1. Challenge 3: Citizen Science Microbes!!

    We’re less than a month away from the Second International Space Apps Challenge! To get you in the mood we’re going to be posting information about the challenges that we are planning to work on here in Glasgow. If there is no local lead mentioned on the challenge, that means we’re looking for someone to spearhead the project locally and coordinate efforts with the international teams. Want to be that person? Email us!


    We are surrounded by a cloud of microbes - organisms too small to be seen by our naked eyes. They are on our skin.  In our guts.  And in the buildings in which we spend most of our time.  We know a good deal about those few kinds of microbes that make us or our friends (e.g., pets, crops, etc) visibly sick.  But we know surprisingly little about the rest of the cloud of tiny beings that surround us.  Yet what we do know suggests these other microbes play profound roles in our health and well being.

    The microbes in and on our bodies shape our immune system, protect us from pathogens, help us digest our food, influence our metabolism, and may even shape our behavior.  And the microbes in our buildings are also believed to shape our lives - they are a source to colonize us, they may determine whether good or bad microbes lurk in our walls and in our water, and they may be a key signature to the “health” of our personal ecosystems.

    In this project we seek to characterize two key environments critical to understanding the interaction of humans and the microbial world.  First, we will be collecting large numbers of microbial samples from sporting events.  This will both help educate the public about microbes but also provide samples from locations where large numbers of people mix in a controlled setting.  Second, we will be sampling the International Space Station. The ISS samples will be critical for two reasons.  First, it has a very constrained “source” population with new microbes only coming in via the few people / pieces of equipment that are occasionally added to the system.  Second, it is a model for understanding how microbial communities are affected by long term isolation in space - which is critical for planning future space missions such as human travel to other planets.

    Challenge Description

    The SciStarter Citizen Science App is focused on creating an interactive hardware-software platform that enables citizens to sample microbial levels in their local environment and compare with the International Space Station. This app will be used at major league sports events as well as aboard ISS, offering citizens opportunities to understand and analyze microbial communities and the way they affect human life.

    This app will register users and samples, communicate project status and data, and help coordinate the event through alerts and social media integration.


    1. Learn more about this project at the challenge specification page at http://scistarter.com/blog/2012/11/citizen-science-in-space/
    2. See data at: http://www.plosone.org/article/metrics/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0043866