Participatory, collaborative, shared science: Sorbonne University is at the heart of a citizens’ network for scientific progress

Want to become a citizen-researcher ?


The aim of the participatory science programs developed by France’s National Museum of Natural History, a Sorbonne University member institution, is to involve amateurs and those interested in the natural sciences in scientific research.

citizens’ network for scientific progress picture

These research programs, coordinated among some 20 monitoring centers, are aimed at all citizens, whether they are simply curious about science or bona-fide experts, and now have more than 15,000 volunteers. Their objective is to monitor butterflies, count insects, listen for bats, take samples of seawater, observe the planets and more.

Such monitoring provides valuable images and data for Sorbonne University’s researchers and scientific community, who analyze this participatory material in order to better understand biodiversity and the challenges that nature must confront, especially those due to climate change.

Find out more about some of the initiatives supported by Sorbonne University in images!

#1 - The Vigie-Nature project: when researchers and citizens join together to improve open data on nature

Biodiversity presents us with a multitude of data, and it is difficult for researchers to collect all of this information without the help of regular citizens. Launched almost 20 years ago, the Vigie-Nature scientific project of France’s National Museum of Natural History allows everyone to make a contribution to science. By taking photos, collecting samples or sending in observations on animals and plants, every budding scientist is contributing to the improvement of researchers’ data. 

vigie-nature project picture

Moreover, the Vigie-Nature project incorporates other scientific monitoring:

  • Passionate about marine fauna and flora? The Vigie-Mer project supports citizens’ initiatives to promote marine research. 
  • Interested in comets? The Vigie-Ciel project gives meteorite hunters the opportunity to share their observations. 
  • So that the youngest in society can be introduced to scientific research, the museum is also organizing expeditions into little-explored areas [Page in French], such as Mozambique, Madagascar and Papua New Guinea.

These various initiatives enable new, motivational, interdisciplinary activities to be implemented. 

#2 - Participatory science is making scientific progress at lightning speed

What transforms research? The amount and diversity of information. 

Computerizing the herbarium data of France’s National Museum of Natural History, using thousands of photos, is a project that would have taken 500 years if done by just one person! One alternative is to use the experience of “herbonauts" via various Internet users’ passion for botany to improve a collaborative scientific platform. In the form of a treasure hunt or quiz, this first digital and participative herbarium gives all novice botanists the chance to transcribe the information written on the national herbarium’s labels (which are old, handwritten, and therefore illegible to computer software!) in order to itemize the place of origin, collector’s name and the date.

#2 Participatory science

This fun, educational project lets everyone find out more about the flora involved and how the herbarium works: nearly two million photos have already been analyzed by more than 2,000 Internet users ! 

#3 - BirdLab: a serious game for understanding biodiversity

Become an ornithologist in five minutes by playing on your smartphone ! 

The BirdLab app [Page in French], launched by France’s National Museum of Natural History, transforms your garden, balcony or terrace into a scientific laboratory. The idea is to install bird tables, follow the comings and goings of birds in real time, and send these observations to researchers. This unique scientific experience allows a large body of data on birds’ habits to be collected (species present, regional distribution and habitats, sociable or solitary behavior, competition for food, etc.).

#3 BirdLab

Concerned that you don’t know enough about birds? Before playing with the science app, BirdLab gives you the chance to improve your ornithological knowledge by taking a bird-knowledge quiz using photos. This is a fun, interactive way to contribute to scientific research and better understand the biodiversity that surrounds us.

BirdLab, the serious game

Interested in biodiversity and science as a whole? Find out more about our undergraduate, master’s and PhD programs specializing in the environment at Université Pierre et Marie Curie and the University of Technology of Compiègne.

For those who want to know more, this video explains how you can take part.

#4 - 65 million observers: will you be next?

#65MO picture

In light of the success of the Vigie-Nature project [Page in French] and the Vigie-Nature-Ecole project [Page in French], the "65 million observateurs" program [Page in French], supported by the Ministry of Ecology, was launched by France’s National Museum of Natural History in March 2015.

The aim is to give citizens the means to take part in the main stages of the scientific process – examination, data analysis, and the sharing a common knowledge base – by using an interactive encyclopedia and a comprehensive web portal, where citizens and biodiversity professionals (in agriculture, space management, forestry, construction, small-scale fisheries, tourism and so on) will be able to enter and share their data directly. Participants in the "65 millions observateurs" program are already talking about it on Twitter.

To understand the questions associated with urban biodiversity, Sorbonne University organizes regular seminars for researchers, PhD students and school students through its Dens’Cité program.

#5 - The mobile device for air quality

According to the WHO, atmospheric pollution in urban areas is responsible for more than 3 million deaths per year worldwide! This raises questions about the quality of the air that we breathe.  

Students at Université Pierre et Marie Curie, a Sorbonne University member institution, have come up with a simple idea: to invite citizens to measure atmospheric pollution on their balconies, at their apartment building entrances or in their gardens, and to share this data online. "Quel est ton air?” ("What’s in your air?”), a workshop run by Sorbonne University’s Fablab, is an interdisciplinary program that encourages innovative student projects. It has allowed valuable information to be gathered in order to develop a low-cost portable device for taking environmental measurements.

Mobile device

Do you want to learn more about the impact of climate change? Take part in one of our numerous programs dedicated to the environment

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