I’m Shannon Dosemagen and, alongside my colleagues at Public Lab, I’ll be organizing a “community science” space and workshops and giving a short talk on the Maker Faire main stage. I’m an anthropologist by training and a community organizer and informal science educator by experience. I’ve always been fascinated by the connections between humans in both urban and rural areas and the spaces that we inhabit. I’ve worn a lot of different hats throughout my life (I even ran a skateboarding store in my early 20s!), but my goal has always been to create spaces where people can come together to learn, share, and collaborate.
When I was seventeen I started working on a 137’ sailing schooner in Lake Michigan. It was here that I had one of my first experiences sharing lessons and stories about our environment. We would use a trawler to dig up material from the benthic layer, take water samples to check out plankton under microscopes, and use the power of science to teach about our interconnected ecosystems. In my mid-twenties, I began working with a small nonprofit in Louisiana that supported fenceline communities, those that sit adjacent to the numerous oil refining facilities in the state. We helped set up community air monitoring programs using simple tools — odor logs to record the smells in the air and a bucket sampling tool to take actual air samples. These types of experiences largely influenced and guided the work that would would lead to Public Lab.
Public Lab started during the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Using tethered helium filled balloons and kites attached to simple point and shoot cameras, Gulf Coast residents came together using these “community satellites” to captures hundreds of thousands of images of the spill, creating community documentation of the disaster. 8 years later, the work of Public Lab has expanded under the banner of community science to include collaborative maker projects spanning imagining and photography, air and water and co-developed methodologies around community engagement, facilitation and how to use data for action.
Community science starts with questions from people about places they care about, ensures there are places for people to contribute to ongoing work across the lifecycle of a project and works towards goals and objectives of the people asking the questions first and foremost. While Public Lab is a place for people with environmental questions to come together with makers, scientists, educators and journalists, there are a number of new community science projects that have advanced over the last several years.
During the 2018 MakerFaire, Public Lab will be hosting a community science space where you can come to try out Do-It-With-Others kits like papercraft and Lego spectrometers, Coqui “humming” water sensors, balloon aerial photography, and a variety of exploratory DIY science kits from Explorabox. We’ll also be working with our new Community Microscope kit, developed to support communities in Wisconsin around concerns resulting from fracking sand mining, for the first time as we launch a Kickstarter to make these widely available. On Friday we’ll be hosting a workshop on the Community Microscope Kit. During our Sunday Main Stage talk, I’ll explore the connections between making and the environment, community science and how people across the world are contributing to reimagining their relationship with places they care about — from refugee camps in Lebanon to the wetlands of Louisiana. Join us in the community science area to create, build, and think about ways you can bring science back to your community to ask and answer questions using tools and methods driven by the collaborative spirit of hundreds.