Trip Report: London Citizen Cyberscience Summit, Day Two

Notes from 17 February talks in London – for full details about speakers, see the full program at

More really exciting talks! Great diversity of projects represented, wildly variable technology sophistication, and fascinating people. Check out the #LCCS2 hashtag on Twitter to see the discussions.


Plug for EpiCollect – easy to configure interface for setting up obile-basedmonitoring and web-based result displays, non-technical project organizers can use it easily. —-

Igoe – NYU Tisch school of the arts – Keynote

Citizen science is a good term but sets up a divisionary dynamic. Those people you try to engage come with their own expertise.

Biggest challenge at ITP program is getting students to understand each others’ backgrounds. Lot of emphasis on making and hacking. Igoe does physical computing program, lots of students want to go beyond the computer in terms of interfaces. Trying to get them to start their thinking based on what people do physically, start with actions and not mapping to an existing controller. Lots of art projects, some projects are less functional or are just plain strange – “Circadian squirrel” – stuffed robotic squirrel that moves around and then removes its head, created by a former librarian, Jill. She also made cricket headphones, with little habitats for crickets that you wear like headphones. Another person made a radiation detector that is made of gongs, something of a Trojan horse that would get attention from people who otherwise wouldn’t notice.

Biologically generated materials – electrolysis for building up calcium carbonate as a sculpting material. People interested chemistry and biology then got into the aesthetics of the sculpture. They use a system called Processing to get people up and going with programming quickly, also a lot of Arduino that lets people build good instrumentation right away. Example of balance board to help stroke victims that students were able to build in 2 hours, programmed the visualization interface in 15 minutes, and the speed of development allows easily throwing away things that don’t work – you don’t get attached to the thing because of the investment in creating it, which means you do more and innovate faster.

Lasersaur – laser cutter that can be built from kit for $500. OpenOCR allows you to do DNA analysis for about $500. Gets people into doing recreational biology. Not all of the projects are functional like this, others allow people to explore their own expressiveness. Adaptive technologies that help people explore their everyday life, noticed the way that physical expression happens in wheelchair users, just as expressive as any other body language. Created a pair of ramps for a wheelchair so a person could DJ by wheelchair movement, allows him to use his skills to do what he wants. MD sufferer who loves MLB on PS3 but can no longer play his games since the disease has reduced his capacity, created a controller that works for his abilities so he can play again.

An occupational therapist who got tired of the paradigm of “give us specs, we’ll go away and build it for you” but devices were never what she wanted, so wanted to build it herself. Created a range of motion measurement tool that allows you to make music that gets better with greater range of movement. Patients improve faster because they focus on making music, not doing exercises. Interdisciplinary collaborations, students wanted more plants in their environments but were concerned that they would all die. Created plant moisture and humidity sensor that calls you when it’s sick, now they’re selling the kit which lets you DIY but you also get attached to a plant. Project Noah was a procrastination that has worked out really well. Loves monkeys, someone called him on his bluff about wanting to work with monkeys. Anthropologist who wanted to use motion technologies to track monkeys, so Igoe proposed a class on tracking monkeys, which actually was approved. So he ended up in the rainforest tracking monkeys, interesting interaction design challenge for students. Focus on what people do for their work and how to improve that, instead of teaching students about primatology, taught primatologists about technologies, but learning went both ways. Example of clunky telemetry antennas and old PDAs that they are stuck with and cannot replace. Students thought they could just move to Android, but there is no network. So one student put together a cell network using observation towers, almost up and running.

Primatologists do a lot of analysis with monkey poop that they bring back to NY for analysis. Problems with broken gel cones that cost $60 each, a student was able to use a laser cutter to create some for $10 each. Sometimes send students to zoo to watch monkeys, students will watch for 3-4 hours in the cold! Students got obsessed with observation protocols, applying it to game design. They play hide and seek with radio collars and discover that it’s not so easy to find people with radio collars, technology is crude and you have to learn a lot about radio to use them. Some things you can teach in theory, others you have to experience.

Competition to develop tool to measure monkeys without “taking the monkey down.” Winning device created by photographer and engineer, their job was running a fablab, so they had unlimited access to tools, tested it on stuffed animals, found that in the wild it worked so well that it was only .5 cm off. Students got bored with it and moved on, but left the plans for others to build on.

Another project funded by UNICEF, dealing with clean water issues. Water detection tools are expensive, hacked a mass spectrometer from Arduino. Not that expensive, students formed a company to market their tool and release it openly so others can make it as well. ITP promotes a lot of OSS and OSH. Students work to make things for nonprofits and researchers, it’s working out really well. Lion collar that warns farmers when lions are nearby so they can move their cows.

Key thoughts they transmit to students: art, science, engineering and design are all deeply personal, idea doesn’t matter until it’s used in real life. It’s worth being promiscuous, best ideas are those that grow, those that are hidden do not amount to much. The things we make are less important than the relationships we support.

Qs: are there things bridging gap between cit sci and art? Yes, more overlap than you think. Students ID most of the problems to address. What do you think the role that self-selection is? Classes are idiosyncratic, self-selection is valuable to making useful outcomes. Spend a lot of time with admissions to get people who will work well in this program. How to make it happen in other schools is being open to cross-disciplinary collaborations. Have you done any biohacking? Not yet, dying to. Have attended workshops, interesting to see what comes up. Postgrad adults in genspace workshops feel much freer about expressing themselves in class, about failing, because there’s no grade, they experiment more. Discussion about sample swabbing, aesthetics and patterns for doing bacterial cultures and what works best. What about PCR tools? Haven’t done that yet but planning to, people are finding results not the same using these tools. How do you get people to realize they have an interest? Answer is counterintuitive – it’s listening, finding out what people want and need before they create anything or even agree to try to do it, making sure it will work. Have a diverse group of people, how well received are you by academics? Reason he is here is works with Francois Grey, overall reaction has been good – people know what they are and what they’re not, they come to them looking for new ways of looking at things, not precision. They are in a performing arts school, and are hard core in that context. It’s about knowing what they are and are not and being clear about that. Recently started a summer camp, people want a starter course or alumni want to retool their skills after a few years out of school with all the technologies changing. Important because hackerspaces are replacing what they do, so role in university is less relevant when community is doing what they do, they can either fight it or work with it. So they work with it. How much do you expect on admissions? Just a bachelors degree with some exceptions, train them in all the basic skills they need. Try to admit a diverse group, not too many performance artists or engineers, make multiple passes on balancing the composition of the group.


Dosemagan – Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science: open source development of tools for grassroots science

Low cost DIY environmental and health tools – science is too expensive, too much science is academic-oriented, lack of on the ground experience among researchers, lag in knowledge exchange, people on the ground don’t own the data, don’t understand the problems. They call it civic science (problematic due to other baggage.)

BP oil spill – mapping using cameras in 2L bottles on balloons and kits, mapped oil spill over time. The point of grassroots mapping is offering an alternative, let communities address their own problems and issues like a media blackout and inability to engage in the spill despite local impacts.

All work they do requires open source licensing, they maintain a public domain archive, have agreement with Google to show their maps on Google Earth with their data. Beyond archive, needed to take results to different formats to disseminate information. Printed the grassroots map and dropped off at marinas, seafood restaurants, gas stations, so people can pick up maps and do ground truthing. Initial project spread quite a lot, second project is use at Gowanus Canal Superfund site in Brooklyn and in other countries all over the world. In Brooklyn are able to see inflows and other problems at site, then can do ground truthing. Able to start developing new applications and techniques. Another is near infrared camera, based on NASA sensing, using to look at vegetative health in wetlands and other sites. Approach helps them reduce barriers to new efforts, they call these intensive hacking events barnraisings. Had camera hacking event in NC bringing together a broad team, now are able to use infrared imaging for their aerial monitoring. Able to show photosynthesis in urban and wetland areas.

Unexpected impacts – aerial mapping of protests in S America. Locals not only made a device but also instructions on how to build and how to get materials in Chile as well as costs. Doing livestreams with iPhones, showed that area of activity was much bigger than officials were saying. Has been adopted much more broadly, subverts corporatized view of space and place, it’s about a moment in time, not just a place. First used in US for Occupy events.

Low cost approaches to environmental health and toxics. Tracks are healthy homes, community science, sustainable futures. Healthy homes – Roomba-based indoor air quality mapping, taking long exposure films to see paths and activate test strips. Now working with formaldehyde sensors. Moving away from Roombas because they move too fast, so they now use hamster balls with $4 robots inside.

Thermal imaging – flashlight that uses long exposure film and customized flashlight to find heat loss areas so people can take action, immediately analyzable and usable. Same idea with formaldehyde, identify brands of carpet that release more of this chemical that is linked to asthma.

Community science – hydrogen sulfide sensing, neurotoxic gas that is developed by bacteria in gas well. Setting up bucket brigades for air sampling, normal cost is $500 for analysis and sample has to be returned to lab in 24 hours, hard to do in rural areas. Hydrogen sulfide tarnishes silver, so creating silver halide screens using photographic paper to sense the gases. Working closely with academics to lab standardize the test so it can speak to validity of the science.

Other projects looking at environmental estrogens, interested in developing DIY tests to examine water sources and aggregate information on environmental health threats. DIY spectrometer to ID broad range of chemicals, kit you can buy online. Also interested in supporting alternative agriculture and environmental remediation, infrared camera and low cost image analysis with “clashifier” to support remediation projects.

Focus is on community oriented, developed, and owned science to address local interests.


Zoological Society of London – Instant Wild – Hardware vs Hyenas

App that transmits photos from the wild to phones for instant analysis. Focus is promoting and achieving worldwide conservation for animals and habitats. Have used camera traps, requires manual retrieval and troubleshooting. New technology making that wireless, currently have app on iPhone, lets members of public identify animals in photos and lets them see new species during your commute. Branding based on an app. Only have 6-7 cameras out there, issues with hyenas. Sri Lanka sites, don’t release specific locations to prevent poaching and trapping. App allows people to debate IDs, have had 80K downloads in 3 months, over 320K IDs. 7K regular users. Species in Kenya – porcupines and elephants. Sri Lanka – porcupines and deer. Surprises – fishing cats, African leopards, owls. Mountain mouse deer, only first photographed 3 years ago, so they are finding and recording rare species live.

Next steps are increasing camera numbers, continue to develop next gen cameras and network, and protect cameras from damage: hyenas eat cameras! Even when in security cases, hyena teeth go through LCD screens. How does it work? Cameras with LED flash, GSM antenna, PIR sensor, lens, and security lock. Saves to SD card, target audience is commuters on the way to work, bored people who can spend time looking at data.

Question is how to transmit data from wild to central London? Tools include Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Digi. Current cameras involve ScoutGuard, UWay MMS, Reconyx – best trail camera ever made. Limitations are SIM card based cameras, limited by GSM coverage, not scalable and not enough control. Problem of saving to SD card, need to send photos without stopping camera operation. Looking at making SD multiplexers.

New projects include canopy measurement, air sensing, sound sensing like gunshots in forest or logging trucks where they don’t belong. Forest Hotspots for getting data out from tablets in the field. Using Zigbee, Xbee, Raspberry Pi, other technologies for transmitting via 2G, 3G, satellite. Usual approach is using a satellite dish which requires truck and power generator, they do data transmission at night when there is enough bandwidth. Also doing skychat between Wales and Africa sharing traditional dances from each culture. Way more talk about technical components and tools that I don’t know anything about!

New technologies are cheap, need ruggedized cameras so buying those, but can DIY the rest. Will be doing more releases with Instant Wild as their new technologies are put in place.


Loreto – EveryAware

Consortium with lots of EU members. Trying to address problem of organizing. Combining objective and subjective measurements while enhancing individual awareness that they hope will trigger change in individual behaviors and generate policy pressure. Themes including social computing, participatory sensing, geo location and other aspects.

Turning users into sensors, main difference is collecting the subjective as well as objective and linking the measured quantities with opinions, perceptions, impressions, personal experience. Question is whether access to these data change our understanding. Trying to understand how opinions emerge, shift, change in a population – complex systems plus opinion dynamics. They call it technosocial systems. New opportunities are understanding and controlling information dynamics, using web as a laboratory for social sciences, and raising awareness and participation.

EveryAware platform – sensor box with GPS, accelerometers, temperature, humidity, noise, air quality, Geiger. Subjective part is tags, annotation, votes, comments. Uses smartphone to send stuff back and forth to servers for instant feedback. Different sensor boxes and smartphones for different focus. Also interested in web-only experiments with online games, etc. Case studies around Europe. Game Theory based experiments. XTribe web platform for social computing and experiments, Goals include standardized laboratory for social sciences and basin of attraction for recruitment, wide range of potential research areas. Games like blindate, Guess Where – How do you perceive maps?, City Race about strategies for mobility given limited information, compare with Google routing. Nexicon, word association and coordination. —–

Ellie D’Hondt – Participatory Mapping

City air pollution issues, affects a lot of people, good for learning laboratories. Responsible for 70% of greenhouse gas emissions. High potential for volunteer sensing of environmental parameters, people already carry mobile phones with potential for application to sensing. Goal is implementing citizen observatories focusing on noise, microclimate and air pollution.

Main focus so far is noise, big problem in cities all over the world. Recent report from WHO that Europe loses 1M life years due to noise pollution, and it really gets under people’s skin. The problem is actual, representative, and possible. NoiseTube project with GPS smartphones, Internet connectivity, map server. App seems very similar to WideNoise, but samples every second and auto uploads if you have data plan, when you get home the tracks with noise measurements are ready to view, manual upload if no data plan. Use is mostly in Europe but being used worldwide by uncoordinated individual users. Projects starting up without their knowledge, using the platform for primary education in Lyons. Another application is coordinated grassroots campaigns. Coordinated is when people want good data, community organizing groups, e.g., in Antwerp where port leads to lots of noise. Rigor is important if policy is goal, you need something realistic that will convince authorities. Codesigned citizen science experiment to address concerns. Lots of noise mapping going on, but it isn’t sufficient. Worldwide issue, lots of European efforts. Large cities required to generate noise maps every 5 years. Put the info into propagation models to fill in gaps, e.g., with building canyons that retain/echo noise between buildings. Health norms say 50db during day under 40db at night, levels well in excess, and WHO norms just can’t be achieved.


Cavalier – Being a Citizen Scientist

Goals are raising interest and understanding of science, grow the ranks of citizen scientists, and encourage citizen involvement in research projects and policy discussions. Learned about citizen science at UPenn and focused on those goals in capstone project. Loss of Office of Technology Assessment problematic in terms of loss of public feedback on science policy.

Too much prior sense that public is dumb and science is weary. Adult scientific literacy is very high in US, only second to Sweden, but youth science literacy is very low. Ideas around public engagement.

Citizen science yields serious science. Initially it focused mostly on birders, also water quality monitors. Measurement calibration not the big issue, it’s recruitment. Not easy for would-be contributors to find a project. Started SciStarter to connect people to citizen science, considered one of Philly’s top 10 tech startups. Simple site, easy to use, focuses on what people want to do. What can I do at the beach or on a hike? They don’t create projects, they aggregate info, and they do heavy editing and approval to ensure quality. They then market the projects.

Seems to be working! Mastodon Matrix Project saw doubling participation and that can be traced to SciStarter. SnowTweets saw 3x participation during the month when they were promoted. National media partnerships help, NBC News, Discover Magazine, riding coattails. New animated widget, Mission Impossible theming for project of the week on Discover Magazine which has 2M online readers. Recruitment services are free, also geographically-centric. Motivations to act – advancing research – you’re asking someone to give up something to do your project. What would make you stop what you’re doing and give up family time to participate? Examples of Firefly tracking, Belly Button Biology, BioCurious, mapping AEDs will provide information for emergency responders. Other motivations – civic concerns, money.

Cheerleaders – NFL and NBA cheerleaders, using pop culture icons to promote science. All are professional scientists, they only get paid $35 game, so telling little girls that they need another career plan. Wide variety of project resources, part of the goal of SciStarter is evening out the playing field by showing everything in the same format. Important not to put out too little or too much information. Reinventing the wheel – happening too much. Rick Bonney a trailblazer in nature-based projects but also more broadly especially with respect to design and evaluation of citizen science. She is trying to advocate more policy involvement, e.g., office of technology assessment, often has participatory aspects. What came from her writing on that is a new network that is pilot testing technology assessment focused on biodiversity. Trying to establish what an OTA might look like – ECAST, museums, academics, and others in partnership. Policy issues is part of why OTA shut down. When there is direct deliberation and conversation, there is more similarity between political parties than people think. Metrics of interest? Haven’t gotten as far as it could – spikes with national media partners cover a project, so that is why partnerships with media are so important.


Riverfly Partnership

UK-based project drawing on bottom-up enthusiasm. Water quality monitoring for rivers, network of anglers, conservationists, entomologists, scientists, water course managers, relevant statutory bodies. Launched in 2007, concerned with protects river water quality.

Using volunteer network as a trigger for statutory intervention, which rigorously monitors 3K sites every 3 years, less rigorous monitoring protocol but good enough to identify critical issues. Issues with local groups hoarding data, need to consolidate what they’re doing, but there is a local difference – 3 localized court cases where volunteers identified breaches in policy where businesses were depleting river resources. Strong and effective policy link, very bottom-up origination. Need a lot of help with technologies, central online facility, smartphone app, online validation, auto analysis and reporting, etc. Huge needs but little resources, major gap in technical expertise, but they know what they need from a functional requirements perspective.


Wilson & Cundy – CERN@school, Langton Star Centre

Focus is ionizing radiation, public has poor understanding of this and don’t understand the science, see it as more dangerous than it is. Langton Ultimate Cosmic ray Intensity Detector – LUCID – made for LHC and other particle accelerators, but can they be used for other purposes? They produce images, not just beeps like Geiger counters. Competition for space project to detect cosmic radiation, school kids used Timepix sensors to create winning project that will be sent up on satellite. Now applying for other purposes to visualize radiation. Medipix chips family of hybrid pixel detectors developed by CERN, see what particles you’re looking at from visualization, helps students understand what radiation is much better than beeps.

Data from LUCID and CERN@school will be uploaded to GridPP (particle physics) to be made available for students to analyze. Cool collaborative product lets them learn about not only physics but also the computer science required to support this research. Architecture and requirements for design.


Dumitriu – Normal Flora Project: Bacteria and Bioart

Artist who works in unusual media, in between science and community. Long term project focused on unseen, unnoticed, ubiquitous bacteria, yeasts, and mold around us. Fascinated by bacteria, more bacterial cells in our bodies than body cells, more bacteria on your fingertips than people in the world. Focus is “how sublime is your ecosystem” not “how clean is your house” – these organisms are integral to our lives, we’d die without them.

Crochet installation replicating bedroom bacteria, made collaboratively. Needlepointed onto a chair. Shows these images at hospitals as outreach and education, working with craft techniques makes topic approachable to little old ladies. Bacillus mycoides has a beautiful structure, looks like lace, found the bacterium cultured from different locations have different colors. Also does performance intervention art, microbiological, at Brighton Fringe Festival. Implanted agar into ground, which pulled up soil bacteria, then they had discussion around the way that bacteria communicate chemically. Kryolab collaboration with arctic bacteria center in Finland, was able to exihibit her strains of new arctic bacteria in the gallery, had to get a certification that they are not dangerous to bring them to UK for gallery installation. Had to ship arctic ice to gallery to give bacteria appropriate habitat, opened up conversation about climate change. Installations about bacteria scale free networks, cybernetic bacteria, infective textiles. Open lab at a lighthouse with homemade agar and culturing own bacteria, works with safe protocol for doing this, worked with microbiologist to develop that. Stains them and used them to make dress decorations. Embedded images of bacteria communicating in garments, because some bacteria change colors when it communicates. Staining period pieces to reflect on gentleman scientists.

MRSA quilt experiments, based on idea of bacterium from her nose but wasn’t carrying MRSA. Textile pieces were inoculated with MRSA bacteria and then cultured them to grow the blue bacterium on the textiles, using turmeric as an antibiotic to prevent culturing in some parts of the textiles. Project to let people make own MRSA quilt pieces, then culture them.

Working on a BSL 2 lab that is gallery-safe to cultivate pathogens to use in art, funded by Wellcome Trust and working with microbiologists. Was allowed into a secret lab and got to handle category 3 organisms, comfortable working with level 2. Has been recommended to become a registered microbiologist so she can do the work independently.


Paulos – Hybrid assemblages, environments, and happenings For participatory culture Starts from Operation Moonwatch in 1956, thinking about technologies and human experience related to science. Star 2008ha, found by 14yo astronomy enthusiast – had access to more equipment than average person. But most of us have phones that are really little supercomputers with sensors, etc.

Who participates in making visionary science happen? New challenges at this scale – environment, famine, healthcare, literacy, economy? Different strategies for addressing each of these through participatory projects. Concept of microvolunteerism, we know our neighborhoods best – quote from Elinor Ostrom about citizens having the right information more than bureaucrats do. Connections to DIY community, manifesto of open disruption and participation. Value of helping people be curious about our world and explore it in new ways. Innovation companies don’t care about SATs and skills, they want to know if you can brainstorm all the possible uses of bubble wrap. Need to rethink education, bridge laboratory and field site views to support health of cities. Interesting trend in the rise of the expert amateurs, not just citizen science, moving from proprietary innovation to populist innovation. Scientists must abandon their white lab coats, including the invisible ones they wear in their heads.

Living environments lab, variety of projects. Citizen science is not just valuable for science, but also kindling curiosity and sense of wonder. Value for literacy, data, grassroots participation, awareness. Using mobile technologies for measuring air quality and water quality, found that people returning monitoring devices said that they changed their behavior based on their awareness of air quality, seeing data changed the way they saw things around them. Once you expose people to new info, they change behavior. Opening the landscape beyond personal sensing – mobile infrastructure, indoor fixed air quality, placing them in public to see what people did. Sensors on street sweepers, cover whole city very rapidly, good for data over time. Gave sensors to community, people had different strategies for installing them, also got calls from the police because to them anything that is a technology but not a cell phone is a bomb. Also trying to drive cost down for sensors to give them to 100Ks of people, critiquing sensors themselves, other ways of interpreting data, e.g., instead of shortest route, cleanest air route. Shirt that shows data about air quality, breathe/don’t breathe sign, ticker about health value. And spectacle computing, small sensors on balloons that glow based on particles and gases, sometimes you don’t want people to miss the computing, you want them to notice and participate and spread the word.

Micro volunteerism – 42 seconds at an intersection, what can I do? Developing own kinds of platforms, stuff like EpiCollect and ODK. Develop campaign-based efforts to investigate and manage projects from bottom up.