Help scientists with your phone

What can measure humidity, air pressure, acceleration, count steps, and take pictures? You are probably holding it in your hand now.

Smartphones are full of measuring equipment, and top scientists are telling us to use all those sensors in the service of science.

Learn how to start using some of your phone’s built-in tools to present important data to scientists.

Capture the diversity of life with a single click

Next time you see a colorful plant, exotic animal, or rare mushroom, you can quickly and easily contribute to biodiversity research.

Your phone’s antenna receives signals from GPS satellites. Based on the location of the satellites and the time it takes for the signal to travel the distance to your phone, your coordinates are calculated on the map.

These coordinates are automatically added to your photo. This can help scientists with the iNaturalist app.

Images of animals or plants along with their GPS coordinates are sent via the app to the Global Biodiversity Information Facility database, which all researchers can consult for free.

This gives them an overview of where on Earth certain species thrive.

Measurement of the Earth’s magnetic field

Your phone has a magnetometer that makes the compass point in the direction of the North Pole of the Earth.

The magnetometer sends current through a metal conductor. The electrons in the current then deviate to one side or the other, depending on the direction and strength of the magnetic field around the phone.

This allows the magnetometer to measure the strength of the surrounding magnetic field in three dimensions.

So when you go for a run or walk the dog, your phone can measure the strength of the magnetic field. This helps scientists who want to learn more about the Earth’s magnetic field and who want to develop more accurate navigation equipment.

You can easily upload data from your phone’s magnetometer for researchers to use.

Help deal with the noise

Noise is a growing problem around the world – especially if you live in a city – and it can cause stress, high blood pressure and sleep problems.

This is why noise researchers are so eager to identify where noise is worst and how to reduce it.

Your phone’s microphone can measure the noise level around you with the NoiseTube app.

These measurements provide valuable data for researchers who can accurately map harmful noise pollution so that it can be avoided, reduced or moved to less crowded areas.

If you upload data to NoiseTube, you can add details to make it easier for researchers to work. For example, you can indicate where you think the noise is coming from — is it a fan or a car, for example — and how much the noise bothers you.

The laser measures costal motion

The latest smartphones have a built-in laser sensor called a lidar. It sends hundreds of laser pulses in all directions every second and then measures how long it takes them to return. It allows it to measure the distance to all the objects around you and draw a 3D map of the environment.

Scientists are now using this feature to measure how quickly fragile coastlines are eroding and moving with cliffs.

In the future, geographers at the University of Copenhagen studying erosion will ask coastal residents to provide data showing how quickly the coastline is changing and how quickly the slopes are moving inland.

For example, farmers who have fields behind cliffs will want to know how quickly the sea is swallowing up the cliffs and thus their land.

Your phone predicts the weather

Many smartphones have a barometer that measures the pressure in the air.

The barometer consists of a diaphragm that moves depending on air pressure and presses a so-called piezoelectric sensor, which converts the movement into an electrical signal.

Pressure differences in the atmosphere determine how weather develops. Therefore, pressure measurements with GPS coordinates can be used to make more accurate local weather forecasts.

PressureNet collects pressure readings from phones and uses this data to develop more accurate weather forecasts.

Previously, scientists could only use atmospheric pressure readings from expensive, stationary weather stations, but now they can get more readings from cell phones — even away from weather stations.

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