4th USA Science & Engineering Festival Highlights Citizen Science

Video: Google Hangout recording at the USA Science & Engineering Festival of citizen scientist experts from across the country discussing how mobile technology can assist the growth of citizen science

At the 4th USA Science & Engineering Festival, the largest science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education exposition in the United States, more than 1,000 STEM organizations such as the National Science Foundation, Lockheed Martin, and the U.S. Department of State, presented interactive activities to encourage the next generation to pursue a career in the STEM field. Over the course of two days, tens of thousands of visitors of all ages came to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center located in Washington, D.C. to engage with STEM activities.

While the organizations covered a broad range of science and engineering areas, a common focal point was citizen science. Specifically, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Park Service, United States Geological Survey (USGS), Homeland Security, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and SciStarter aimed to further the general public’s participation in and understanding of citizen science, its success and significance today, and its potential applications for the future.

NOAA, for example, discussed the critical role citizen science plays with emerging technology and the numerous NOAA projects that could not have succeeded without the support of citizen science and crowdsourcing.

The NOAA Office of Education particularly relies on crowdsourcing and engagement from the grassroots level. The NOAA Citizen Science Community of Practice, launched in November 2013, has three primary goals: compiling and sharing best practices, sharing resources, and creating a database containing all NOAA citizen science projects. In total, NOAA has established almost 70 active projects for its Community of Practice, estimated to have saved more than 500,000 volunteer hours annually. These projects can be found, among others, in the Federal Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Catalog.

June Teisan, Education Outreach and Program Specialist at NOAA Office of Education, explains how the NOAA Office of Education furthers citizen science: “At NOAA’s Office of Education we’ve supported teacher professional development workshops that highlight the benefits of citizen science and showcase a variety of projects; the standing-room-only attendance and positive feedback at these events are testimony to the natural fit between CitSci projects and the need to provide authentic science research opportunities for students.”

One of these projects conducted through the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory, the Meteorological Phenomena identification Near the Ground project, or mPING, specifically depends on crowdsourcing for its success.

Image of the mPING Weather App from NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory

Anyone with a mobile device can download the free mPING app and submit a weather observation anonymously. The observation is then automatically archived in a database open to everyone. From these crowdsourced weather reports, mPING collects weather information to predict the weather and potential problems, like aviation delays or icy roads. When demonstrating the functions of mPING at the Science & Engineering Festival, Teisan noted that “there was high interest and enthusiasm among the festival-goers as staff at our booth explained the mPING app specifically and citizen science in general.”

Ultimately, reflecting upon her experience at the Science & Engineering Festival, Teisan holds an optimistic outlook for citizen science moving forward: “I expect we’ll see a significant, rapid growth in both the number and variety of citizen science and crowdsourcing projects across the country, as well as increased interest and participation in those projects. At our booth I spoke with festival participants who immediately began brainstorming ways to harness the power of citizen science at their workplace; employees from various federal agencies, non-profits, and STEM businesses all started to map out ideas. Educators too were excited about the potential impact of citizen science for their students.”




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