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Citizen science blog

January 2015
2

If you've joined us from our last blog post where we introduced the team, hello again! I'm really excited to be taking part in the Museum's newest citizen science project, The Microverse, that we launched at the end of 2014. This is a research project that will explore what microorganisms are living on UK buildings.

 

 

The research is being led by Dr Anne Jungblut, who studies microorganisms in extreme environments, exerting much of her research effort on the microorganisms that are found in Antarctica. Despite taking field trips to Antarctica, Anne is also very keen to explore the life that lives on buildings here in the UK, which - perhaps surprisingly - have received very little attention with respect to their microbiology to date.

 

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Cyanobacteria are the specific type of microorganism that Anne studies in Antarctica.

 

Like Antarctica, buildings are an extreme environment for life, exposing microorganims to extremes of wet and dry and - sometimes - high levels of pollution, while providing little access to nutrients. Anne approached Lucy Robinson and I to see if we could help her to recruit members of the public into collecting data (it would take Anne years if she collected the data from across the UK herself).

 

So we want to get 250 secondary schools to step out of the classroom and swab a local building.

 

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Students will find a local building and collect samples from the wall using a cotton swab.

 

Throughout January and February, A-Level Biology students from across the UK will be swabbing buildings and recording data about the building's environment and form. The students will collect the samples on cotton wool swabs and post them back to the Museum in a preservative. Once here, Anne will then extract DNA from the swabs and sequence it, to reveal what types of microorganism groups are living there and how many different types.

 

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Samples are added to labelled tubes of DNA preservative to be sent back to the museum for analysis.

 

Schools will literally be contributing the genuine scientific research and to the Museum's collection, because Anne will use the data to publish academic research in a scientific journal and the specimens will be incorporated into our Molecular Collections Facility. This research project aims to determine the diversity of microorganisms on buildings across the UK and what types of variables are impacting on that diversity. It will form a foundation of knowledge from which more detailed questions can be asked.

 

If you are an A-Level Biology student or teacher, or you know of anyone that might like to get involved in The Microverse, there is still time to join the programme, just visit our webpage to find out how to take part. It's completely free and each school receives a pack with equipment and resources guiding both teachers and students through the method and the science. Data collection has already started in January and will continue throughout February, and the results will be returned to students by the end of March 2015.

 

Jade Lauren

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Meet the citizen science team

Posted by JadeLauren Jan 25, 2015

Meet the Museum's core citizen science team. First up, it's Lucy:

 

Lucy Robinson

Citizen Science Programme Manager

 

"Hello! As Programme Manager, I oversee all of the Museum's citizen science activities. My role is to update and promote our existing projects, and to work with our researchers, curators and public engagement staff to develop exciting new projects that support the Museum's scientific research.

 

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Lucy Robinson, worm charming for the OPAL soil and earthworm survey.

 

A key element of the citizen science programme is to support other citizen science practitioners to develop their own projects. We do this by producing knowledge exchange guides and publications, and I regularly represent the Museum at national and international citizen science conferences. I am a member of the global Citizen Science Association and the European Citizen Science Association, within which I lead a working group that aims to share best practice and build capacity in citizen science across Europe.

 

I've been working at the Museum in the field of citizen science for 7 years now, initially on the Big Lottery Funded OPAL project, and now as the Museum's programme manager. I love being at the interface of science research and public engagement, and am fortunate that my job means I'm working alongside world-class researchers. Over the past 7 years I've worked on citizen science projects studying earthworms, lichens, seaweeds, urban invertebrates, microorganisms and many other areas of biodiversity, and I love this variety in my role."

 

Jade Lauren Cawthray

Citizen Science Project Officer

 

"As Citizen Science Project Officer I am responsible for setting up and running citizen science projects here at the Museum. I work with staff from across the Museum, to define a research question, develop the data collection method, produce the resources that support participants in collecting and analysing the data, and communicate the results at the end of the project.

 

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Jade collecting leaf samples in the Bialowieza Forest, Poland.

 

Really important to furthering our work in citizen science is my role in advocating and communicating citizen science and the projects that we run. Not only do we need to communicate to the public what projects they can contribute to and how they might benefit from getting involved, but we also need to demonstrate to research scientists how working with citizen scientists can support them in fulfilling their research ambitions.

 

As both an ecologist and a science communicator, I combine knowledge from both fields to developing public engagement opportunities that support people in engaging with and better understanding nature.

 

I started working at the Museum nearly 3 years ago as a Science Educator, delivering the Museum’s learning offer to school and family groups. I then joined the citizen science team in August 2014."

 

John Tweddle

Head of the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity

 

"With a background in palaeoecology, I - like Lucy - also worked on the OPAL citizen science programme for many years as OPAL Project Manager. That time was spent developing and delivering new citizen science projects as well as coordinating the taxonomy, public events and exhibitions, and voluntary natural history societies aspects of the OPAL programme.

 

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John teaching identification skills to Cubs, out in the field.

 

I subsequently left my role in OPAL to become Head of the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity (AMC). The AMC forms a hub for partnership-based UK natural history engagement, training and research, and provides a focus for the Museum’s citizen science programme. Our mission is to inspire and support the development of existing and future naturalists.

 

Projects range from citizen science surveys, to answering public identification enquiries, provision of wildlife identification resources and training, and research into critical aspects of the UK’s biodiversity.

 

The AMC also acts as a free drop in resource centre where UK natural history enthusiasts of all abilities can further their interest by accessing UK reference collections, library materials, microscopes and expertise.

 

I am a founding Steering Committee member for the global Citizen Science Association and a member of the British Ecological Society Citizen Science Special Interest Group."

 

So, that's a quick introduction to each of us. In our next blog post, we’ll introduce you to our latest citizen project... see you there.

 

Jade Lauren

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Welcome to the Museum's new blog about citizen science! Before we get started, we should probably give you a quick outline of what citizen science actually is... here's a snippet from our official blurb:

 

'...the involvement of volunteers in scientific projects that contribute to expanding our knowledge of the natural world, through the systematic collection, analysis or interpretation of environmental observations.'

 

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Cubs learning about British natural history from one of the Museum’s experts at a Big Nature Day event in our Wildlife Garden.

 

And here it is in a little bit more depth... It's at its essence a type of volunteering for the Museum that absolutely anyone can get involved with. Each of our citizen science projects have a specific scientific goal and a flexible approach to participation - you can take part at a time that suits you, at a location of your choice, and either with your friends and family or on your own.

 

Anyone can take part in our projects and we have and have had a wide variety to suit any interest: our current projects include collecting samples of microorganisms for DNA analysis, reporting stranded whales and dolphins, transcribing hand-written registers that detail the Museum's collections, or recording observations of bluebells, orchids, seaweeds or invertebrates.

 

You can find out more about how to take part in our projects here and - of course - by following our new blog where we intend to show you what happens behind-the-scenes and what happens next when you have submitted your data to us.

 

Over the next few posts we'll introduce you to the team and, from that point on, we'll be sharing regular updates and news of exciting developments. We hope you feel inspired to take part and contribute to the Museum's scientific research!

 

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Naturalists sorting and identifying specimens in the field.