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More members of the public joining scientific research efforts using SNS

Snow crystals that vary in shape depending on the time of day and location are seen in these photos provided by researcher Kentaro Araki from the Meteorological Research Institute.

Public participation in scientific research is increasing, with people posting pictures and information through their smartphones and computers, boosting data collection and analysis.

    The new scientific research method, called "citizen science," became popular with the widespread use of smartphones and computers allowing people to take pictures and analyze data relatively easier. The method also encourages the supporters to have an interest in nature and science.

    Researcher Kentaro Araki of the Meteorological Research Institute launched a project on a social networking service (SNS) in 2016 to estimate the temperatures and humidity inside snow clouds from the shape of snow crystals posted on SNS using smartphones.

    According to Araki, 10,682 pictures were uploaded from 2016 to 2017, and about 70 percent of them were useful for his research. For example, on Nov. 24, 2016, when the season's first snow fell in Tokyo in the month of November for the first time in 54 years, most of the crystals in the southern Kanto region were dendrite, or fan-shaped, in the pictures Araki received in the morning. However the crystals changed their shape to needles or became hailstones around noon. The research confirmed that the temperature inside snow clouds rose over time.

    Araki said, "I feel 'citizen science' has the potential to become a new research method. If people feel more familiar with science research, it could lead to disaster prevention and reduction."

    A group of researchers from Tohoku University and Yamagata University started a nationwide survey named "National Bumblebees' Population Census" in 2013 using the citizen science method and investigated the distribution of bumblebees which are declining in number throughout the world. Although such a survey requires a huge amount of energy and effort, the team received over 4,000 pictures in response to its request for participation in the survey.

    However, a regional imbalance is a problem with this method. Araki stated, "The received data tends to disproportionally place an emphasis on large cities. The challenge is how to receive more data on less densely populated areas."

    (Japanese original by Hiroko Saito, Student Newspapers Editorial Department, and Taku Nishikawa, Science & Environment News Department)

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