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What is citizen science?
When you hear the phrase “scientific research” you may call to mind images of scientists in lab coats, but have you ever pictured yourself as a research tool? Now you can, thanks to the merging of technology and research.
Katrina Menard, head of the insect department at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, has been tracking Velvet Ants in Oklahoma with student Jacob Mitchell as part of a research project with the University of Oklahoma Honors Research Assistantship Program. The program allows students to work alongside professionals for hands-on experience.
How does it work?
First, participants download the free iNaturalist app at the App Store or Android Market on their cell phone. Then, they simply snap a picture of the Velvet Ant and upload it to the app, which will record the user’s location. Menard then collects the results and archives them as part of her research. Contributors even have the chance to get credit for photos published in scientific journals.
Note: the photo above is of a scientific specimen. No Velvet Ants should be harmed in this project.
To watch Menard’s brief tutorial on how to submit a photo to iNaturalist, simply click below.
Menard’s project, called “Mutillidae of Oklahoma,” has only been active on iNaturalist for about two weeks and is still considered to be in a trial stage. If successful, Menard said that citizen science tools like iNaturalist could be used in a greater educational context in the future.
Why citizen science?
“Citizen science allows us to integrate everyone’s natural ability to observe, make hypotheses and contribute information about their experiences of the world around us,” said Menard. “This allows us to gather more information and observations than we can do alone as dedicated professional scientists.”
In addition to her work with iNaturalist, Menard will also be participating this April in Entoblitz, another citizen science project hosted by the Texas A&M Entomology Graduate Student Association. Entoblitz is open to anyone interested in entomology and will give participants the opportunity to hunt for bugs in the name of science.
So whether you’re an amateur entomologist, a stay-at-home mom or a middle school student, you can become part of the scientific process. By simply using your smartphone, you can lend a helping hand to the scientific community. So what are you waiting for? Science wants you!