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The Sciences

83. Hot Year for Citizen Scientists

From open-source genetics to asteroid identification, amateur researchers show their worth.

By Valerie RossJanuary 16, 2013 10:05 PM
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karelnoppe / shutterstock

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Most of us today have more computing power on tap in our laptops than typical scientists had in their laboratories 15 years ago. With powerful tools for tracking and analyzing scientific data available to anyone, anytime, amateurs are increasingly helping scientists tackle big research projects—and making noteworthy discoveries. The list looked more impressive than ever in 2012.

  • Volunteers sifting through open-source genetic data on their home computers identified more than 200 new gene variants within the most common Y-chromosome type in Europe. The data will help researchers study the prehistoric migrations of European cultural groups, such as the Celts.

  • After combing through telescope images, citizen scientists helped identify the highly unusual asteroid 2011 HM102 near Neptune. It now may get a close look from the New Horizons spacecraft in 2013.

  • Amateur conservationists may be better at spotting creatures in need than the pros. A study in Science found that species non-specialists proposed to add to the endangered list were more at risk than species put on the list by experts at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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