What is citizen science?


A young girl and a group of three adults using a tablet.


Citizen science can broadly be defined as the involvement of volunteers in science. There are many names for it; public participation in science, volunteers in research, and it often makes use of crowdsourcing. It is responsible for gathering much of the applied data on a variety of species worldwide and can help volunteers learn about and care for the natural world.

There are many citizen scientists all over the world. A citizen scientist can participate in a single act of observation or participation, or they can be long standing contributors. Anyone can participate as a citizen scientist. These days there are multiple opportunities via:

  • Technology including the internet, mobile and smart devices.
  • Local community groups.
  • Education and research groups seeking volunteers.

Examples of well known citizen scientists include:

  • Jim Wilson: As a volunteer Jim has been collecting salamander data in the Backus Woods reserve in Canada over the past 12 years. Jim is responsible for one of longest data sets for this amphibian in Canada. More information on Jim and the salamander can be found on the Long Point Biosphere website.
  • In 2010 seventh graders at Evergreen Middle School in Cottonwood, California, found an apparent cave on Mars. Using the camera on NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter, the students were looking for lava tubes when instead they found something unexpected: a small, round, black spot. The students submitted the site as a candidate for imaging by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and researchers determined the finding indicated the presence of a cave. More information can be found on the NASA website.
  • Gayle Steffy is a citizen scientist with a passion for the Monarch Butterfly. Alongside her participation in citizen science projects such as the Monarch Larva and Cape May Monitoring Projects, Steffy spent 18 years collecting migration data and has had her work published in a special monarch-themed issue of the Annals of the Entomological Society of America, a well-respected scholarly journal. More information can be found over at DiscoverMagazine.