Citizen Science

Did you know that you can easily make meaningful contributions to scientific research—while staying home and staying safe?

  • Scientific research depends on data–much of which is based on observations that can be done more effectively and more quickly by the ordinary human eye and brain than by computers.
  • By harnessing the power of the crowd, research can advance much more quickly than if scientists had to do this work on their own!

Citizen Science is a way for all of us to use our ordinary powers of observation to advance real scientific research.

The best place to start your Citizen Science journey is

  • Scistarter is a portal for finding projects and tracking your contributions.
  • Once you’ve created an account, you can easily search for projects that appeal to you.

Use the Project Finder to search for projects that interest you and can be done safely from home!

Even a few minutes of your time every now and then can create valuable data for scientists! Here are some examples of the different types of projects you can get involved in right now:

The Great Backyard Bird Count

The Great Backyard Bird Count is an annual four-day event during which bird watchers count birds to create a real-time snapshot of where birds are located around the world.

Scientists and bird enthusiasts can learn a lot by knowing where birds are. No single scientist or team of scientists could hope to document the complex distribution and movements of so many species in such a short time.

Anyone, from beginning bird watchers to experts, can participate in the The Great Backyard Bird Count.” The 2021 count is being held February 12-15.

Learn how to participate by watching this program recorded on February 1, 2021. Scotch Plains Fanwood High School teachers Matthew Ritter and Zachary Rittner cover some birding basics and clearly explain the process of contributing to the Count.

View the presentation slides with links to their recommended resources:

Penguin Watch

Count penguins and chicks in remote locations from your home computer!

Penguin Watch is an easy and fun project that will provide scientists with data they need— in time to understand why penguin populations are declining. Seabirds like penguins are considered to be ‘sentinel’ species, meaning that changes in their behavior and populations can provide early warning of risks to key ecosystems, and by extension to humans.

Seabirds are declining worldwide; under threat from climate change, pollution, disturbance and competition with fisheries. We want to monitor, understand and protect these species, but we have lacked the ability to collect data on a large enough scale

Why Are We Doing It?

Galaxy Zoo

You can tell a lot about a galaxy just from its shape!

The Galaxy Zoo project is done from your computer by viewing photographs from powerful telescopes, and answering a series of questions about their shape. Understanding galaxies helps scientists learn about the past, present and future of the Universe as a whole.

You can answer these questions without any specialist knowledge— the ordinary human brain can perform these pattern recognition tasks better than any computer!


Make important contributions to biodiversity science from your own backyard or neighborhood!

iNaturalist is an easy-to-use app that lets you upload a picture of any wild plant, animal, or fungus. Over 80,000 daily users in over 240 countries can connect with other by helping to identify sightings. Your contributions can create research quality data for scientists who are working to better understand and protect nature. Every observation becomes part of a growing record of Earth’s biodiversity!

You can also view what others have seen in your area! Wondering if there are wild turkeys—or coyotes—in our vicinity? Use the Explore option to find out! (Yes, there are!)

Here’s a great introduction to getting started with iNaturalist.

Smithsonian Transcription Project

Nothing is better than the human eye for transcribing handwriting.

Do your interests lie more in history? Citizen Science has projects for you, too!

The Smithsonian Transcription Center has thousands of letters, diaries and records at that need your eyes to reveal their treasures! Enter the world of American artists in Paris between 1860 and 1930 through their letters. Bring to light the experiences of formerly enslaved men and women during Reconstruction by transcribing records from the Freedman’s Bureau. You’ll learn about historical events in a completely different way, and bring valuable human stories to light for researchers and the public .

Stall Catchers

A Citizen Science project that feels like a game–but is actually advancing Alzheimer’s research!

Stall Catchers is a game-like project—the object is to “catch” stalls by looking at movies from the brains of mice and scoring blood vessels as “flowing” or “stalled.” The stalls indicate the reduced blood flow that’s associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Even the most powerful computer technologies can’t perform this task accurately enough—and without the help of the crowd, the research process could take decades.

With the efforts of Citizen Scientists, a treatment could potentially be developed quickly enough to help people who have the disease now! Stall Catchers can be done from any type of computer or connected device.

This short video explains the science behind Stall Catchers:

Visit our website for information on joining the Library’s Stall Catchers team–let’s see how much we can contribute by working together!

Would you like to read more about the fascinating world of Citizen Science?