Now LIVE! SciStarter Citizen Science Contest with Instructables and Discover Magazine!

Citizen Science Contest: Submit a solution that makes it easier for people to collaborate with scientists. Win great prizes!Millions of everyday people are helping scientists discover galaxies, measure climate change, track species, monitor air and water pollution, and more through citizen science projects featured on SciStarter. However, like all scientific research, project organizers and participants often run into challenges that can slow progress or limit data collection. Now, you can help!

SciStarter, in partnership with Instructables, and Discover Magazine, invites YOU to come up with solutions to the challenges faced by our community of citizen scientists, researchers and project organizers. Help make their experiences better by coming up with solutions to some real annoyances: stop critters from eating sunflowers planted to observe pollinating bees, help remind volunteers to reset rain gauges and report measurements, link activities to social experiences. Or, dream up your own home-based research project that involves public participation to advance a field of scientific research.

Entries will be accepted on the Instructables Contest Page now through January 21. Winners have a chance to win a variety of prizes listed below.


  • Grand Prize (1 winner): Celestron Telescope, published in an issue of Discover Magazine, subscription to Discover, SciStarter Tshirt, Instructables Prize Pack
  • First Prize (5 winners): Bird Cameras, Timelapse Camera, subscription to Discover, SciStarter Tshirt, Instructables Prize Pack
  • Runners Up (10 winners): Hi capacity rain gauge,subscription to Discover, SciStarter Tshirt, Instructables Prize Pack

The Challenges

To get you started, we’ve listed four specific–and very real–challenges sent to us by project organizers. These problems impact the experience of the participants, and/or the ability of the project to reach its full potential. Select one or more to solve or come up with your own creative solution to a challenge you face as a citizen scientist! If you are the organizer of a citizen science project, you can post your own challenge to your SciStarter Project Page (see “Discussion” tab on the Project Pages). We’ll encourage communities to post their creative solutions to your challenges right on your SciStarter Project Page!

Create inexpensive hail pads

Create a new hail pad!Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) volunteers take and submit measurements of rain, hail, and snow precipitation. These observations are made available for use by the National Weather Service, meteorologists, emergency managers, and others.

The Problem: Hail pads are essential to the CoCoRaHS mission to measure, map, and study hail. Each pad consists of a 12″ by 12″square of Styrofoam covered in Heavy Duty Aluminum foil. However, in recent years, these materials have tripled in cost, which has greatly reduced the number of hail pads that can be produced and distributed.

The Challenge: Create a cheaper hail pad that can measure the number, size, and orientation of hail stones.

Stop critters from eating sunflowers

Stop those critters!The Great Sunflower Project uses data collected by citizen scientists to create an online map of bee populations. Participants grow sunflowers, observe how many bees visit those flowers, and then submit their observations.

The Problem: Critters, like mice and birds, often eat the sunflower seedlings before the bees are able to visit. As a result, some volunteers are unable to collect and submit data.

The Challenge: Create a safe, simple way to ensure the sunflowers are protected from critters and reach maturation.

Help participants submit their data

The more data, the merrier!Project BudBurst engages the public in making careful observations of phenophases, such as first leafing, first flower, and first fruit ripening. Scientists compare this valuable environmental information to historical records and learn about the prevailing climatic characteristics in a region over time.

The Problem: Prospective and current volunteers are often unsure if they have correctly identified plants and phenophases. This may lead to them not submit the data they’ve collected. Other volunteers simply forget to add their data.

The Challenge: Find a way to encourage and remind participants to submit data after making field observations.

Provide 1000 cheap, wireless climate data loggers

Wildlife of your homeWildlife of Our Homes provides an opportunity for citizen scientists to help researchers study the species that live alongside us everyday – bacteria, fungi, and insects. By using a sampling kit and answering a few questions, volunteers help researchers create an atlas of microbial diversity in homes across the country.

The Problem: Project organizers would love to collect climate data in each of the 1000 homes where volunteers are sampling microbes from 4 common surfaces. Unfortunately, climate sensors are expensive, and more importantly, project organizers don’t have an easy way to transfer data from those home sensors (temperature, humidity, etc) to an online database. Currently, they must physically retrieve and download the data.

The Challenge: Find a way to log climate data and wirelessly transmit the data to the project organizers.

Remember to submit ideas for solutions to these and other challenges on the SciStarter Citizen Science Contest Page!

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About the Author

Darlene Cavalier

Darlene Cavalier

Darlene Cavalier is a Professor at Arizona State University's Center for Engagement and Training, part of the School for the Future of Innovation in Society. Cavalier is the founder of SciStarter. She is also the founder of Science Cheerleader, an organization of more than 300 current and former professional cheerleaders pursuing STEM careers, and a cofounder of ECAST: Expert and Citizen Assessment of Science and Technology, a network of universities, science centers, and think tanks that produces public deliberations to enhance science policymaking. She is a founding board member of the Citizen Science Association, a senior advisor at Discover Magazine, a member of the EPA's National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology, and was appointed to the National Academy of Sciences "Designing Citizen Science to Support Science Learning" committee. She is the author of The Science of Cheerleading and co-editor of The Rightful Place of Science: Citizen Science, published by Arizona State University. Darlene holds degrees from Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania and was a high school, college and NBA cheerleader. Darlene lives in Philadelphia with her husband and four children.