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Citizen Science Lab launched with workshop about air pollution

Scientists and non-scientists co-creating breakthrough citizen science projects for measuring, understanding, and mitigating air pollution. That’s what happened during the first international workshop of the newly established Citizen Science Lab from 22 until 26 January at the Lorentz Center at Leiden University.

During the workshops, groups of participants pitched innovative project ideas to a jury panel. These projects will be further developed under the umbrella of the Citizen Science Lab into pilot projects for future citizen science initiatives.

Air pollution

In the last few years, many citizen science projects have been organized to address the urgent scientific and societal issues of air pollution. For instance, the iSPEX project was led by Leiden University, and involved several thousand participants who measured atmospheric particles with a dedicated smartphone add-on. Also, many grassroots projects have emerged in which local organizations took the initiative of developing their own sensors. The Citizen Science Lab was founded by Leiden researchers (that were also behind the iSPEX project) to bring together the top-down scientific approach of universities and the bottom-up civic initiatives, and co-create successful and sustainable citizen science projects.

Challenging scientists

Leiden astronomer Frans Snik: ‘We are convinced that through citizen science, we can achieve scientific results that we cannot achieve with professional scientists alone. We therefore challenge scientists in many different fields and non-scientists to design radical new citizen projects together. We aim to support and incubate these projects with the expertise that we have built up over the last few years.’

A diverse mix

The first Citizen Science Lab workshop was held on the topic or air pollution, and brought together a diverse mix of 55 participants, with backgrounds ranging from environmental sciences and local/national/European government to activist movements, programming and tinkering, and social sciences. Participants came from all over Europe, from Norway to Italy, from Kosovo to Ireland. Also, many representatives of Dutch civic organizations were present. After a day of introductions and discussions, participants got to work on many different topics within groups of varying composition.

Resulting projects

On the final day, seven groups of participants pitched concrete project proposals to an expert jury panel, consisting of Ionica Smeets, Christopher Keller (both Leiden University), and Erik Tielemans (RIVM, Dutch National Institute for Health and the Environment). They judged which project proposals may be further developed into successful and sustainable citizen science initiatives, based on their novelty, scientific and societal impact, cross-disciplinarity, and viability. As a result, at least two projects will be proposed for Europe’s Horizon 2020 of the EU Research and Innovation programme: one on combining different citizen science air pollution measurement networks throughout Europe, and one on novel methods for measuring and mitigating indoors air pollution. At the same time, several smaller ideas will be prototyped and tested in collaboration between, e.g., the university and local communities.

Two other Citizen Science Lab workshop are already in the planning at the Lorentz Center: one on Sampling Language and Culture (3 - 6 April) and one on archaeology.


Scientific organisers of this CSLab workshop were Ivonne Jansen-Dings (Waag Society Amsterdam), Frank Kresin (Twente University), Frans Snik (Leiden University), Hester Volten (RIVM Bilthoven). The workshop was part of the NIAS-Lorentz Program, to stimulate research bridging the natural sciences with the humanities and social sciences.

Citizen Science Lab is an initiative of Leiden University, partnering with Waag Society Amsterdam, DesignLab of Twente University, and the Lorentz Center.