by Alex Yang, Sihinta Shembil & Adeline Seah
It’s Citizen Science, Baby!
Science isn’t the personal dominion of boffins in lab coats shaking Erlenmeyer flasks. Loads of people get involved with science. Science is about methods and mathematics and many other things. But, it begins with a thought, a hypothesis, observation, and the collection of each careful minute observation into the usefulness of organised data.
This might start in the lab if you’re intent on scrutinising the playful bumping around of molecules under the microscope. Or, it might be amateur birders noting the first arrival of the season of an elegant migratory bird, astronomers noting a hitherto unnamed speck in the vast canvas of the sky, or even volunteers washing and documenting broken old, very, very, very old pots in the archaeology lab.
You might be a schoolkid, homemaker, plumber, accountant, cyclist, or that government bureaucrat nobody likes. It doesn’t matter. Everyone can get involved. It’s not called citizen science for nothing. Are you a citizen? Yes? It’s your science!
Just as science has biology, citizen science has DIY bio, which, let’s be honest, sounds like a terribly awkward name. It also flies by another name: biohacking. That’s kind of scary, isn’t it? But it’s really just regular ol’ science! We don’t want to be stopped and interrogated by the authorities everywhere we go, so, let’s call it something nice.
So… (apologies to our dearest DIY bio friends), we’ll call it open bio in this article! (I swear to anything sacred, it’s Adeline’s idea)* And, it happens all over the world.
* yes it’s me, DIY Bio is a horrible term, Open refers to a lot more: open source, access, inclusion, diversity, open to new ideas, possibilities etc.. ~Adeline
Open Bio in Dhaka, Bangladesh
Citizen science and open bio are open to all and sundry, for sure. However, nobody does awesome work without some knowledge, right? Science must begin with education.
Originally intending to go to Bangladesh to see wildlife, Adeline ended up spending a wonderful week in Dhaka with the Tech Academy (Thank you, Marc!). The Hackteria connection to Shams Jaber led to Open bio workshops and discussions in Dhaka early this year, with the aim of sharing about tools and resources to “take” biology education and research out of academic institutions, and of course, to do the usual spiel about wildlife and using bio for good e.g. investigating pollution, conservation etc.
Sihinta (now with the newly formed Biobot group) reports with such wonderful gusto that it’s best read unedited:
As a lover of biology and a dedicated student in biotechnology, I truly respected the key point of the “Bio-hacking” workshops: the importance of reaching out to the public about what we know in science, also known as citizen science. Open Bio gives a platform where people of varying ages, different educational backgrounds and diverse goals come together and learn with one another. It’s a fun and interactive way of learning, and meeting new people.
The Open Bio workshops in Dhaka consisted of teachers, students and children as young as four. The main activity with the kids was isolating DNA from strawberries. We all mashed strawberries, while sneakily eating a few, and mixed it with drops of detergent and alcohol to collect some long stringy white clumps, the DNA!
Promon Khan, researcher at BRAC University, guided the children with DNA extraction. His experience with bio-hacking was fruitful and enjoyable, and he mentioned “young minds never fail to surprise me when I see them learning something no matter if that’s a rhyme or DNA extraction!”
Shahreena Rahman, biotechnology student at North South University and high-school teacher, will apply what she learned in a few hours of the workshop to her teaching techniques: “I’m looking forward to showing my students what I do in my high-tech labs by using these bio hacks in my classroom. Thanks to Adeline Seah and The Tech Academy, now more people outside of labs can carry on with their experiments to satisfy their curious minds.”
Sheikh Saqif Ahmed, president of BRAC University Natural Science Club, anchored the Bio-Hacking workshop held at BRAC University. In regards to his experience he mentioned “I did have fun and learned a lot about citizen science and the importance of availability of science to the general public. We were also introduced to kids who are eligible in coding and making electronic gadgets.”
As for me, the two workshops I attended left me with a new goal: to gain the ability to break down intricate bio-knowledge filled with jargon and clearly communicate it with people in an easy and entertaining manner.
I believe Bangladesh is filled with bright minds who are willing to work ardently for their education and career. Open Bio and citizen science can utilize the potential of the youth, and it’s a perfect introduction to science for many. For this reason, The Tech Academy and BRAC University Natural Science Club are already planning to form a six month introductory biology curriculum for children and beginners. In the near future, they also wish to commence research projects where children can directly participate.
Thanks to the Open Bio workshops held in Dhaka, new paths towards science are being paved.
3 places left in the upcoming CAT walk. Support tiger conservation and get the chance to walk where tigers still roam! If you can’t make it to this one, the next one is in Nov.
What is CAT?
The Citizen Action for Tigers (CAT) program involves participants walking on the trails where the Malayan Tiger and other wildlife have been recorded. Since 2010, more than 200 CAT walks have been done by more than a thousand volunteer participants from over 31 countries. The CAT program is run by the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MYCAT).
Malayan Tiger Corridor Trek Trip
For this 4 Day 3 Night trip – Thursday 22 to Sunday 25 September 2016:
Cost per adult/non-student, based on a group of 8 pax = RM$960 (S$320)
Cost per adult/non-student, based on a group of 7 pax = RM$1097 (S$366)
Cost per adult/non-student, based on a group of 6 pax = RM$1280 (S$426)
Cost per student/repeat cat walker, based on a group of 8 pax = RM$720 (S$240)
Cost includes car transfers KL-Merapoh, guided treks, night drive, and village guesthouse accomodation.
Cost excludes coach Singapore-KL, and meals.
Why Support CAT?
In Peninsular Malaysia, there were about 3000 Malayan Tigers in the 1950s. Presently there are less than 300 individuals. This sub-species is now on the extreme edge of extinction.
The presence of walkers on these trails will discourage illegal and destructive activities such as:
-poaching of wildlife
-cutting of forest trees
-burning of forest
-clearing forest for illegal plantation
Our survey walks will:
-report on animal snares and traps encountered so that they can be de-activated
-submit evidence of wildlife poaching activities encountered to the Wildlife Crime Hotline so that they can be investigated and stopped
-look for signs of wildlife such as Sun bear claw marks on trees, tiger paw prints and hoof marks on the trails, and observing wildlife encountered while on the trek.
-we support the local Batek Orang Asli native people community by engaging them as our guides.
Itinerary & program:
Day 1 Thursday 22 Sept:
8.00am – Board coach to KL
1.00pm – Arrive in KL, have lunch.
2.00pm – Pick up by van transfer to Merapoh, Sungei Yu.
5.00pm – Check-in village guest house.
7.00pm – Dinner in village
Day 2 Friday 23 Sept:
7.30am – Breakfast in village, pack lunch to go on whole day survey-trek.
8.00am – Leave for tiger survey-trek Trail 1
4.00pm – Back in village
7.00pm – Dinner in Gua Musang (Civet Cave) town
Day 3 Saturday 24 Sept:
7.30am – Breakfast in village
8.00am – Leave for tiger survey-trek Trail 2
1.00pm – Back in village for lunch
2.00pm – Visit MYCAT Sungei Yu Reforestation Site (refer below for details on our fun activities there)
7.00pm – Dinner in village
8.00pm – Night drive to look for wildlife
11.00pm – Back in village house
Day 4 Sunday 25 Sept:
7.30am – Breakfast in village
9.00am – Leave for KL
2.00pm – Arrive at KL coach station, lunch
3.30pm – Board coach for Singapore (actual time to be confirmed)
9.00pm – Arrive in Singapore
Visit to the reforestation site:
The MYCAT reforestation project site was recently launched on 29 July 2016. The site is under a portion of the longest elevated viaduct at Sungei Yu. The aim is to cover the de-forested site with native vegetation to encourage wildlife to use it as a green corridor to travel between the Titiwangsa central forests and Taman Negara. Participants will get a crash course on how to hands-on do maintenance on such a site to ensure the planted vegetation will survive and grow, and learn about native plants and their specific symbiosis with wildlife. We may also get to do some planting at the site with saplings sourced from the nursery of the Batek Orang Asli village nearby.
To join the trip, contact MYCAT: email@example.com
The Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MYCAT) is calling for 100,000 signatures to seek justice for the Malayan tiger by Global Tiger Day on 29 July 2016.
The online petition also calls for strengthened prosecution against wildlife crime and better protection for Tiger habitats and can be signed online, not just by Malaysian citizens at bit.do/mycatpetition
“Time and again Malaysia has seen Tiger traffickers and traders get away with a slap on the wrist, although the law allows for so much more. Why should they get away with lenient sentences, when Tigers get the death penalty?” said Dr Kae Kawanishi, Tiger biologist and MYCAT General Manager.
Read the FULL petition at bit.do/harimau.
(Read the full article from TRAFFIC here)
Talk by Dr Kae Kawanishi: Conservation of Critically Endangered Malayan Tigers – 4pm, Weds 27 Jan, NUS
Dr Kae Kawanishi is a tiger biologist and General Manager of the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MYCAT). She is a strong advocate of partnerships between governments, NGOs and civil society for wildlife conservation. Come find out about the threats faced by the surviving 300 critically endangered Malayan Tigers and what people living in Singapore are doing to safeguard a critical tiger habitat from poaching and deforestation.
Date: 27 January 2016, Wednesday
Time: 4PM – 5PM
Venue: SIM University, 461 Clementi Road at LT B.5.03 (Blk B Level 5)
If you are interested, please register at: http://goo.gl/forms/yaDqZ4i1Yb
More info on (MYCAT)
Challenges to tiger conservation are multi-faceted and finding solutions to the problems faced by the species requires an integrated conservation approach, which is the foundation of the establishment of MYCAT in September 2003.
MYCAT is an alliance of the Malaysian Nature Society, TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, Wildlife Conservation Society-Malaysia Programme and WWF-Malaysia, supported by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks Peninsular Malaysia for joint implementation of the National Tiger Conservation Action Plan for Malaysia.
Support them by purchasing 2016 calendars on the MYCAT website.