Saturday, December 27, 2008

BBC Radio 4: Citizen Science

The Growing Role of Amateurs in Collecting Scientific Data

From using home computer downtime to search for extraterrestrial life and designer drug molecules to asking amateur experts to track comets with their back garden telescopes, the public are getting involved in a huge range of surveys and experiments. In this series, Sue Nelson enters the world of the amateur scientist and discovers the hidden army of willing helpers to the scientific community.

Episode 1: Conservation

[snip] Pick an organism in Britain and there's bound to be a voluntary organisation which looks after it. Sue Nelson meets amateur moth trappers in Bedfordshire and orchid rescuers in the Cotswolds.

But it's not just a fun activity or a publicity stunt by the organisation.

The data collected by volunteers is essential. It would be impossible to set up an army of professional scientists to survey Britain's natural history at the same scale as the amateurs.

Listen To Episode 1

Episode 2: Computers

If you want to do your bit for humanity, and help scientists fight the war against cancer or HIV, halt the spread of Malaria, help mathematicians discover the largest known prime number, or even search for ET, then you don't have to do much more than log on to your computer.

A plethora of new science projects are relying on the fact that a few thousand, or even 100,000 humble home computers are better than one giant super computer in trawling through the vast amounts of data generated.

Distributed computing really took off with the launch of SETI@home, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, ... It so captured the public imagination that other scientists realised that distributed, or volunteer, computing could work for them, too. [snip]

Listen To Episode 2

Episode 3: Astronomy

Sue Nelson dons her anorak and heads out into the night to meet some amateur astronomers.

Some of these enthusiasts get a thrill out of seeing sky sights with their own eyes, while others patiently scan the heavens to discover things that no human has seen before.

David Tate monitors the skies from a small fibreglass dome which he built himself in his back garden near High Wycombe.

Mike Oates in Manchester doesn't need to watch the skies in his search for comets: he uses a home computer rather than a telescope.


But the top prize for amateur dedication must go to Tom Boles in Suffolk.


On the cloudy nights he studies each galaxy to search for the faint flashes of distant exploding stars or supernovae. Over the decade he has been doing this, he has clocked up a world record of 202 discoveries!

Listen To Episode 3




Meet the Citizen Scientists


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