Citizen science is when the general public contributes their opinions, perspective, and skills in everyday science even if they don’t have a fancy degree. Here at the Adler, Zooniverse is the main citizen science project. It allows an ordinary person to classify data from different subjects, from solar activity in Solar Stormwatch, to cancer cells in Cell Slider. My personal favorite is the Cyclone Center where you get to learn about what makes hurricanes unique and use those characteristics to classify various storms. You start out by comparing two different storms to determine which one is stronger. Then you pick which shape the storm best resembles (eye, embedded center, curved band, sheer, or other) and locate the center of the storm. After that, the program tells you the wind speed and severity of the storm. Since I’m an intern at the Adler, I never thought that I would learn anything outside of astronomy let alone how to classify a tropical storm.
There’s more to citizen science than Zooniverse. I also get to create a workshop that intrigue young women to consider a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). Knowing that sites like Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, and other forms social media are things that most teenaged girls have in common, Ayana, the other citizen science intern, and I decided to create a workshop that taught the girls the secret behind those sites: HTML coding. HTML is the language that’s used in building websites, so why not teach the girls how to build their own site? However, in order to develop a 2 hour crash course in HTML coding, we had to become students again so we ventured off to codeacademy.org where we learned the secrets that glues teens to their computer screens.
For a week we were on the site, learning about the proper way to write in HTML and how the smallest thing can affect your work. For example, there was this task where I had to bold the word sing, which I thought I had done, but could not advance to the next stage. After fifteen minutes of refreshing the page and restarting the entire page of coding, I decided that the program had a glitch in it. After taking a break I had come back to it, only to get frustrated again and ask my supervisor Kelly what was wrong with what I had. She pointed out to me that I had included an exclamation point and that I was only supposed to bold sing and leave the exclamation point normal. After that I realized how sensitive HTML coding was, and how crucial the smallest detail is. After a week of learning about creating lists, changing the font, and how to command a computer, we were ready to move forward and create a lesson plan.
Written by Khadija Mohammed, Citizen Science intern at the Adler Planetarium.