At a time when the technical and computing capabilities of science are evolving at breakneck speeds, it might seem like researchers would always seek out more powerful and sophisticated tools to tackle their scientific questions. But some have chosen the opposite strategy: drawing on the dispersed resource of millions of relatively low-tech devices like smartphones and personal computers — and their users.
On the morning of Feb. 20, 1962, John H. Glenn sat inside the Mercury Friendship 7 space capsule, perched atop a rocket that had initially been designed to deliver nuclear warheads to the far ends of the world. That rocket would propel Glenn into space, and into the history books, as the first American to orbit Earth.
In recent years lidar has become the gold standard for people looking to make high-resolution aerial maps — from archaeologists studying ruins hidden beneath jungle canopies to engineers monitoring dams and levees. Although the technology has many useful applications, it’s often prohibitively expensive. Now, a new technique using an off-the-shelf digital camera is offering an inexpensive alternative for collecting 3-D aerial data.
The rapid proliferation of 3-D printing technology that began in the early 2000s sent ripples of excitement through the tech world and beyond despite the initial high price of printers. Now, more affordable printers have broken this barrier, and geoscientists have started testing the waters.
Scientific research has traditionally been funded by grants from various governmental agencies, along with funding from universities, corporations and private foundations. But money is often given out in large chunks to big research labs, leaving smaller, shorter-term projects in need of funding. Now, crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter — through which a large number of people donate small amounts of cash — are changing the landscape of research grant funding.