Science is reserved for people in white lab coats with expensive degrees and sophisticated equipment, right? Wrong. Citizen scientists are ordinary people who participate in science through data collection, scientific study participation or even just support of scientific projects or endeavors. Citizen scientists play a critical role in the healthcare and research worlds and should be empowered to contribute however they can.
Medical breakthroughs do not always come from expected sources. Bacteria was first observed in the seventeenth century by Dutch textile trader Antony van Leeuwenhoek, who built microscopes at home during his spare time. Salem Witch Trial judge Cotton Mathers introduced the concept of a smallpox vaccine to colonial Boston in 1721 after being told of the practice by Onesimus, an enslaved man born in West Africa. A surprising number of important medical discoveries and devices have been invented by teenagers seeking to enter science fairs or solve everyday problems.
Today, there are even programs set up specifically to encourage citizen scientists to contribute to real problems. For example, the “bucket brigades” formed to collect air samples for monitoring air pollution levels or the free video game Foldit, which lets players tackle real protein folding problems.
The U.S. is in the middle of a big push to get more children interested in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields. This is particularly important for solving the STEM career gender gap.
Groups such as the North American Association for Environmental Education advocate immersive educational experiences that encourage children’s natural curiosity and problem-solving instincts. STEM immersion and citizen science go hand-in-hand because while not every child can be raised by professional medical researchers, any child can be raised by a citizen scientist.
By letting children be part of everyday data collection or talking about scientific and global health issues, we can foster the creation of a new generation of dedicated traditional and citizen scientists who understand that global health challenges are our collective challenges and we can all take part in solving them.
The Citizen Scientist of the Future
Citizen scientists have been essential to propelling the research world forward, and they will continue to be in the future. At Nano Vision, we seek to empower citizen scientists to play an even bigger role in the future of global health by giving them the ability to collect and contribute real-world data using Nano Sense™ chips and participating in the Nano Vision data-sharing marketplace. Any citizen scientist could place a chip in their environment – a home, car, work space, etc. – to contribute important data ranging from black mold growth in a roof and a rare disease without a cure to a seasonal flu outbreak in an office that might lead to the development of a more effective vaccine.
Global health threats are our common enemy. While citizen scientists have been around for centuries, in this new era of research and technology amid ever-increasing health crises, we should all feel empowered to participate in shaping the future of global health.