City Backyard Science is a new urban citizen science project in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The three main areas the project addresses are:
- Conservation: How do we increase urban greening, habitat heterogeneity, and biodiversity? (There has been encouraging work showing that small green areas in cities can host diverse native bee communities.)
- Community engagement: How do we meaningfully connect communities with science and the natural world?
- Urban evolutionary ecology questions such as: Do native plant species show intraspecific variation in adaptation to urban environments? How do urban bee communities differ from rural communities?
The main thrust of the project is setting up raised beds on the boulevard in front of participants’ homes, and using these “plots” as a widely distributed experiment across multiple neighborhoods in Minneapolis. We train participants on data collection, and they help us answer questions about urban pollinator habitat and plant adaptation to urban environments. Because these plots are on the boulevard, we are also able to visit the plots as we wish to weed, check on plants, do pollinator visitation assays, etc. All the households in the pilot year have children ages 5-12, and a significant portion of the project is about getting them involved and excited about science in their backyard.
Market Science is science outreach initiative run by a group of graduate students and post-docs at the University of Minnesota; I sit on the Advisory Board and have been involved with the program since its inception in 2013. Though I now am in an advisory role, during the formative years of Market Science I focused on recruitment, outreach training, and logistics, and helped to grow the program into one of the largest science outreach initiatives in Minnesota.
Every Saturday during the spring, summer, and fall, Market Science sets up “science discovery” booths at public venues across Minnesota, introducing kids and adults to a wide range of topics in the natural sciences. Most events are at farmers markets (hence the name!), but also take Market Science to street fairs, county fairs, and other informal, public settings. Themes run the gamut from geology to water quality to entomology, and we always welcome new volunteers! We hope that by providing this fun, informal setting for researchers to interact with the public, we can work to narrow some of the wide achievement gaps in STEM fields, garner more public support for science, and introduce the amazing world of scientific inquiry to our broader Twin Cities communities. This project has been extremely successful in providing outreach venues for researchers not just at UMN, but at other local universities and government agencies, and we reach thousands of visitors each year. If you’re interested in starting a pilot program at your own institution, let me know!