Molly Beauchemin

Citizen Science: Celebrating Darwin

“Citizen Science” refers to the method of relying on everyday people to collect or analyze data as part of a larger scientific project. With the advent of Internet technology, this method of research– akin to crowd-sourcing– has become more popular than ever before, especially for environmental scientists, whose research often encompasses large areas of land that would otherwise not be feasible to visit. For Lil’ Sprouts, Citizen Science projects offer the chance for accessible, hands-on environmental education in one’s own backyard. Some of the projects we feature are adventurous nature treks while others are more leisurely undertakings– but all encourage exploring nature in one capacity or another.

Below, read our profile of PBS’s Nova Lab, which encourages Lil’ Sprouts to discover evolutionary relationships between unlikely relatives (For example: How are a palm tree and a gecko related?), and how they all fit into the tree of life.

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In honor of Darwin Day (and the cold weather outside!), we’re spotlighting PBS’s Nova Lab, an indoor project that puts evolution in focus by connecting familiar plants and animals to one another in often surprising ways. While the online exercise doesn’t involve data collection like our profiles in the past, it does teach fundamental information, crucial to any aspiring natural scientist, with an engaging and exciting approach. As kids puzzle out the place of different organisms on the tree of life, they learn not only about the natural world around them, but about their place in it (we’re closer to plants than you think!). A perfect pursuit for cold, rainy February days, the Nova Lab will encourage Lil’ Sprouts to see the natural world in a whole new way– whether they’re wandering the Galapagos Islands or simply looking out the frosted window of a New York City apartment.

Sprouts Science

  • What were early plants like?

Before there were plants on land 1500 million years ago, photosynthetic organisms lived in water. As atmospheric oxygen levels rose and the ozone layer formed, the organisms moved onto land (510 – 439 million years ago), becoming the first early land-based “plants” (they closely resembled modern algae, cynaobacteria, and lichens). Because these primitive plants lacked the kind of specialized tissue necessary to transport water and nutrients, they grew only between heights of approximately 2- and 20- centimeters high.

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