Citizen Science

Citizens contribute to biology research

In recent years, Citizen Science, where citizens contribute to researchers' data gathering, has gained a foothold in the research environments. According to Associate Professor Sara Egemose, this is partly due to the synergy that arises when both researchers and citizens experience clear benefits from collaboration.

By Mikkel Linnemann Johansson, , 2/19/2020

- Citizen science is of great benefit to us as researchers, says Sara Egemose.

She is an associate professor at the Department of Biology at SDU. She researches, among other things, water quality in the lakes and basins where the rainwater flows after heavy rains.

Here, citizen science can make a big difference.

- By involving citizens and helping them to collect water samples or to monitor measuring equipment, we gain access to far more data, which leads to far better knowledge about the water quality in these lakes, says Sara Egemose.

In recent years, many more artificial lakes and reservoirs have emerged because heavy rains both occur more frequently and have become more violent.

- Therefore, we also have a greater need of knowing how the increased rainfall affects the aquatic environments around us, explains Sara Egemose.

Also an advantage for the citizens themselves

In particular, Sara Egemose wants to know what substances and materials the heavy rains carry in the lakes.

This is precisely why citizens can help to make a big difference. Citizens have the advantage of living closer to the aquatic environments.

- This allows them to collect water samples, record animal and plant life or note down the visual condition of the lakes when it has just rained and they have to walk their dog or go pick up groceries anyways. It gives us access to data at the right time and to an extent that we would never be able to do alone, says Sara Egemose.

It also gives citizens a better knowledge of the water quality of their local lake - a knowledge that surprisingly many demand, according to Sara Egemose.

The samples may e.g. show traces of asphalt, tire debris, nutrients and metals that are flushed from roads, parking places and rooftops out into the aquatic environment, she cites as examples.

- With a better insight into the substances and materials that are flushed into the lakes, we can also design the lakes so that they clean the water in the best way, says Sara Egemose.

The lakes and water reservoirs act as a filter that must be able to purify the water before it is diverted into nature - most often to the nearest stream.

Collaboration with associations and schools

Sara Egemose has in recent years activated middle-school classes that visit SDU, where they learn to study the wildlife of the lakes.

- That way we get to activate a lot of little helpers who get a different and active school day, says Sara Egemose.

She explains that as students get bigger, they can help with more and more complex metrics, so more aspects are explored.

- Obviously, our collaboration with high school students, who have chosen biology as their elective course, can collect more and more complex water samples than a 4th grader, but they are all of great help to us, says Sara Egemose.

She already gained her first experience with citizen science before citizen science became a popular term.

In a research project that officially ended in 2007, she subsequently got members from a local angler's association to continue collecting water samples.

- Here, I experience a great commitment from anglers who are eager to know their local lake in and out, says Sara Egemose.

- Even in all the years after the research project was formally completed, we have continued our cooperation, she adds.

Seeking more helping citizens

Sara Egemose today sees many opportunities for help from citizens who will contribute through citizen science. Especially in her field of research.

- It could be very interesting to expand the cooperation with homeowners' associations, older or hiking clubs, because they often have a local history that contributes extra knowledge, which complements the results we can see in our measurements, she says.

In addition to directly supporting the research, citizen science is also helping to strengthen the research in the long term.

- It's a kind of bridge between the university and the outside world, and the collaboration clearly helps to shorten the gap between researchers and citizens, says Sara Egemose.

How it works:

When Sara Egemose works with citizen science, she often hands out e.g. small test tubes or other equipment to the citizens who want to help.

Citizens collect the samples according to agreed criteria - e.g. before, during and after a rain shower. The assistance may also consist of inspecting automatic equipment at the lake or registering the lake's wildlife.

If citizens have gathered water samples, these are then frozen in the citizens' own freezers after collection. When the citizens need more test tubes delivered, the water samples are collected at the same time.

Subsequently, all the samples are analyzed and the results are shared with the citizens.