You don’t need a Ph.D. to be a scientist, nor do you need a lab coat and goggles. While professionals might get better access to top-grade lab equipment and funding from organizations, you can employ the scientific method to learn more about your own environment every day.
The Benefits of Amateur Science
Amateur science has the power to provide you with multiple benefits:
- Personal knowledge. The more you learn about your natural environment, the more personal knowledge you’ll gain. This knowledge ranges from practical to trivial in importance, but can always be used as a party anecdote, if nothing else.
- Attention to detail. Adopting a scientific mindset helps you pay more attention to the details of your environment. This can be useful for almost any line of work, and may help you appreciate your surroundings more.
- Scientific contribution. Don’t write off the possibility of making a legitimate scientific discovery. Amateurs make new discoveries and scientific contributions all the time; you just have to keep your eyes peeled and believe in the importance of your work.
How to Start
It’s easier than you think.
Try these techniques, activities, and habits:
- Adopt the scientific method. At the core of all sciences is the scientific method, a general outline for the pursuit of knowledge. Though the exact steps may vary depending on the source you’re consulting, it usually runs as follows: ask a question, do your background research, form a hypothesis, test the hypothesis, analyze your data, and communicate the results. Applying this method to your environment, as well as various problems you’ll confront in your personal life, can help you solve problems faster and get to the right answers more reliably.
- Take photos everywhere. Taking photos can help you spot details in your environment you wouldn’t ordinarily catch, so try taking more photos everywhere you go. You can get a digital camera for less than $200, and start investigating everything, from plant life in your backyard to the light patterns over the city on a foggy day. Use those photos to reflect and ask critical questions about your surroundings.
- Use apps to contribute to scientific research. There are several apps you can download to become a citizen scientist in your own right. These apps mostly work the same way; they utilize some of the unused computing power of your mobile device as part of an extended network of devices that produces more computing power than a single, complex machine. Think of it as turning your device into a node on a computational hivemind; thanks to your efforts, you can help scientists better understand phytoplankton, invasive species, the night sky, or even the possibility of intelligent alien life.
- Run your own experiments. Are you confused about how something works in the natural world? Why not run your own experiment? While the scientific method is a good formula to follow, you don’t need all the rigors of professional testing conditions to discover new things. For example, you could see how mold grows in response to different conditions, or see how insects react to different food sources.
- Get low-cost equipment to learn more. If you want to dig deeper, you can invest in low-cost equipment to get a different perspective on your environment. Microscopes and telescopes are available for just a few hundred dollars, and they can open up entirely new worlds to explore. You can even put your DIY skills to the test by building your own spectrometer and other equipment.
- You don’t have to get hands-on to learn more about the natural world; millions of scientists all over the world are constantly pushing the boundaries of our collective knowledge, and openly publishing their work for all to consume. Reading abstracts from scientific journals and staying tuned to other science publications and podcasts can always teach you something new.
Try engaging in your environment more, using the habits and activities above, and you’ll notice the benefits immediately. You’ll be in better touch and understanding with your environment, and if you’re lucky, you might even stumble upon something that drives the scientific community further.