By Victoria Metcalf 06/11/2015

The power of curiosity

One of my beliefs is that everyone has curiosity programmed into them. Sometimes as people progress from childhood wonder into adulthood that curiousness becomes dulled, covered in layers, just like the clouds I am viewing from my plane window at the precise moment I write this.

A moment spent looking and thinking might lead to consideration of what lies underneath or even what that layer is all about. Why are there ridges in the clouds? What causes them? Is it the same underneath the surface of the cloud in terms of ridges and if not, why not? Why are there different types of clouds? If all the clouds parted, where would we be? Would we see land or sea? How does the plane even get up here in the sky?

Where does looking at this photo lead you to?

Where does looking at this photo lead you to?

Does the plane impact on the cloud formation especially as it moves through the cloud? What other ways are we changing the air we breathe or fly in? When we can see through the clouds and see the land do we see change in land use between years? Is there snow on the Alps? Are the rivers in flood or low? Do we see sediment from rivers flowing out into the sea, offering a mix of hues from brown to turquoise and sapphire blue? What might this sediment be doing?

From one simple observation in a single moment there can be nearly endless questions and lines of thought. Different things interest different people or communities. How can we peel off those layers, harness that innate curiosity and build a better nation, one built on curious minds?

Citizen science and science outreach

Engaging all New Zealanders with science and technology will play a key role in our country’s future – whether pertaining to the economy, the environment, or our health and wellbeing. And there are many ways in which to support New Zealanders to use their natural curiosity to deal with the challenges and opportunities presented by science and technology as well as being involved in debates involving science.

One of these ways is through citizen science and through outreach activities that directly engage with people. Outreach events include activities where ‘the public’, also known as people, might be exposed to something involving science and technology such as the Big Science Day, recently held in Christchurch or Lab in a Box, currently touring the South Island – bringing a mobile laboratory to less populous locations.

Citizen science also has many forms, but all are based on utilising citizens to aid with scientific research projects. Often it’s assisting scientists with data collection in their project- by turning up to a day where you might be asked to count things like insects, such as the Bioblitz days. It also might involve sitting on a computer and counting penguins in photos via the internet (e.g. Zooniverse Penguinwatch). Or it also might involve harnessing your computer processing power to crunch data in the background while you go about your normal activities.

Participatory science approaches

At its more ‘extreme’ end citizen science becomes participatory science, where the public work with scientists right through a research project, from the inception stage to the dissemination of outcomes. This is the space in which I currently work, nationally coordinating the pilot of the Participatory Science Platform or PSP*, currently being trialled in South Auckland, Taranaki and Otago.

The PSP is an initiative under A Nation of Curious Minds, a government programme, coordinated by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, the Ministry of Education and the Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor. It aims to encourage all New Zealanders to get involved with science and technology.

The above paragraph is more droll-like official speak but in my months on the job I have been absolutely fizzing about the potential of what we are doing. We are offering communities and scientists opportunities and more importantly funding, to work together on projects involving scientific research that are meaningful to that particular community. There are some fabulous projects funded and underway, with many curious minds working together.

What’s next

In this new blog I’ll be sharing what the PSP is doing, what I do in my role, what amazing projects communities and scientists are working on and what they are finding and also the importance and the value of this participatory science approach that actually goes well beyond science. I’ll also be highlighting other citizen science activities in New Zealand and elsewhere and there will be guest posts sprinkled in to provide alternative perspectives.

So if you’re interested in Getting Curious and Curiouser watch out for future posts.**

*My first post on the Participatory Science Platform was a guest post.

**I also write the blog Ice Doctor, also on Sciblogs. The Curious and Curiouser ‘March hare’ featured in this blog and banner is actually my pet rabbit Acorn. You can read more about him here.

Ice Doctor is currently part of a research study of science blogs and who reads them and everyone who participates in the survey pre Nov 20th gets free stuff and the chance to win prizes. You can participate in the survey here.