Pint of Science combines beer with citizen science education

Catherine Brown explains what makes citizen science different from a hobby at Peace River Brewing.

Susan Thompson
Express Staff

An international event called Pint of Science came to Peace River for the first time on May 21.

Pint of Science is an annual festival that brings scientists to local pubs to discuss their latest research and findings in a casual setting.

The tagline for the events is “Quench your thirst for knowledge.”

Pint of Science is held once a year in almost 300 cities across the globe, including 25 different communities in Canada.

At the Peace River event, Boreal Science Educator Catherine Brown and Biodiversity and Landscape Specialist Dr. Courtney Hughes spoke to a sold out crowd at Peace River Brewing about different ways that regular people can help scientists gather data about the bears, bees, bats, butterflies, birds, and frogs of the Peace.

“Citizen science engages volunteers to collaborate with scientists and help investigate real world questions,” Brown explained.

“There’s many names, my favourite that I’ve come across is ‘serious leisure,’ the idea being that normal people who are really passionate about a topic are the ones who are going to volunteer.”

Brown said what makes citizen science different from a hobby is that there are certain guidelines that need to be followed to make sure the information gathered can be used by scientists in their research.

“Some of the oldest continuous measurements of data collection come from farmers,” she said. “So gathering information on important events, like pests, harvests, sowing, things like that.”

The example that most of the people at the event knew about and many had even helped with was the annual Christmas bird count, which has been happening in Peace River since 2005.

“This is arguably the age of citizen science with the development of smartphones and that kind of technology that is in our pockets and at our fingertips,” Brown said. “With the advances done in app development and smartphones, there have been all kinds of amazing apps coming out for volunteers to participate. Now you can take a picture of your plant and your phone will tell you what it is through an app.”

“You can quantify your data so you’re changing it from what’s a hobby to something a scientist can use to interpret what you’re collecting and create some kind of real world applications from your amazing work,” she said.

Dr. Hughes, a biologist based in Peace River, explained how citizen scientists were helping her better understand how many grizzlies are in the Peace.

The size of the local grizzly population is still unknown.

Grizz Tracker is an app Dr. Hughes developed that can be downloaded to a mobile phone from the app store and used any time you go hiking to report whether or not you see a grizzly bear, helping scientists collect data on the Peace Country’s grizzly bear population. There is also a Grizz Tracker website.

“With this smart- phone app you can report if you’ve seen a bear, if you’ve seen a bear with cubs, if you’ve seen scat, so bear poop, [or] if you’ve seen a rub tree. A bear will rub on a tree and cover that tree with their fur, which is kind of like Facebook for bears. And then we can actually start to quantify how many ‘a lot’ of grizzly bears actually means.”

Dr. Hughes said the data could also show where bears might be coming into conflict with humans, whether on industry sites, along roadways, or other areas where bear and human habitats might be colliding. Hughes has also been collecting grizzly bear hair and scat with the help of farmers, hunters, hikers and people working in the oil and gas industry in order to determine the DNA and family lines of bears in the Peace.

Peace River locals can also take part in a bat identification project using a device available to be checked out from the Centre for Boreal Research in Peace River that can connect to an iPhone and identify bat species by their sounds, which can help scientists determine what species are in the area and where they are migrating at different times of year, which again is still largely unknown.

Citizen scientists can help with bee identification by taking a photo of a bee on a smartphone and then uploading and identifying the species at http://www. bumblebeewatch.org.

For those more interested in frogs and toads, the Alberta Volunteer Amphibian Monitoring Program, carried out by Alberta Conservation Association, is working to provide a better understanding of the distribution and status of amphibians such as frogs and salamanders in Alberta and the conservation issues facing amphibians with the help of citizens recording what species they see and where.

The Pint of Science event is sponsored by the University of Alberta and the Universite de Montreal among others.

For more information on how to become a citizen scientist in the Peace, visit http://www.nait. ca/citizenscience
http://www.nait.ca/citizenscience

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