From the beginning it was clear that this was no ordinary science project. We were not doing an experiment where all the steps were laid out by the instructor, or taking part in a dissection where we were closely monitored. We were actually helping advance scientific discovery on our own. I have always viewed those who contribute to science as being the elites of society. If you wanted to be a part of science you had to have a university degree and pioneer a new exciting field. The reality, as I quickly saw, is that science is open to anyone who wants to be a part of it. It is not an exclusive club filled with well educated intellectual members, but is open to people of any standing in life. What we did is called a citizen science project.
A citizen science project is a certain activity that allows non scientific people to actually contribute to science. Although there are many different projects that can be done, we were doing scientific manuscript identification. Basically we logged into Science Gossip (a citizen science website) and were given a scanned page of a scientific document, usually from a couple hundred years ago. We were then asked to identify any drawings, pictures, or diagrams. Going through all of these different pages was very interesting. It was eye opening to see how science has evolved over the short span of a couple of hundred years.
The above picture was something that I happened to stumble upon while working on my citizen science project. It shows that sometimes science can be accidental. The image is showing layers in the ground below a brewery. The owner, Mr. Fish was trying to ascertain how far he would have to dig in order to get access to fresh water. In doing so, he managed to map out many different layers in the earth, up to a few hundred feet deep. This is but one story during a time where everything was changing. During the 19th Century the Industrial Revolution had taken the United Kingdom by storm. In order to satisfy the demand for coal and other resources, many surveyors and map makers were contracted to effectively find these natural resources. One such man was William Smith, who managed to map all of England and Wales, showing, most importantly, critical resources. This mapping had other side discoveries too, like finding and theorizing about fossils in the different layers. It inadvertently led to people coming up with theories on the age of the earth. Funny how something as seemingly insignificant as drawing a map could lead to momentous scientific ideas.
The citizen science project was an interesting way to contribute to the scientific community. It seemed as though I was doing actual work, meaningful work. Even if what I actually added was small I learned a lot. I discovered that the scientific community is not an unreachable exclusive group. It was interesting finding out about a small map drawn for a brewery, and how it was maps like these that affected the way we look at modern science.