I’m not talking metaphorically here. YOU can be a scientist. If you must skip to the bottom to see how, do… but you might get distracted by the pictures along the way- just warning you.
Grade 4 talked via Skype to Dr. Meredith Hughes today, a radio astronomer at UC Berkeley who studies how planets form around other stars. She said the hardest part of her job is not the math, or training the telescope on that far away point in space: the hardest part is asking questions no one else has ever asked before. It’s easy to think of science as facts we learn about the world we live in- but science goes one step further. A scientist uses the things we already know to think about what we don’t know, and possibly discover something new. And new things are being discovered every day.
Here is a picture of the first dinosaur that is colored using science- a discovery from 2010. Feathered dinosaurs continue to generate many questions for paleontologists and Grade 2 students alike.
Dr. Hughes mentioned that her favorite planet might just be Kepler 22b– discovered 3 days ago by the Kepler telescope and the team of scientists who look at its data. Kepler 22b is in “the habitable zone” of its star, which means- like Earth- it might have liquid water and therefore might have other life.
Asking questions is only part of the process for any scientist. Once you have the question you need to collect data and analyze that data. For many scientists this time consuming work. In recent years science has figured out a wonderful solution to this problem: get the public involved! Called Citizen Science; it’s a way that you can do the work of a scientist, help the process work a little faster, and incidentally learn some really useful and exciting stuff in the meantime. Here are some interesting Citizen Science projects you and your family might be interested in trying out:
1. Project Noah: for the taxonomist in all of us. Use this website to upload pictures to be identified, or to look at other photos of animals and plants from around the world. It is connected with National Geographic and has a social networky feel in an ad-free visually exciting environment. Grade 3 experimented with this site this week in order to upload photos from our Eye Spots.
2. Planet Hunters: help the Kepler team identify when a planet passes in front of a star by looking at light image data and clicking on the places that show a profound change in light, indicating a planet. The science team uses redundancies in this citizen science project to know where to look more closely. Its a great opportunity to think like an astronomer and understand the ways light can tell us information about our universe.
3. Whale FM: By identifying similar sounds you can help scientists better understand the habits of whales. I have not tried this project, but it sounds fun.
4. Bay Area Ant Survey: Through the California Academy of Sciences you can participate in this project by collecting ants in your backyard and sending them to the Academy to be identified by scientists. All data is recorded on Google Earth and is continuously needed to understand the changing populations of ants in our Bay Area home. We participate in this survey at Trinity every spring.
Do you know of any great Citizen Science Projects? If so, share them in the comments section.
Do you have questions? Good! Share those too. There’s nothing like a question to make a person think of more questions…