Science at Cal at Home

Illustration by Maya Edelman

Citizen Science or Community Science is a movement where everyone can help contribute data and observations to scientific research. People can participate in numerous research projects on nearly any topic from their homes, neighborhoods, computers and phones. Your efforts can make a real impact with environmental research, earthquake early warning, astronomy, and even important research on the structure COVID-19.
Citizen Science Tidepools
Find out more about Citizen Science projects taking place locally and around the world organized by researchers in the in the Spring 2019 issue of UC Berkeley’s Rausser College of Natural Resources’ magazine Breakthroughs.
What Counts?
Mary Ellen Hannibal
Featured in the Breakthrough issue, Mary Ellen Hannibal discusses the benefits of citizen science for both science education and scientific discovery.
“Citizen science is often presented as primarily an educational tool, and the practice does align perfectly with STEM guidelines. But citizen science does more than educate. It makes nature observation possible on temporal and spatial scales that would otherwise be inaccessible, and it can even help reveal ecological interactions. It connects the local to the regional and the global.”
The Crowd and the Cloud is a documentary series showcasing the power of Citizen Science in the Digital Age. This four-part series takes viewers on a global tour of the projects and people on the front lines of citizen science and crowdsourcing.
Smartphones, computers and mobile technology are enabling regular citizens to become part of a 21st century way of doing science. By observing their environments, monitoring neighborhoods, collecting information about the world and the things they care about, so-called “citizen scientists” are helping professional scientists to advance knowledge while speeding up new discoveries and innovations.
The results are improving health and welfare, assisting in wildlife conservation, and giving communities the power to create needed change and help themselves.
In addition to viewing the series at the Crowd and Cloud website, episodes will be re-run by many PBS stations through 2020, and via, and also on Amazon Prime.
West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project
West Oakland Environmental Impact Program

The project team included members from Berkeley Lab, UC Berkeley, and the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP), pictured here, as well as contributors from Environmental Defense Fund, Bay Area Air Quality Management District, and the Port of Oakland. (Credit: Chelsea Preble/Berkeley Lab)

Making an appearance in the 3rd episode of The Crowd in the Cloud is the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP), which came together as an education exercise to learn the power of Community Based Participatory Research starting in 2002. This effort was supported by the Pacific Institute, with assistance from staff and graduate students of UC Berkeley’s Institute of Urban and Regional Development (IURD).
David Anderson is co-creator of SETI@home, a researcher at UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory, and the Director of BOINC, the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing. David is a computer scientist by trade, and mathematician by training, who’s had a decades long interest in distributed computing and volunteer science.
SETI@home is in hibernation and is no longer distributing tasks. The SETI@home message boards will continue to operate, and the team will continue working on the back-end data analysis.
COVID-19 Spike protein
BOINC is the preeminent platform for volunteer computing (VC). It is used by most VC projects, including SETI@home, Einstein@home,, IBM World Community Grid, and Rosetta@home.
Science United is a new way to participate in BOINC. With Science United, computer owners volunteer for science areas rather than for specific projects. Science United assigns computers to appropriate projects; these assignments may change over time.
With the recent COVID-19 outbreak, Rosetta@home has been used to predict the structure of proteins important to the disease as well as to produce new, stable mini-proteins to be used as potential therapeutics and diagnostics, like the one shown here which is bound to part of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.
On January 15, 2006, the Stardust spacecraft’s sample return capsule parachuted gently onto the Utah desert. Nestled within the capsule were precious particles collected during Stardust’s dramatic encounter with comet Wild 2 in January of 2004; and something else, even rarer and no less precious: tiny particles of interstellar dust that originated in distant stars, light-years away. They are the first such contemporary interstellar dust particles ever collected in space and returned to Earth for study.
Before they can be studied, though, these tiny interstellar grains have to be found by examining scanning microscope images of the entire Stardust interstellar collector. The Stardust team at UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Lab is asking for help from talented volunteers from all over the world to find more particles.
MyShake is a citizen science project developed at the UC Berkeley Seismology lab which brings users together to build a global earthquake early warning network. The app (for both iOS and Android) keeps you informed about earthquakes and monitors for them using data from your phone’s sensors.
The goal of MyShake is to build a worldwide earthquake early warning network so that communities can reduce the impact of earthquakes. Since MyShake uses smartphones as earthquake sensors, it can be used everywhere – even in countries without access to traditional seismic technology. MyShake collects motion data from your phone’s sensors and uses a patented neural network to determine whether that motion fits the model of an earthquake.
Sudden Oak Death (SOD), a serious exotic disease, is threatening the survival of tanoak and several oak species in California. Currently SOD is found in the wildlands of 14 coastal California counties, from Monterey to Humboldt. While patchy in distribution, with each passing year, the swath of infection continues to become more contiguous.
SOD-blitzes inform and educate the community about Sudden Oak Death, get locals involved in detecting the disease, and produce detailed local maps of disease distribution. The map can then be used to identify those areas where the infestation may be mild enough to justify proactive management.
Interested in participating in a SOD-Blitz or catching up on the results in your area? Learn more:

Join the City Nature Challenge!

The City Nature Challenge (CNC) is an international effort for people to find and document plants and wildlife in cities across the globe. It’s a bioblitz-style competition where cities are in a contest against each other to see who can make the most observations of nature, who can find the most species, and who can engage the most people. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s City Nature Challenge is no longer a competition. They want to embrace the collaborative aspect of the CNC this year and the healing power of nature to allow people to document their local biodiversity in whatever way they can.

Learn how to create an iNaturalist account to participate from home

The 2020 City Nature Challenge takes place in 2 parts April 24 – 27 Taking pictures of wild plants and animals April 28 – May 3 Identifying what was found
City Nature Challenge

Notes from Nature: Cal Bug!

Organized by the Essig Museum of Entomology, the Cal Bug project lets you  help catalog 100+ years worth of data about North American butterflies and make it available to everyone. The goal of the CalBug project is to digitize Natural History museum specimen data and make the information available to everyone. The first step in mapping out the distribution of California’s insects and spiders for the past 100 years is to take a picture of each specimen with its labels. If you live near UC Berkeley and want to help with this step, get in touch with us. The next step is to capture the information from these labels in our database. This is where we really need your help! It’s simple. Go to our Citizen Science web portal, Notes From Nature, and sign in (or sign up). Once you are signed in, look for the CalBug (California Terrestrial Arthropod Database) project, and read the instructions. You will be asked to fill in the country, state, county, locality, date, collector, and a few other items in an easy to fill out form, while looking at a picture of the specimen and its labels. Visit  Notes From Nature and start collecting data today!  
Monarch Butterfly specimen