Blog by Arvin Nair
As part of Science Week celebrations, Science Cafes were conducted by Peel Bright Minds across the Peel region. I had the opportunity to attend Pinjarra’s and was eager to learn more about citizen science and how they connect ordinary citizens to various science projects conducted by researchers and scientists in WA.
As I entered Jarra Infusion, the host café for the Pinjarra venue, I was stunned by the quirky decorations and laid-back atmosphere. We were warmly welcomed and offered light refreshments. Science talk and food, this was definitely a winning combo already. Greeted by the soft murmurs of conversation amongst the gathered guests and presenters, I found a spot and browsed through the pamphlets and brochures laid out on the table whilst munching on the tasty nibbles. Soon there was sudden hush amongst the crowd. We had begun!
The first presenter was Renae Sayers, an International Science Communicator. As part of Curtin’s planetary science outreach, she coordinates Fireballs in the Sky, an award winning citizen science program that connects the public with the Desert Fireball Network (DFN). To monitor sightings of fireballs, the DFN uses solar powered, autonomous, disruption proof cameras that are scattered across Australia to capture the paths of fireballs in the sky. Due to its recent collaboration with NASA, the DFN has expanded to become a Global Fireball Observatory. In efforts to extend the reach of observations, Fireballs in the Sky allows people from around the world to be fireball hunters. Using this free smartphone app one can report when and where they’ve seen the blazing ball of fire as well as its colour and shape. Information provided by these citizen scientists together with the data collected from the DFN, helps scientists determine the fireball’s orbit in space and its fall position on earth. With enough accurate data received in a timely manner, the space matter can also be quickly retrieved, as they did the Dingle Dell meteorite from WA in 2016. Renae got us to download the app and we all had a go. I was very impressed by how easy it was to navigate the app and was also delighted to see information on upcoming meteor showers including the right direction to gaze. I look forward to recording a sighting or two in upcoming showers.
The next presenter was Gina Pearse, who manages STEM outreach at Curtin. She spoke about crop diseases and their impact on WA farmers. I was shocked to learn that the seemingly innocuous mildew cost WA barley producers many millions of dollars annually. Powdery mildew reduces the quality of barley grains and slows growth of the plants. Farmers unable to make malt from the barley have to instead sell it off as feed. Adding to the horror, mildew has been found to mutate, becoming resistant to fungicide and affecting species that were once immune to it. Much research is done at Curtin’s Centre for Crop and Disease Management to ensure crop producers have the required tools to control this disease. Here comes citizen science to the rescue! Mildew Mania is a citizen science research project which involves schools across WA (including many in the Peel region). Mildew Mania sample kits are sent out to schools, where students grow barley and record the development of mildew pustules on their plants. Results and samples of the powdery mildew are then sent back to the researchers to help them in their fight to control crop diseases. To date, over 245 schools have been involved. Gina got her samples out and we all had a chance to view the pesky mildew using microscopes. I hope my school signs up for the kits and supports Mildew Mania. I do love my malty Milo and would want to play a part in safeguarding barley from the mildew menace.
The café wound to a close after the presenters answered questions from the curious audience. My mind was buzzing with new information and I was eager to get involved in the respective citizen science projects. It felt energising to have the opportunity to be a part of actual research. I now knew that I could make a difference by contributing to scientific investigations and knowledge without being an expert on the topic. I had a wonderful time at the Science Café and would encourage anyone of any age to attend. I look forward to attending and being inspired at future events run by Peel Bright Minds.
Want to be a citizen scientist? Get involved now! Visit these sites for more information.
About the author: Arvin Nair is 10 years old and a student at Ocean Road Primary School. He is passionate about science as it plays a crucial role in driving humans towards their next milestone. In his free time, he likes to read and play soccer. He aspires to be a space scientist and create A.M.U.L.E.T*, a mining spacecraft.
*Details will remain highly classified until further disclosure. 😊