Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Citizen Scientist (and Research Chemist)

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Citizen Scientist (and Research Chemist)

Article excerpt

While working as a research chemist for a pharmaceutical company in New Jersey, Jim Springer began devoting spare time to studying butterflies as a citizen scientist--someone of any age or background who volunteers to help gather or analyze scientific data. He now serves as director and vice president of the North American Butterfly Association (NABA), whose mission is "to increase public enjoyment and conservation of butterflies." During warmer months, Springer participates in butterfly counts around the country and overseas (he's shown here looking for butterflies in Joshua Tree National Park in southern California); in winter, he oversees the development of databases containing information submitted by other butterfly project participants.

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Work overview.

I participate in butterfly counts involving 10-person teams that walk an area with a 15-mile diameter for one day and count how many butterflies they see. Most counts are held in June or July, when you see the widest diversity of species in most parts of the country.

Ideally, each group includes an expert who can identify butterflies well on his or her own. People also take pictures to share at the end of the day if there are questions about identification. As butterfly counters walk through the field, they count only those butterflies directly in front of them. We don't expect to count every butterfly. We're most concerned with seeing a diversity of species.

Last year we held about 440 counts across the United States. The report from the counts is used by a variety of people, including academics, who use the data in their own butterfly studies. We are putting together a database with 40 years of data.

These regular counts get people to participate in science, which is good for science in general. The more people appreciate nature and the processes involved, the more appreciation they have for how science is really done.

Although high school students participate and are welcome, most participants are retirees with extra free time. People come with various levels of expertise. People not familiar with butterflies or nature can learn. Many enjoy contributing to something bigger than themselves and trying to figure out questions that scientists study, such as why butterflies emerge at slightly different times in consecutive years. People are also examining the effects of global warming--from studying butterflies, it's clear that the warmer seasons are arriving earlier. …

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