Exploring Citizen Science

Jul 31, 2014, 11:34 AM, Posted by Christine Nieves

Christine Nieves / RWJF Christine Nieves, program associate

I remember the distinct feeling of learning about Foldit. It was a mixture of awe and hope for the potential breakthrough contributions a citizen can make towards science (without needing a PhD!). Foldit is an online puzzle video game about protein folding. In 2011, Foldit users decoded an AIDS protein that had been a mystery to researchers for 15 years. The gamers accomplished it in 3 weeks. When I learned this, it suddenly hit me; if we, society, systematically harness the curiosity of citizens, we could do so much!

This is the spirit behind our recent exploration to learn more about how citizen scientists are addressing some of the most pressing problems in health and health care.

Health-related citizen science projects encompass a wide gamut of areas ranging from oncology and epidemiology to more social aspects such as community health and health care delivery. Citizen participation ranges from game play, with projects like Foldit, to data collection using mobile phones and other devices, such as in the noise pollution research project Sound Around You, and data generation using sampling kits or completing surveys, as with Flu Near You. Other projects, such as FightMalaria@Home simply ask individuals to donate their computer’s processing power.

Through “Exploring a Culture of Health: A Citizen Science Series,” a blog series produced by SciStarter—a place to find and participate in citizen science projects—and Discover Magazine, we have spotlighted some of the ways our grantees are working to improve health, from making doctor visits more effective to boosting the health of whole communities. I hope readers of this series will share their own thoughts and ideas about how citizen scientists can get involved and help advance these efforts.

Check out the latest blog posts and join the conversation on social media using the hashtag #citsci: