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.
“Microbial March” is a living fermentation lab that invites everyone to come and learn about the art and science of food fermentation and to reconnect with their bodies and their environment through microbes.
Fermentation – a metabolic process that converts sugar to acids, gases, and alcohols by using microbial cultures (so-called “fermentation starter cultures”) – has been known as a traditional food making technique since the Neolithic Age.
After a short introductory talk about microbes + fermentation and their social, environmental, and health impacts, lab visitors will be invited to engage in a collaborative hands-on making of various cultured foods and drinks.
Everyone is welcomed to bring and share fermentation ingredients, starter cultures, as well as traditional fermentation wisdom and recipes known in their country, neighborhood or family. Along with the exchange of various cultures, both in the literal and metaphorical sense, we will discuss various fermentation-related issues as well as the globally growing inter-cultural tensions.
The event is co-organized by the FabCafe Singapore, The Singapore Eco Film Festival and the Fermentation GutHub group.
Time: 730 to 930 pm
Venue: ArtScience Museum
#2 (Starter) Culture Exchange
There will be milk kefir grains from New Zealand; various yeasts from USA; kombucha SCOBYs from Singapore; and some random surprise starters + everyone is invited to bring samples of fermentation cultures, foods, drinks, recipes, ideas etc.
#3 Make Your Own Jar (Hands-on Workshop)
Collaborative hands-on fermentation: Basic vegetable pickling + yogurt & milk kefir making + kombucha brewing etc.
We will experiment with different teas and sugar levels (kombucha), salt ratios (veggies), additional ingredients (e.g. mango in kefir). The finished jars can stay in Fab Café to sit and ferment (there will be a follow-up tasting session in 2 weeks – exact date TBC). Everyone is also welcomed to bring her/his jars home of course!
#4. Fermented Dancefloor & Late Night Fermentation Vibes (**Free Movement of Cultures**)
Playlist under construction -> add your ideas here: http://bit.ly/2lYI0cT
Entry is free —> BYOjars, foods, cultures, and other friends
For more info and updates: https://www.facebook.com/events/1275463755881579/
The workshops are field expedition into the jungles of Lawachara National Park, Bangladesh and led by Scott Trageser. At the workshop, you’ll become a certified radio-tracker by tracking pythons, rare tortoises, and even PANGOLINS(!) through the jungles of Lawachara National Park and come away with a certificate from CARINAM.
You’ll master your camera’s abilities and learn how to take photos like a pro, even in challenging conditions!
Go out every day and night with the chance to find up to 100 reptile and amphibian species, several hundred bird species, and be almost guaranteed to observe 5 species of primate. Have a great chance at getting your name on a scientific paper by making a range extension or even discovering a new species! Their 2014 trip recognized 2 new species and made several range extensions!
Do all of this from the comfort of a bed every night and 3 hot, delicious meals every day. Every dollar of the $2,200 contribution goes directly to helping the fauna of Bangladesh.
Top it all off by taking a luxury boat down the world’s largest mangrove system: the Sundarban Mangroves. For 3 days you’ll have a real chance at seeing Tigers, Saltwater Crocs, and finding 75+ snakes a night!
For those of you who want to be a volunteer guide at Singapore’s first Marine Park, sign up at the upcoming training sessions on 1-2 Oct and 7 – 8 Oct.
Who can join?
Training is open to
- Those 19 years and above.
- Able to easily get in and out of a boat and to walk about 1km.
- Participants must commit to guide 4 times in the coming 12 months at NParks public walks at the Sisters Islands Marine Park. Public walk dates will be made available in Nov 2014 and may not always be on a weekend.
- Training will be tailored to your needs. This is why we need you to fill up the registration form (http://tinyurl.com/SisGuideTrgOct2014). So that we can better customize the workshop to YOUR needs.
Training programme details
All classroom training on weekdays 6.30-10.30pm at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. (Detailed venue will be provided to those who register)
Day 1: 1 Oct (Wed) or 7 Oct (Tue)
- 15min Intro to the Marine Park, what it’s about, how it came about, what’s ahead (NParks)
- 15min Intro to marine habitats (Ria Tan, wildsingapore)
- Making a difference with your walk
- Dealing with ‘difficult’ visitors
Day 2: 2 Oct (Thu) or 8 Oct (Wed)
- 15min Intro to safety on the shores: safety of people and safety of reefs (Ria Tan, wildsingapore)
- 15min Intro to safe and successful ‘Seeking’ (Ria Tan, wildsingapore)
- Tricky guiding situations – Specially for new guides
- Dealing with ‘difficult’ visitors
Field trip: 12 Oct (Sun) 6-9pm (More details will be provided to those who register)
- Priority for the field trip given to those who attended Day 1 AND Day 2. Seats are limited.
- Each participant to prepare to talk about 5 things on the Die-die-sure-can-see list (to be provided to those who register).
- Start practicing stories from departure from mainland.
- Practice stories along the walk route.
- Field introduction to effective and safe ‘Seeking’.
The training programme is a collaboration among NParks, National Biodiversity Centre, November Tan (The Leafmonkey Workshop), Ria Tan (wildsingapore) and the volunteer guides of The Naked Hermit Crabs
Join us this Thursday for a talk and workshop by John Stoskopf Ascher (NUS) titled “Discovering Bee Diversity through Collecting and Digital Imaging, and Integration of Citizen Science and Professional Datasets via Online Biodiversity Portals”
John S. Ascher’s research focuses on the taxonomy, distribution, and ecology of bees and wasps. He joined NUS-DBS as an assistant professor in June of 2013, is a Research Associate of the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research and of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), and received his Ph.D. in Entomology from Cornell University, 2004. In 2005 he initiated at the AMNH collaborative digitization of label data for bee specimens across more than ten collections using web-based software. These data are shared online through the biodiversity portal Discover Life which maps them together with verified citizen science records. In addition to working extensively with museum collections he also identifies bees and wasps to species based on photos submitted by the community to Bugguide and other online image databases.This talk will demonstrate how diverse datasets, documented with both physical and virtual vouchers and submitted by both professional researchers and amateurs contribute to discovery of bee pollinators and status assessments for these. He will also discuss opportunities and challenges for those collecting bees and other insects abroad, based in part on his expeditions to countries such as Ecuador, China, and Turkey.
A 3 day workshop for new and existing nature guides with speakers Ria Tan and Vilma D’Rozario. Register early as spaces are limited to 20 persons per day!
Dates: 14-16 May 2014 (Wed-Fri)
Time: 7pm – 10.30pm
Please register at tinyurl.com/TLW-SOTAWorkshop by 9 May 2014.
Thank you Ria and November for very speedily putting together a report on Sunday’s discussion! Click on this link to read it:Imagine Ubin Report
And for those who couldn’t make it to the workshop (like me!), check out Ria’s Wild Shores blog post: Double dose of Ubin