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Adventurers can help science by sharing their data

"K2 8611" by Kogo - Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons

By adding a little sampling to their adventures out in the wild, explorers in hard-to-reach locations could lend a big hand to scientific research.

An organization called Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation hopes to bring the two professions together in the name of science.

This week, I sat in on a session at the American Geophysical Union meeting in which the speakers discussed the merits of citizen science and the potential impact that explorers could make on scientific data collection.

Many scientists are explorer and trek across the globe, but often they have responsibilities that keep them tied to the institutions where they work with limited opportunities to get into the field for data collection. If sampling techniques can be simplified and standardized so that anyone can learn how collect the necessary bits of rock, water, flora, etc. at particular sites, why not ask the people who are already out there to help out?

Additionally, those out exploring are often on the front lines of witnessing changes to our planet, and are passionate about wanting to help in some way.

Not all science can utilize the citizenry, but for those projects that can, this seems like an amazing resource on both sides of the equation.

Defeating earthquakes, and more free videos from the American Geophysical Union

Remember when you had to build a bridge out of popsicle sticks in high school science class? The goal was to construct the miniature bridge that could withstand the most physical stress. Your materials were just sticks and glue. So the real challenge was to find strong shapes.

On the day of testing, we all learned very quickly what those shapes were. Bridges built out of lots of squares collapsed almost instantly. Bridges built out of triangles made the finals.

This is a pretty basic lesson, but it's not one that the global construction industry has learned yet, says the US Geological Survey's Ross Stein. Last week at the meeting of the American Geophysical Union, he began a talk on "Defeating Earthquakes" by demonstrating the difference between the cube-centric structures we build all over the world and how much stronger those structures can be if you just add triangles in the corners. It's a powerful demonstration of how simply having the technology to solve a problem isn't enough. You have to get people to use it.

This whole video is worth watching and easy for laypeople to follow. And it's just one of a huge collection of lecture videos from AGU 2012 that are now available online. They cover everything from the chemistry of lighting to the geology of volcanoes to the effects of space storms and solar flares. Very cool stuff!