Foldit, players discover how the proteins that build our bodies specialise, based on the unique sequence of amino acids in their genetic code.

You can even get bonus points to your score if you make an accurate AlphaFold prediction.

Read more.

Insect observations

Insects are fairly important for humans considering at least a third of our diet is comprised of food that needs to be pollinated.

With growing concern about the impacts of climate change on insect populations, scientists are getting down to the business of helping them out.

One particularly Yuletide-themed initiative is to track and register sightings of Christmas Beetles. Another tracks bogong moth sightings, which are an essential food source for critically endangered mountain pygmy possums.

And more broadly, Adelaide University is trying to complete a near-nationwide census of insect populations by working with school students in SA, WA and Queensland.


Was 2022 the year of the citizen science?

Matthew Agius

Matthew Agius

Matthew Agius is a science writer for Cosmos Magazine.

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