Citizen Science – Bringing the Excitement of Scientific Discovery to All

Jason Osborne

Jason Osborne is being honored as a Champion of Change for his dedication to increasing public engagement in science and science literacy.

It was late Friday morning when I received a phone call from the Executive Office of the President, Office of Science and Technology Policy. I will never forget how surreal it was when a woman on the other end said “Congratulations, on behalf of The White House you have been chosen as a Citizen Science Champion of Change.”  My heart began to pound as I replied, “I can’t believe this is happening, I don’t know what to say… thank you so much.” What an amazing country we live in, to be an average citizen and recognized by The White House for my contribution to citizen science.

I was raised on a farm in south central Pennsylvania where rolling hills are carpeted with crops, and livestock is dispersed throughout the countryside. It wasn’t hard to let your mind wander. I was always curious and remember, as a child, sitting along a creek bank cracking open slabs of slate to unveil earths past. Amazed, I would study the inclusions of fossil shell casts riddled along the surface of the rock face. Later in life I took this passion for discovery to a whole new level.

In February 2010, along with Aaron Alford, I co-founded Paleo Quest, a non-profit citizen science service and research organization whose mission is to advance the sciences of paleontology and geology through research, exploration and science education. Paleo Quest is an original, collaborative platform that brings together professional-amateurs, professionals and citizen scientists in a variety of disciplines, providing a greenhouse for scientific innovation. The organization’s novel approach to science has helped Paleo Quest members identify and answer unique scientific and methodological questions in paleontology and stratigraphy.

Science education in America is thirsting for novel approaches that increase science literacy. Citizen science projects offer the opportunity for participants to become explorers and help unlock Earth’s mysteries. Aaron and I have designed several citizen science programs, including SharkFinder™. True to its name, SharkFinder™ is aimed at finding fossil elasmobranch (shark, skates and ray) remains in the Atlantic Coastal Plain of the United States. To date, elasmobranches have been poorly characterized, despite the fact that shark fossils from in the Atlantic Coastal Plain region have been a favorite of collectors and paleontologists for more than a century. SharkFinder™ allows classrooms and citizen scientists to search through highly concentrated fossil-bearing media to find and report elasmobranch fossils. In return, participants who make significant finds are acknowledged in professional publications and may have the opportunity to name new species.

America was built on discovery and innovation. Citizen Science can play a key role, whether it’s helping to find a cure for a disease, understanding human DNA, the microbes within us, the universe around us, or making fossil discoveries that could help us understand evolution, species diversity and climate change.

Unleash the scientist within you, venture into the world of discovery, and you never know…YOU could be recognized for your contribution.

Jason Osborne is the President and Co-Founder of Paleo Quest.

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