September 12, 2017

Science for the People

OMCA’s Citizen Science Vending Machine makes helping scientists as easy as buying a candy bar

By OMCA Staff

New this year to our Gallery of California Natural Sciences, the Oakland Museum of California’s Citizen Science Vending Machine helps you participate in real scientific research project with easy-to-use kits—all from the comfort of your own home or backyard. 

What is citizen science, and why make a vending machine?

It’s when everyday people, like you and your friends or family, gather and share data specific to ongoing research projects. This helps the scientific community get a more diverse data pool, all while empowering us to connect to science with a hands-on approach. 

Inspired by Art-o-Mat machines, a creative program that repurposes old cigarette vending machines to sell regional artists’ work made in miniature, Associate Curator of Natural Sciences Sarah Seiter partnered with scientists to develop user-friendly and compact kits for the Citizen Science Vending Machine. Each kit is only the size of a candy bar, bag of chips, or a Cup of Noodles—a design challenge to say the least! 

Some scientists used the design opportunity to try out a new angle for their current research. Scientist Jen Floria from the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco studies ants, and her original project attracted ants to bait. But after some prototyping, Jen jumped on the new opportunity to explore another project she’s been wanting to try: observing which common cooking spices repel ants, resulting in our Ant-Vasion Kit.

The Citizen Science Kits, which are assembled in-house at OMCA, each come with a handy zine that explains more about the project. Sarah brought her background as a scientific illustrator to the project, drawing cats, bugs, and scientist portraits with her steady hand, keen eye, and quirky sense of humor. 

What's inside the vending machine?

The research projects will rotate periodically, and will include connections to our special exhibitions. Right now, one of the kits is relevant to our exhibition Bees: Tiny Insect, Big Impact, which closes on October 22, 2017. Zombee Hunting Kit is a light trap to detect the Zombie Fly, which is infecting and killing honey bees. Researchers from the San Francisco State University need to learn exactly where this is happening, and you can use this kit to help them! 

You’ll notice many regular household objects in the kits, like plastic soda bottles and regular light bulbs. Citizen science demystifies the scientific process, and using familiar, low-cost objects is a great way to increase access.

What's important about citizen science?

Penny Jennings, OMCA’s associate director of experience development, explains: “One of OMCA’s  many roles is to  inspire people to imagine better futures for themselves and their communities. By participating in a citizen science project, we encourage our visitors  to participate in a global community with purpose.”

Stop by our Gallery of California Natural Sciences to shop the Citizen Science Vending Machine, read more about the research projects, and pick up your own kit today. In addition to the kits, the Citizen Science Vending machine includes simple observational tools, like foldable binoculars. 

How can I get involved?

Ready to start? Bring $5 cash per kit and your readiness to help out real scientists diversify their data pool. If you want to learn more about citizen science before you go, or if you can’t make it to Oakland right now, take a look at to learn more about projects world-wide.

How do you like to participate in citizen science? What would you like to study?