Digging into the soil to count worms, placing a rain gauge in your own garden, or borrowing an infrared camera to see where your home is losing heat. At CurioUs, you—a citizen—can contribute to scientific research and, at the same time, learn more about your own everyday environment.
Text: Nienke Oostra, Communication UG / Photos: Reyer Boxem
CurioUs is an initiative by Science LinX, the Aletta Jacobs School of Public Health, and Forum Groningen. CurioUs organizes mini-lectures, walk-in events, and measurement actions and is the founder of the first measuring equipment library in the Netherlands. This is where you can borrow a range of measuring equipment to analyse your own everyday environment. Through these various activities, CurioUs wants to motivate curious Northerners to get to work on science and technology. Renske de Jonge, Head of Science LinX, explains CurioUs’s ambitions and what is involved in this initiative.
The idea to bring science to people’s homes originated in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. De Jonge talks about the first measuring action that CurioUs carried out: ‘The first measuring action involved measuring the air quality in people’s own everyday environment. People had questions about this themselves, and because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the topic was receiving a lot of attention.’ The plan was to distribute the particulate counters through libraries within the region, but the umpteenth lockdown threw a spanner in the works once more: ‘We had to send the DIY packages to people’s homes. Participants put the particulate counters together themselves using an instructional video, while a helpline was also available.’ Seven hundred of these devices are measuring the air quality in the Northern Netherlands to this day. There have been many other measuring actions since, such as measuring rainfall and the national worm count.
De Jonge states that there is a lot of interest in the measuring actions, for example because people are worried about their own everyday environment, are curious, want to help science and scientists, or just because they enjoy taking part. ‘We have started to build a community of curious Northerners. We are attracting a wide audience; young and old are participating,’ according to De Jonge. CurioUs aims to show people that you do not need a large laboratory or expensive equipment to find out more about your everyday environment. This means that citizens can make their own environment healthier, states De Jonge. ‘If you don’t know how healthy, or unhealthy, your environment is, you are less likely to look after it. By making technology more accessible, we can involve people in the process and the outcomes of research.’
Whereas the Forum mainly constitutes the physical place where the measuring equipment library is located and where the public activities take place, the Aletta Jacobs School of Public Health and Science LinX are more focused on the scientific aspects. ‘The different roles vary according to the theme. Science LinX focuses more on science and engineering, whereas the Aletta Jacobs School of Public Health focuses more on public health.’ In addition, Science LinX, together with teaching assistants, manages the measuring equipment library in the Forum, where citizens can borrow a range of measuring equipment. De Jonge points out that all equipment related to energy is currently very popular. For example, the infrared cameras were continuously reserved over the last winter and smart plugs are also very popular. At present, it is mainly Stadjers (inhabitants of the city of Groningen) who use the measuring equipment, due to the location of the measuring equipment library. De Jonge mentions that there are already plans to expand the number of loan locations to make the equipment more accessible to people in the wider region.
Since CurioUs wants to keep the measuring actions as manageable and accessible as possible for the participants, choosing a suitable research project is quite a challenge. ‘You don’t want people to have to follow an entire course programme in order to participate, but you also want to collect data that you can use. The topics are often excellent, but there may be many snags in setting up a good measuring action,’ De Jonge knows. For example, many people applied to take part in the measuring action concerning European garden spiders but people found it difficult to find the spiders and to photograph them properly. De Jonge reveals that the pilot phase is now coming to an end: ‘Over the past few years, we have tried many things to find out what works and what doesn’t, a trial-and-error method. We are now entering a new phase, in which we can operate in a more standardized way.’
In addition to a further roll-out within the region, CurioUs hopes to strengthen the two-way relationship between citizens and science even further. ‘The initiative for measuring actions is currently mainly taken by scientists; it would be great if people were to ask questions and put forward suggestions for further research,’ according to De Jonge. Since the measuring actions are part of scientific research, we often have to wait a little longer for the results. When these become available and citizens receive feedback on their own measurements, it may further strengthen the two-way relationship.
Renske de Jonge
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