Citizen Science Project at ScienceOnline2011

One of the special speakers at the banquet at ScienceOnline2011 will be Dr. Margaret (Meg) Lowman, the Director of the North Carolina Museum of Natural SciencesNature Research Center.

The Nature Research Center (NRC) is “the new 80,000-square-foot wing of the Museum dedicated to bringing scientific research into the public eye. Currently under construction in the block west of the Museum, the NRC is scheduled to open in early 2012. Lowman is also Research Professor of Natural Sciences in the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences at NC State University, where she focuses on initiatives involving communicating science to the public.”

The way I understand the concept of NRC is that the Museum visitors (and a number of ScienceOnline2011 participants will go on a traditional tour of the Museum and its basement vaults) will have an opportunity there to interact with real working scientists, observe them at work, talk to them and ask questions, and importantly, to try their own hands at doing stuff. A number of local labs are going to be involved in this, putting some of their research resources into the building and doing their work under the eyes (and probably continuous questioning and conversation) of the curious public.

One of the participants in this endeavor will be Dr.Rob Dunn from the NCSU Biology Department (yes, that is my old Department, now renamed).

Now, to understand what next I will say, you need to be familiar with Rob Dunn’s recent blog post, The top 10 life-forms living on Lady Gaga (and you), especially point #5: Vanity.

Just as was described in the post, visitors of the NRC at the Museum will be able to volunteer to have bacteria from their navels cultured and photographed and e-mailed to them.

NRC is not open yet, but attendees of ScienceOnline2011 on Sunday will be the very first to be offered this opportunity to participate. As Meg Lowman will also explain during the Saturday banquet, there will be a table set up at Sigma Xi on Sunday morning where you can donate your bellybutton lint. Provide your e-mail, and you’ll get a picture of the cultures.

Now, I know that this is not Citizen Science in the proper definition of the word. But, knowing the people who attend this meeting, I bet they can find creative ways to actually turn it into something more like it. Perhaps all of the images can be pooled into a single online place, perhaps a geographical map (including perhaps additional information about the donors, e.g,. bathing habits – morning vs. evening showers, usual type of clothes they wear, etc.). Or, some of the participants who have labs with required capabilities may go a step further and repeat the experiment at home but also sequence the microbial metagenomes of their navels, then get together with each other and publish a comparative study. Who knows, we may all learn something new from the exercise? Or at least they can be strong contenders for the next IgNobels…

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