The White House invited Dr. Terry Woodford-Thomas, director of science education and outreach at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center along with Dr. Cindy Encarncion, director of life sciences at the St. Louis Science Center to D.C. during a recent Champions of Change award program event. The event recognized American citizens’ contributions to their communities and highlighted “citizen science” projects across the nation.
Dr. Woodford-Thomas and Dr. Encarncion, were invited to attend the event because of their contributions to a White House report on the impact of citizen science programs across the nation, as well as for leading Backyard Biofuels, a collaborative program between the Danforth Plant Science Center and St. Louis Science Center.
With funding from National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy, the Backyard Biofuels project opened to the public in 2010. Since then, thousands of algae collection kits were distributed and several hundred “algae hunters,” ranging from the age of six to adults contributed algae from across the nation. The Backyard Biofuels Project not only contributed valuable sets of naturally-occurring oil-producing algae to bioenergy scientists for investigative research; importantly, it allowed students whose interest in science could be enhanced by working side-by-side with “real” scientists in cutting-edge research laboratories to be identified and nurtured.
“Citizen science drives people to engage in discovery, both scientific discovery and self-discovery. It also helps to translate this understanding of science into action,” said Dr. Woodford-Thomas.
For three years, a celebration of “All Things Algae” or Algae Palooza, was held at the Saint Louis Science Center to engage citizens in various activities such as algae identification from pond water, making biofuel from plant vegetable oil, painting with algae, making algae ball “bling”, observing science grade algae photobioreactors in action and meeting Danforth Center scientists engaged in algae biofuels research.
“It is very encouraging that the Office of Science and Technology Policy recognizes the important role that ordinary citizens can play in scientific research,” said Dr. Encarnacion. “The public truly enjoyed participating in the discovery of algae species as possible sources of biofuels in our ‘Backyard Biofuels’ project. It was a rewarding scientific partnership between the Saint Louis Science Center and the Danforth Plant Science Center, and we are glad that the White House acknowledges that our project was a valuable endeavor with long-term STEM educational and societal benefits.”
The White House report on the impacts of citizen science programs was particularly focused in helping to recruit young people into the realm of science, especially minority youth.