Research News

A celebration of open science and innovation

September 30, 2015

So you want to be a citizen scientist? The National Science Foundation (NSF) has got you covered.

NSF supports citizen science and crowdsourcing efforts across all areas of science, whether your passion is to scan the night sky, explore your own backyard or play video games.

Projects such as these are highlighted at a White House Forum on Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing, a celebration of open science and innovation on Sept. 30.

Citizen science not only opens new research avenues, but brings diverse perspectives and skill sets to research and allows everyone to deepen their understanding and appreciation for science.

Join a flock of birders

eBird is an online platform that allows birdwatchers to go online and record their sightings–both unusual visitors and the regular ones–in a database. With more than 100,000 active users, eBird’s system is a rich trove of information on bird population distribution and habitat, which users can explore in real time. In May 2015, there were 9.5 million records uploaded. eBird is a joint project between the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society.

Count every drop

The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS), founded at Colorado State University, is the largest provider of daily precipitation observations in the United States. Volunteers set up rain gauges and record data every time a rain, snow or hail storm passes over. Data is organized and shared on the CoCoRaHS website, and used by the National Weather Service, scientists, farmers and more.

Search for stars with your computer

Einstein@Home uses your computer’s idle time to search for astrophysical signals, boosting computing power to help astronomers learn more about star formation, gravity and the universe. The project has already had major successes: Volunteers discovered young gamma-ray pulsars and about 50 neutron stars using data from Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory and Australia’s Parkes Observatory. Einstein@Home also searches for gravitational-wave signals using data from NSF’s Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory.

Be part of a supercomputer

To link all those home computers, Einstien@Home uses software called the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing, better known as BOINC. The NSF-supported software choreographs the technical aspect of volunteer computing. Other BOINC projects include SETI@Home, which uses radio telescope signals to search for alien life.

Solve puzzles in the name of science

FoldIt is an online game where players collaborate and compete to predict protein molecule structure. Proteins play many crucial roles in the body–everything from breaking down food to sending messages to the brain. Understanding the variety of complex, twisted shapes they take is crucial for predicting what each protein molecule does and how it can be targeted with drugs. In 2011, FoldIt users found the structure of an enzyme involved in the reproduction of HIV, a puzzle scientists were unable to solve. The game is also being used to study the Ebola virus.

Join the plankton party

Without plankton, life in the ocean would not exist. These tiny (for the most part) organisms form the base of the food chain, and play an important role in the global carbon cycle. Plankton Portal enlists citizen scientists to identify images of plankton, snapped by the In Situ Icthyoplankton Imaging System (ISIIS), an underwater robot engineered at the University of Miami and funded by NSF and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. ISIIS has taken millions of images in oceans around the world; classifying the images helps researchers understand plankton diversity, habitat and behavior.

Jessica Arriens,

(703) 292-2243

  • eBird relies on citizen scientists to collect data on bird populations and habitats.
    Credit and Larger Version

  • Some citizen science projects harness idle computer time to search for astrophysical signals.
    Credit and Larger Version

  • Citizen scientists can help classify plankton through a project called Plankton Portal.
    Credit and Larger Version


Maria Papa
Bruce Allen
David Baker
Robert Cowen
Roger Pielke
Nolan Doesken
Zoran Popovic
David Anderson
Steven Kelling
Xavier Siemens
Steven Rutledge
Victoria Jordan

Related Institutions/Organizations

Cornell University
Oregon State University
University of Washington
Colorado State University
University of California-Berkeley
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Related Awards

#1104902 Collaborative Research: Einstein@Home
#0721124 SDCI NMI Improvement: Middleware for Volunteer Computing
#0811902 HCC-Small: Protein Design Through Massively Distributed Video Games
#1523362 RAPID: Empowering the Citizen Scientist in the Fight Against Ebolaviruses
#9907671 Community-Based Rain and Hail Studies – Practical Geoscience Education for All Ages
#1356308 ABI Sustaining: eBird: Maintaining the Cyberinfrastructure to Support the Collection, Storage, Archive, Analysis, and Access to a Global Biodiversity Data Resource
#1419987 Spatial variability of larval fish in relation to their prey and predator fields: Patterns and interactions from cm to 10s of km in a subtropical, pelagic environment
#1010888 The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow (CoCoRaHS) Network: Enhancements to increase participation for tens of thousands in an important nationwide climate-literacy projec

Total Grants


Source: NSF News

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