3 Ways to Help Science with Your Computer or Smartphone

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Published on October 22nd, 2012  |  Discuss This Article  

Join the growing brigade of citizen scientists with these cool projects that get you involved in the latest science studying climate change, marine life and human happiness.

1. Climate predictions on your home computer

Predicting how our climate is likely to change depends on running very complex computer models over and over again with small changes and seeing what happens in the future. Climate models are enormous and usually only run on super computers, which greatly limits the number of times they can be run. And yet, around the world there is a massive amount of computer power that is never used—most of it on home machines whose heaviest workout is updating Facebook or streaming music. Cimateprediction.net harnesses this excess computer power to aid climate prediction by getting regular citizens to donate unused computer power on their personal machines. Once you sign up, a climate model runs in the background whenever your computer is on and not being used to its full potential. As the model runs, you can watch the weather patterns on your, unique, version of the world evolve.

2. Finding critters on ocean floor

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution has taken over 500 million images of the seafloor off the New England coast and now needs your help to identify what’s in them. The Seafloor Explorer project posts images of the seafloor up on the web and asks citizens to grab an image and identify fish, seastars, crustaceans and other critters in it. The image is then marked as classified and the information added to a database. As well as seeing photos of neat creatures that most of us never get to see in the flesh, the enormous set of data built up from this citizen science can be really valuable for future conservation planning efforts off the northeast U.S.

3. What makes us happy?

Is there are a more important question than this? Happiness and what influences it are notoriously difficult to investigate in a laboratory setting because it depends so much on present emotional experience. Led by psychologists working at Harvard University, the Track Your Happiness project uses smartphones to collect real-time reports about happiness as people go about their daily lives. Once you sign up you are sent messages at random times during your day with a few questions to answer about your current activity and happiness. This is generating a huge database of emotional experience that has already generated interesting findings like the observation that people are less happy when their minds are wandering. As well as helping psychological research, participants get personal reports about their own happiness.

(Image: Smartphone user in Kloof Nature Reserve, South Africa. Source: Flickr user rogergordon via a Creative Commons license.)

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