Grey nomad scientists loving life in the ‘lab’

Published: July 28, 2015

Grey nomads are well represented in Australia’s growing army of ‘citizen scientists’ who are helping to expand scientific knowledge and discovery … but even more are being urged to get involved.

A new paper from the Office of the Chief Scientist has highlighted the important role played by people in the community collecting data to help solve real world problems. There are an estimated  130,000 people, of all ages, that are active in more than 90 scientific projects.

Australia’s Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb, said many people who are a bit older and wonder ‘why’ were among the amateur researchers.

“People with curiosity and a passion for science are making a difference – often helped by the smartphone in their pocket,” he said. “Citizen scientists in Australia have already helped to find distant galaxies, discovered new species and assisted with insights to fight diseases like HIV/AIDS and Alzheimer’s.”

Citizen science projects in Australia have already mobilised 10,000 people to collect 10 million records for a birds’ database and more than 9,600 people analysed 330,000 photos of marine habitats in a single week.

People from the community are also doing crucial work in monitoring dust activity using traps and air samplers. Over 500 people recorded 1,500 sightings in a koala count.

The paper, Building Australia through Citizen Science, highlights the role of new technologies, with smartphones, GPS and sensors expanding the opportunities for people to contribute.

Professor Chubb told the ABC that technology – and particularly smartphones – had been crucial in the ‘people’s science’ revolution.

“If you’re out somewhere in remote part of Australia and you see something you didn’t expect to see and you can take a photograph of it and send it into the relevant website or whatever they’ve set up to receive such information, then it’s a lot easier, and indeed more accurate, because you know, you can program your phone to give pretty precise coordinates,” he said. “So you’ve got a pretty accurate map of where this particular thing has been seen and the scientists can say, well we haven’t seen it there before and put another dot on the map, or we haven’t put another dot on the map.”

Those interested in learning more about science in the community, can visit www.scienceweek.net.au, the website of National Science Week.

  • Are you a citizen scientist as you travel? Would you like to be? Comment below.
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