Citizen Science

Citizen Science refers to the growing involvement of amateur or non-professional scientists in the research process. In some research fields, like e.g. environmental research, this involvement already has become a common practice. Other research disciplines seem to be more reluctant and yet it is unclear, whether Citizen Science will be an important factor in all areas of the entire research process in the future.

SETI@home, an early approach to internet-based Citizen Science, already started in 1999. Being focused on distributed computing, this project depends on a rather passive contribution by citizens. Since then the community grew substantially. Especially in the early 2010s platforms and associations like the German “Bürgerschaffenwissen” or the “European Citizen Science Association” were established to pool expertise and provide support.

Today, we see a broad range of projects that require a more active role: Citizens are asked to collect water samples or to describe ancient texts. Interested people can decide to analyze pictures or video recordings of tiny worms, far away galaxies or prowling groups of apes. More complex projects involve citizens that are willing to build up their own technical equipment for rather demanding and precise measurements and observations. Some discussions even concern the involvement of citizens in the establishment of hypotheses and the planning of research.

There are no central recommendations, regulations or guidelines on Citizen Science for the Max Planck Society. At the institutes, however, there are quite a number of projects that rely on non-professionals to support research.

Examples are:

  • In the Einstein@Home project of the MPI for Gravitational Physics, the capacities of private computers are used for scientific purposes. The participants make the unused capacity of their computers available to search for very weak astrophysical signals from neutron stars (pulsars).
  • The MPI of Animal Behavior operates several programs and corresponding apps for tracking and documenting animal movements.
  • Interested laypersons can watch video clips of camera traps from different areas in Africa. The aim is to evaluate, classify and discuss the contents of these videos. For example, it is about which animal species can be seen with how many individuals and how the animals behave. All of this is part of the project Chimp&See of the MPI for evolutionary Anthropology.
  • Flora Incognita, which is developed by the MPI for Biogeochemistry and the TU Ilmenau, allows the semi-automatic identification of flowering plants via smartphone app. Through sharing the collected data about different species and their location, new insights about biodiversity issues are possible for the scientists.
  • The MPI for Astronomy uses computer simulations to investigate the formation of jellyfish galaxies. To do this, they need help from citizens in recognizing the galaxies they are looking for, which literally resemble jellyfish, in a vast amount of imagery.

You can find even more MPG projects here.

Further Reading