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April is Citizen Science Month

A time for children, teens, adults and families to be scientists and researchers observing and

collecting data without the need of getting published. It is an opportunity to explore a wide range

of projects and contribute to real research answering questions to help better understand

the environment, wildlife and more.

Why is citizen science important?

  • It helps scientists gather more data than they can do alone.

  • It helps people better understand scientific research.

  • Increases scientific literacy.

  • Exposes young people to future careers and hobbies.

  • It builds relationships between scientists and citizens.

According to John Holdren, former director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy

under President Obama,

"Citizen science can create a sense of connectivity, community, and ownership of projects."

I agree with Holdren. Whether I’m working on local projects or contributing to ones with people across the globe, I feel a part of something bigger. Knowing that I am helping researchers find solutions to

some of our most pressing environmental concerns gives me a pleasant boost.

It shouldn’t be difficult to find an area of interest, some citizen topics include:

  • Astronomy

  • Agriculture

  • Birds

  • Bacteria

  • Chemistry

  • Computers

  • Ecology

  • Medicine

  • Pets

  • Physics

  • Transportation

  • Weather

There are also many ways to do citizen science.

  • Outdoors or indoors

  • Online or in person

  • Alone or in groups

  • Free projects or pay a small fee

In this new Citizen Science series, I will highlight one citizen science project each month for you to enjoy alone or with your family and friends. Let's start with iNaturalist.


iNaturalist is an online inventory to record and share your photos of nature.

It connects you with other people globally who will help with the identification of organisms in your pictures. Your photos can also be used for research projects once they have been properly identified.

This tool is used by many organizations including the DeKalb County Forest Preserve District.

It is also used for events like a BioBlitz. A BioBlitz is an event in which a group of people gather in one location to record as many plants, animals and fungi as possible within a day.

This tool is a wonderful way to learn about the biodiversity in our area and to keep track of the biodiversity you encounter while hiking, visiting a state park, or even in your backyard.

Fig. 1 A sample life list from iNaturalist.

There are two ways to use the app.

The first way is to open the app and use it while taking pictures. It will load the pictures onto your home page. If you can identify the organism, great!

If not, there are thousands of people who can help you make a positive identification.

The second way, which some say is better, is to take photos with your camera, but edit the photos

separately before loading them onto iNaturalist.

Editing the photos before adding to them to the app makes it easier to tell which organism is the subject of the photo.

Fig. 2 A sample of a identified photo considered research grade from iNaturalist.

Once your photo has three confirmations on the classification of the subject, it is considered

“research grade” and may be used by researchers for a variety of projects examining the

biodiversity of specific locations.

City Nature Challenge: April 26-29

iNaturalist is also a great tool for the upcoming City Nature Challenge, participate on your own or join a local event at Knute Olson Forest Preserve (April 26) and NIU East Lagoon (April 29)

How much biodiversity can you find?

*Hannibal, M.E. (2016). Citizen Scientist: searching for heroes and hope in an age of extinction. The Experiment. New York.


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