A number of things have caught my eye in recent weeks, and I slowly realized they all had a common thread.

A year ago last August, a Worcester, Mass., grandmother noticed an odd-looking bug in her driveway. She was concerned that it might be harmful to her grandchildren when they came over to visit. So, she took a picture of it on her cellphone and sent it off to the regional office of the Dept. of Agriculture. That touched off an all-out war against the Asian Longhorn Beetle in the city and the surrounding region.

Last summer, an amateur astronomer in Australia was the first to observe the effect of a meteor’s impact on Jupiter.

And middle school students in Maine are going out into the field gathering data on invasive species in their neighborhoods.

I apologize for not having their names and more detailed information on these people, but my point is this. They are not scientists, they are not activists … not that there’s anything wrong with either group. These are just people who are curious about the world around them, and we’re all the better for it.

I especially like the story of the middle schoolers in Maine. It’s not just one school. I believe about a dozen are involved. These students are doing real science, collecting and contributing their data to a central database for other researchers to use. There are a few similar programs out there, opportunities for all of us to get involved, to lend a hand.

The work of one famous citizen scientist is still yielding useful information 150 years his death.

Henry David Thoreau kept meticulous records of all kinds of natural phenomena – the weather, the blossoming date of flowers, the arrival of different birds … and now researchers are going through his journals and notebooks to help them get an understanding of how the landscape has changed.
Thoreau knew he was doing valuable work. It took the rest of us a while to catch on.