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Firefly Watch

Museum of Science
In house--interactive media department

Spotting fireflies is a special part of a warm summer night, perhaps because we so rarely see them. Are fireflies disappearing from our landscape? If so, why? What can we do about it?

In the spring of 2008, the Museum of Science launched Firefly Watch, an online Citizen Science project to tackle these questions, help researchers at Tufts University and Fitchburg State College determine why fireflies seem to be declining, and give the general public an opportunity to learn how to collect scientific data in a manner that is both useful to firefly researchers and fun for the whole family.

Participants used their own backyards as a data collection sites, charted the occurrence of fireflies from May to August. Each week, they uploaded observations to the website, joining their data with the data from hundreds of other citizen scientists to track the status of fireflies.

The site made it easy and fun to become a citizen scientist and invited individuals and families to learn about the scientific process by participating in it.

For the Museum, this project was an exciting experiment in expanding our reach and educational impact. While we aim to foster a lifelong interest in science and a greater understanding of natural history, the delivery of our mission has been largely limited to those who visit our physical location. This project invited people to participate in informal science learning with us regardless of geographic location.

More than 1,300 people registered for the project and 656 participants recorded data. Participants represented 38 states and 5 countries.  Watchers submitted 3,470 firefly observations and over 12,000 fireflies were spotted.

In April 2009 the Museum will host Firefly Watch Day.  Participants in the Watch will be invited to presentations given by the researchers involved in the project explaining what they learned from the data collected.

Firefly Watch was featured in the Boston Globe, on NPR’s Life on Earth, on WBZ-TV news, and mentioned in Nature Magazine.  The site won the Massachusetts Innovation and Technology Exchange (MITX) award for Interactive Innovation in Education and Learning.

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