“Citizen Scientists” May Help In Disaster Response Time
November 5, 2010
The National Science Foundation has awarded a $65,000 grant to a newly hired Virginia Tech College of Engineering assistant professor who wants to put the task of data collection during a catastrophe such as the recent Gulf Coast oil spill into the hands of ordinary citizens.
Jules White, with the Bradley Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, seeks to create a massive data collection system that would rely on information captured by “citizen scientists” who would use devices such as smart phones to take photographic evidence from the site of disaster areas. Once collected at a single source, scientists and other responders could quickly sift through data, and decide how best to react.
The two-year grant was awarded under the National Science Foundation’s RAPID Response Research program, which funds scientific projects with strong issues of timeliness.
The system would be easy enough for school-age children to use. Prof. White is teaming with the private school Bayside Academy in Daphne, Ala., on early collection efforts of affected biological life along the Gulf Coast. He is collaborating with the computer science departments at The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and Nashville’s Vanderbilt University on the grant.
Prof. White earned his bachelor’s degree from Brown University in 2001, and his master’ s in 2006 and doctoral degree in 2008, both from Vanderbilt University, all in Computer Science. Before joining the Virginia Tech faculty in August, he was a research assistant professor at the Institute for Software Integrated Systems at Vanderbilt.