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10 citizen science projects looking for your help during lockdown

PUBLISHED: 17:07 25 April 2020 | UPDATED: 17:07 25 April 2020

Scientists need your help in counting penguins in millions of screen grabs taken from video footage shot in the Antarctic. Picture: PA

Scientists need your help in counting penguins in millions of screen grabs taken from video footage shot in the Antarctic. Picture: PA

PA Archive/PA Images

People are spending more time at home than ever before.

For those looking to keep themselves occupied, becoming a citizen scientist can help researchers in the UK and around the world with vital scientific work.

From tracking asteroids to counting penguins, here are a few projects where scientists are looking for online helpers, some of which are backed by the British Science Association.

1. Go on a spider monkey hunt

Spotting spider monkeys is a project aimed at tackling deforestation and habitat loss in the tropical forests of Central and South America.

Scientists are asking people to look for spider monkeys in drone footage clips of these forests and tagging them.

The tags will be used to train a machine-learning algorithm, a type of artificial intelligence, to track spider monkeys on its own, saving researchers hundreds of hours of time.

The researchers say keeping tabs on spider monkeys will help them understand more about how deforestation affects habitat loss of not only the primates but also other species in the forests.

To know more about spotting spider monkeys visit www.spottingspidermonkeys.com.

2. Look for asteroids

The Hubble Space Telescope, which was built by Nasa and the European Space Agency (ESA), has made more than a million observations since its launch in 1990.

And many of those observations include details about asteroids.

Astronomers who launched the Hubble Asteroid Hunter project are asking space enthusiasts to help track these rocks by going through thousands of composite images taken by the giant telescope.

The information can then be used to train algorithms to recognise these space objects.

Tracking these asteroids will help astronomers predict its future trajectory so potential threats to Earth can be identified.

To know more about Hubble Asteroid Hunter visit https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/sandorkruk/hubble-asteroid-hunter.

3. Count penguins in the Antarctic

While globally loved, these seabirds are under threat due to pollution, climate change, disease and fisheries.

Scientists from the University of Oxford, who are behind the Penguin Watch project, want to monitor the species but do not have the manpower to gather data from the millions of screen grabs taken from video footage shot in the Antarctic.

So they are asking the public to help them mark penguins in the images, which will allow the scientists to get a picture of how their populations are changing.

To know more about Penguin Watch, visit https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/penguintom79/penguin-watch.

4. Help scientists monitor the effects of climate change on wildlife

While opportunities may be limited for outdoor nature-related activities, Nature’s Calendar, a project run by Woodland Trust, allows people to record birds and butterflies from their bedroom windows or gardens.

With 2.9 million records of birds, plants, animals and fungi in its database, Nature’s Calendar is thought to be the biggest biological record of its kind in the UK.

The site is used by scientists worldwide to examine the effects of weather and climate on wildlife.

To know more about Nature’s Calendar visit https://naturescalendar.woodlandtrust.org.uk/.

5. Lend astronomers a hand and go on a planet hunt

Pluto may have been stripped of its “planet” status almost 14 years ago, but scientists still believe there may be another rogue world lurking outside the Solar System, the elusive Planet 9.

Astronomers are looking for citizen scientists who can identify moving celestial objects, which include new planets and brown dwarf stars, using data gathered from Nasa’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (Wise) mission.

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The Nasa-led Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 project was launched in 2017 and has since made several discoveries, including more 131 brown dwarfs and a three-billion-year-old white dwarf, with more still to come.

To help with Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 visit https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/marckuchner/backyard-worlds-planet-9.

6. Gain insights into human speech

Scientists keen to gain insight into the mysteries of how human speech evolved are looking for volunteers for help as part of their Maturity of Baby Sounds project.

The team have recorded the conversations and chatter of children aged between three months and four years, with permission from their parents.

The audio clips also capture large amounts of background noise, such as parents talking, television and other sources of sound.

Citizen scientists can help researchers determine which clips are worth exploring by listening to the recordings and identifying them by their type of sound.

To help with Maturity of Baby Sounds visit https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/chiarasemenzin/maturity-of-baby-sounds.

7. Help change the way tuberculosis is diagnosed

Although Covid-19 may be the top priority in the global health crisis, scientists are also working hard to make sure other diseases, like tuberculosis (TB), does not have a resurgence.

A 2018 report from the the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control suggested TB was on the rise again in Europe and some of the cases were found to be untreatable due to bacteria becoming resistant to drugs.

Researchers led by the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford are gathering more than 100,00 samples from infected patients, with the aim of testing different types of antibiotics to see which ones work.

With their Bash the Bug project, the team are looking for help from armchair scientists to examine the images of bacterial samples on microscopic plates and make a note of where M.tuberculosis microbes are growing in the slide.

According to the team, this will help them understand which bacteria is resistant to which antibiotics.

To help with Bash the Bug go to https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/mrniaboc/bash-the-bug.

8. Get stuck into botany

Following the successful digitisation of its geology collection, the Manchester Museum is now turning its hand to botany as part of its ongoing Reading Nature’s Library project.

Housing one of the largest botanical collections in the UK, the museum provides a comprehensive record of the world’s flora.

However a lot of that information is held on paper and microscopic slides and the team want help to transfer this data to an online searchable database which scientists and educators will be able to use much more easily.

To know more about the Reading Nature’s Library project visit https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/mzfasdg2/reading-natures-library/about/research.

9. Help ecologists understand more about London’s historical bird population

While birdwatching opportunities may be limited, those wanting to keep their recreational hobby alive can help researchers make records of historic species accessible online as part of the London Bird Records project.

London Natural History Society (LNHS) and the Greenspace Information for Greater London CIC (GIGL), which is London’s environmental records centre, have more than a million paper records of birds that go back as far as the 19th century.

The digitised records can then be used by ecologists and conservationists to help policy-makers make informed decisions about wildlife habitats in the capital.

To know more about London Birds Records go to https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/gigl/london-bird-records.

10. Turn detective by sifting through criminal records

There may be no murder mystery to solve here but those looking for a way to channel their inner Sherlock Holmes could get a glimpse into the criminal careers of Australian offenders from the 1850s through to 1940.

Volunteers willing to take part in the Criminal Characters project can get hands-on experience of the country’s past criminal system by transcribing records of tens of thousands of people who were imprisoned.

The researchers involved in the project say the creation of this large-scale dataset would help with current criminology studies by providing insight into the contexts and patterns of offending while taking historical knowledge of crime into account.

To know more about Criminal Characters, visit https://criminalcharacters.com/


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