Fieldnotes

An illustrated magazine on Citizen Science

Curieuze neuzen 01

Illustration by Sören Selleslagh

Citizen Science bridges the gap between non-scientists and scientists. Citizens who are not trained scientists actively participate in a wide range of scientific research projects by gathering and analysing data. In this way, they can lighten the workload of scientists, bring in a new perspective, and become more involved in research projects and scientific processes.

The Research

  • As ecosystems are dependent on the behaviour of trees, it is very important to investigate and predict how trees will evolve in the future. Using nail polish and plastic bags, young people help scientists of the University of Antwerp in the ‘Knappe K(n)oppen’ project to gather enough data to investigate the influence of temperature and daylight on the development of trees.
  • The ‘CurieuzeNeuzen’ project led to a dataset on air quality that scientists could never have obtained alone. 20000 people participated, producing the biggest air quality dataset of this sort to date. As a result, air quality became a major topic of public debate, from the kitchen table to the national parliament.
  • The ‘Straatvinken’ project invites citizens to map how people move around in the city of Antwerp. By doing so, citizens help to raise awareness about transport and mobility issues in their own city. Ultimately ‘Straatvinken’ aims to take citizen science to a new level. In ten years, the project hopes to give a voice to ordinary citizens so that it won’t only be ‘experts’ that have a have a say in the mobility debate. “By then citizens will hopefully decide themselves how their city is developing,” says professor Thomas Vantrouvive.
  • The B-magic research project investigates glass slides used in a ‘magic lantern’ to study Belgium’s cultural history. As collections of magic lanterns are widespread, historians work together with different groups to collect as many slides as possible. B-magic aims to unfold the history of the magic lantern as a mass medium and cultural practice in Belgium.
  • In order to investigate the impact of the introduction of exotic parrot species to the Belgian ecosystem, professors Strubbe and Matthysen (University of Antwerp) are working together with citizens to obtain as much information on the birds as they can. They ask people to count collar parakeets, share observations and send them feathers of the birds.

The creative way

The Field Notes Magazine was produced as a special supplement to the Belgian newspaper ‘De Standaard’. It originated from a collaboration between the University of Antwerp and Field, where six Citizen Science projects were described and supported by illustrations, pictures and collages from various artists. You can read the full magazine here.

The scientist

Fermenting is more than just a conservation technique. Bio-engineer Sarah Lebeer invited 40 people to ferment carrots at home as part of the Citizen Science project ‘Ferme Pekes’. She investigated the extracts on different bacteria and concluded that a wide variety of good bacteria (so called lactobacillus) developed during the fermentation process, which can provide substantial benefits to our immune system.

For me, being interviewed in laymen’s terms is always inspiring, because it allows me to gain new insights into my research area. Often, during an interview, as for this special issue, I obtain an helicopter view and I get inspiration for new research ideas.

— Sarah Lebeer, Professor in Microbiology and Biotechnology, University of Antwerp

The creatives

Eleni Debo is an award-winning Belgian illustrator and visual artist living in the Italian Alps. She makes illustrations for books, prints, editorials and campaigns for a variety of international clients.

I genuinely enjoyed illustrating part of this dossier, as I felt we faced the same interesting challenge: how to present scientific topics in a way that is appealing, engaging and understandable to everyone, and not just to those who are already initiated into the scientific field.

— Eleni Debo, Illustrator

Arkasha is a Belgian journalist who writes articles, often in an international context. For Fieldnotes, she interviewed six researchers of the Antwerp University and translated their findings into vivid and intelligible content for De Standaard.

Interviewing intelligent people on the topics they are most passionate about, is the most beautiful part about my job. Not only did I learn a lot from the researchers I interviewed, translating their findings into a language for everyone to understand, without losing the nuance of their research, gave me a lot of energy. I felt my work was a meaningful piece in the magnificent puzzle this magazine turned out to be.

— Arkasha Keysers, journalist

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