Museum Hosts Program on Citizen Science

By March 30, 2021Press Releases

LOS ALTOS, CA (March 30, 2021) Members of the general public are taking to the great outdoors as “citizen scientists,” collecting and recording data on their smartphones to aid professional scientists in researching changes in the natural world. In a Zoom program titled “What is Citizen Science?” Los Altos History Museum explores this tech-savvy movement of public participation in combating climate change. The free talk, slated for Thursday, April 22 at 5pm, is offered in support of the Museum’s current exhibition, “Beauty and the Beast: California Wildflowers and Climate Change.”

Mary Ellen Hannibal, award-winning journalist and Bay Area author of “Citizen Scientist: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction,” will discuss the deep ties of citizen science within the tradition of natural history museums. She will review current ecological crises, local to global, and point out ways to get involved.

“If Charles Darwin had carried a smartphone equipped with iNaturalist in 1835, he would have instantly sent ornithologist John Gould photographs of finches from the Galápagos Islands,” said Hannibal. “The practice of nonscientists contributing to scientific research is as old as the human need to understand our environment. Today, citizen scientists are by far the most powerful source of information we have about biodiversity, enabling observation on the scales at which nature actually operates. We are already seeing patterns that wouldn’t be evident without its contributions.”

In her book, Hannibal digs into the origins of the citizen science movement, tracing it back through centuries of amateur observations by writers and naturalists. Prompted by her novelist father’s sudden death, she connects the activity of bearing witness to nature today with a broad inquiry into time, place, and purpose.

“When people make direct observations of nature, they don’t just take a photograph; they make a connection,” said Hannibal. “Among the very people collecting the data are the activists who organize to address detrimental change.”

Named “San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of 2016,” Hannibal’s “Citizen Scientist” is available for purchase through the Museum’s store. To register for the free Zoom program, visit

Los Altos History Museum began in 1977 with the opening of the J. Gilbert Smith House historic farmhouse, built in 1905. In 2001, the Los Altos History Museum opened its modern building next door, which houses the Museum’s collections, permanent and changing exhibits, store and administrative offices. The Museum and its grounds are available for rent during evenings and weekends. Its collections are owned by the City of Los Altos and are managed by an independent nonprofit organization, whose staff and volunteers are responsible for all programs and operations.

The Museum’s Main Gallery is open Saturday and Sunday, from noon-4pm. Admission is free. The Upper Gallery and J. Gilbert Smith House remain closed. The gardens, outdoor agricultural exhibits and picnic area are accessible beyond Museum hours. For more information, visit:, email, or phone 650.948.9427 x14.

Media Contact:

Los Altos History Museum: Elisabeth I. Ward, 650.948.9427 x10,