Citizen Science Day

Tomorrow we celebrate National Citizen Science Day!

Citizen Science is a term coined in the mid-1990s to describe public engagement in the scientific sphere. National Citizen Science Day has been created to commemorate the incredible contribution of volunteers, specialists, and everyday people to expanding the realm of science. Whether acting as a safety inspector, researcher, or inventor, people are helping create the change they see is needed in the world.

It is easy to take for granted many groundbreaking scientific advancements that are commonplace in our 21st century lives such as pasteurized milk, our modern day understanding of germ theory and therefore disease, and the ability to detect pathogenic strains of bacteria in food. For the betterment these discoveries have brought us, there are two extraordinary citizen scientists of their day, Louis Pasteur and Angelina Fanny Hesse, to thank for these advancements.

Louis Pasteur

Louis Pasteur was a French microbiologist, chemist, and biologist whose groundbreaking scientific discoveries in the mid-19th century directly influence ways in which we live our daily lives today. During this time, Pasteur performed a series of experiments that proved organisms could not grow in a sterilized or otherwise isolated environment. Pasteur heated and sterilized swan-neck flasks with broth inside, allowing some flasks to come in contact with outside air particles, while keeping some in an air transfer resilient system, that allowed air to pass through but not dust particles. Pasteur found that flasks with air exchanges grew microorganisms while those without did not. Pasteur proved his hypothesis that live organisms entered the test environment from outside the flasks via dust particles. While Pasteur was not the first to propose the existence of these microorganisms, his experiments provided support for the budding theory of germ theory. What was even more shocking at the time was that Pasteur was not a doctor, but a chemist, who proved his theory using a simple experiment that could be done from home.

Louis Pasteur’s discoveries led to the creation of the process of pasteurization. Each time you buy milk or wine, you can thank Louis Pasteur and his curiosity for helping ensure its safety.

Angelina Fanny Hesse

Building upon Louis Pasteur’s discoveries, Robert Koch further influenced our modern-day understanding of microbiology. In the early days of his experiments, he was greatly hindered by the limitations of the best-known media solidifying agent for microbial growth at the time: beef gelatin. Its low melting point and the propensity for bacteria to utilize it as a metabolic nutrient source limited the research that his lab was able to perform. It wasn’t until a part-time laboratory assistant and illustrator, Angelina Fanny Hesse, introduced the scientists to agar. Derived from algae, agar is a transparent, high moisture retaining, and non-nutritional thickener that has thermos-stability at temperatures optimal for growth of most bacteria. This makes it perfect for microbiological experimentation as an excellent replacement for beef gelatin, revolutionizing microbiologists’ ability to reliably grow, isolate, and study microbial organisms.

The use of agar and Julius Richard Petri’s dish allowed Koch’s team to carry out their experiments to expand the knowledge of the bacteria that cause tuberculosis, cholera, and anthrax as well as revolutionize our modern day understanding microbiological growth and plating techniques. Used widely across many forms of microbial study, agar is still used as the gold standard media solidifying agent for bacterial testing and isolation to this day- all thanks to Angelina Fanny Hesse’s crucial contribution.

Amazing individuals have discovered new galaxies and cures for ailments out of personal interest, curiosity, or necessity. If you don’t have a personal research project, there are many great programs in place that you may assist with scientific discovery, such as Oregon State University’s Food Safety and Environmental Stewardship Program, and others (like those on SciStarter) that everyday citizens may participate in. Whether you discover a new medicine or participate in the study of fish populations, engaging in scientific discovery is fun and a crucial component to creating a better society.

We at IEH would like to thank those who have taken the time to improve our society through scientific discovery and innovation. We hope you stay forever curious!

For more information and ways to get involved, please access these links: