11 Dec 2014

The Open University launches mobile toolkits to engage budding young scientists

The Open University is supporting young people around the world to develop their skills in group research as it unveils a new open crowd-sourced science platform today.

Developed in collaboration with Sheffield UTC and supported by social investor Nominet Trust, the nQuire-it platform includes the Sense-it app, the first open application to unlock the full range of sensors on mobile devices, so that people of any age can do science projects on their phones and tablets.

From today, missions on the nQuire-it platform include creating a noise map around a city or school, identifying clouds, measuring the fastest lift in the world, exploring strange mirrors, and finding creative ways to measure the height of a tree or building using a mobile phone.

The Sense-it app is the first to exploit the full potential of already existing sensors in mobile devices, turning users into instant scientists by transforming smart phones into scientific instruments of discovery with their light, sound and acceleration sensors or gyroscopes, allowing them to record and measure data, like magnetic field, proximity and light. The Sense-it app is linked to the nQuire-it platform to allow users to share their findings instantly.

As concern grows that students are increasingly turning away from science in the classroom The Open University has collaborated closely with 16-18 year old students from Sheffield UTC, to ensure the missions and format of the nQuire-it platform are relevant and engaging.

Citizen science has been growing in popularity in recent years, but until now the public have generally been invited to collect and contribute data to scientists, but not share in the thrill of scientific discovery. The nQuire-it software transforms the scientific experience for users as they are able to link to and interact with a diverse range citizen science projects, receive instant feedback on how sensor recordings from their mobile phones relate to other users’ data, and allows users to design and propose their own science investigations.

Professor Mike Sharples, The Open University UK says, “The Open University is a leader for innovations in learning technologies that break down barriers globally. Alongside our open courses, we are developing a new range of practical science activities to help people design investigations, explore their surroundings and share their findings. The nQuire-it platform puts science into the hands of people around the world.”

Annika Small, CEO of Nominet Trust says, “The nQuire-it platform offers open tools that help young people to become citizen scientists, engaging with and helping to solve big science problems. This is a great example of how technology can help to redesign traditional approaches as these nQuire-it tools allow young people to contribute to genuine scientific practice as part of an online open science laboratory. Nominet Trust is excited by the potential of nQuire-it to inspire a new generation of scientists.”

Notes to Editors

About nQuire-it
The nQuire-it platform is a research and development project funded by Nominet Trust, and coordinated by The Open University in collaboration with Sheffield UTC.

nQuire-it have developed three types of missions:

1. Win-it missions set challenges with prizes for the winners. Each challenge needs a creative response. Some missions involve science experiments, e.g., ‘Suggest an astronomy observation using the Open University’s PIRATE remotely-controlled telescope'. Others tackle everyday problems, e.g., ‘Propose an imaginative way to attract bumblebees to gardens’.
2. Sense-it missions make use of the Sense-it mobile app to collect and share data using smartphone sensors (e.g., accelerometer, gyroscope, light, sound). For example, ‘What is the fastest lift?’, the Sense-it app can be found in Play Store here.
3. Spot-it missions allow you to capture images and spot things around us, such as strange signs and unusual uses of English.
nQuire-it software is open source so anyone can join or create missions for free. They can invite other people to join their missions by using your Facebook, Twitter or Google accounts. The most successful missions will get the chance to win prizes such as money rewards, vouchers or even to have their observation made on the PIRATE telescope in Mallorca.

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