It's remarkable how the number of projects conducted by or calling for citizen scientists continues to grow. News of one recent example comes to us from Greenwich, CT, where environmental scientist Dr. Alan Kolok has recruited a team of some 50 citizen scientists to assist in a project for tracking the behavior of atrazine, a common herbicide, as it moves through the Elkhorn River basin in Nebraska. By asking a group of citizen scientists to test the water using inexpensive test strips that react to the presence of atrazine on a single day, he can stretch his research budget considerably.
Kolok, a Byram native, said the inexpensive technique could open new possibilities for environmental scientists to conduct large scale water studies, and advance the study of how atrazine, the nation's most commonly used herbicide, travels through a waterway. Studies have linked the herbicide to abnormalities in both wildlife and humans.
"No one has ever tested atrazine on this scale," said Gwen Ryskamp, a University of Nebraska research assistant who is helping Kolok with Saturday's study. "Typically, you collect water samples and send it to a lab to test at a cost of $300 to 500 per sample. This solution is cheap and simple."
More and more scientists are starting to see the usefulness of using volunteer citizen scientists, and that they can collect real, useful data. However, while this is a good thing, I am not convinced that it comes anywhere near to using the full potential of a dedicated community of citizen scientists. This project and others like it is a beginning, a way to get people involved in a community that is still finding itself and trying to figure out what it can do.
How might we go about building and strengthening a true community of citizen scientists?