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Research Grows Through Citizen Science; Vocal Trash Recycles More Than Old Songs; Artist Creates Wood Sculptures With a Chainsaw


Joan Davies Rapp of Tacoma, Washington, counts and records bird sightings outside her living room window as part of Project FeederWatch.

Joan Davies Rapp of Tacoma, Washington, counts and records bird sightings outside her living room window as part of Project FeederWatch.

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JUNE SIMMS: Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm June Simms.

CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: And I'm Christopher Cruise. This week on our program, we learn about citizen science and its growing popularity. We also hear from a group that uses trash to make music. And later we tell you about an artist who creates sculptures with a chainsaw.

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JUNE SIMMS: More and more people are getting involved in science. These are not professional scientists but members of the public. Public involvement in scientific research is known as citizen science. There's a science project for just about any interest, and professional scientists are often happy to have the help.

CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: An example of citizen science is a project called Project BudBurst. Over the past six growing seasons, Project BudBurst has used thousands of volunteer observers. They record when local plants develop their leaves, flowers and fruit. The observations go into a huge database. Then plant scientists can study the data to look for changes over time. Project director Sandra Henderson says participatory science like this is an idea that is growing quickly.

SANDRA HENDERSON: "Originally, it was -- I don't want to say limited, but it was [primarily] a lot of weather data and bird data. Now what we're seeing is more and more [plant and animal categories], more and more interest. As a result, there's really a citizen science project to meet just about any interest."

For example, people who enjoy astronomy can observe changes in the brightness of a star. People can examine satellite images of Earth to look for sites where archeologists might find the lost tomb of Genghis Khan, the Mongolian warrior and ruler. Or someone interested in orca whales can listen to underwater microphones and let researchers know when the whales are present.

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JUNE SIMMS: Thousands of Americans and Canadians volunteered to count birds this past migration season as part of Project FeederWatch. Retired teacher Joan Davies Rapp of Tacoma, Washington, has been a volunteer observer for a long time.

JOAN DAVIES RAPP: "It has been fun to be a part of the whole thing. I've noticed migrations of different birds coming up the last twelve years. Things have changed a bit."

CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: Another area where citizen science has grown is in testing water. Amanda Bruner coordinates SoundCitizen, a project based at the University of Washington campus in Tacoma. It keeps track of pollutants in Puget Sound.

AMANDA BRUNER: "Maybe a few scientists on a boat can go out and collect twenty samples in a day. But when we involve the public we can talk about thousands of samples, which certainly gives us much more confidence in what we're finding."

This is important because Ms. Bruner says some people, including scientists, still question whether average citizens can collect reliable data. New digital tools can help settle questions about data quality, and make it easier for people to take part in citizen science.

DENNIS WARD: "So I'm scrolling through a list of almost two hundred plants that we track. There it is: Acer glabrum, or just Rocky Mountain maple ... "

JUNE SIMMS: Dennis Ward pulls out his smartphone to demonstrate the app for Project BudBurst as he inspects a maple tree in a public plaza. Mr. Ward takes a close-up picture of the seed pods, confirms the identification with the app, and then uploads the sighting.

DENNIS WARD: "One of the wonderful things about using mobile technology is that, as you can see, it actually has the latitude and longitude that is taken from the phone when I took the picture. And I can even say a little bit about the site."

Mr. Ward works with educational technology. He says smartphone apps and interactive websites reduce errors and make it easier to share data.

DENNIS WARD: "And there we are. I can just say 'Done,' and my single report has been added."

CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: Public health research is another area where average citizens are getting involved -- in some cases, whether researchers like it or not. The idea is for the public to have a voice in how public health studies are done. There is even a saying for this kind of activism: "No more research about us without us."

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JUNE SIMMS: Vocal Trash is a group that sings and dances through popular tunes from different periods. The members play instruments made from trash cans, water bottles and other items saved from the landfill. , Their message is to reuse and recycle. Vocal Trash has performed at fairs and rodeos and other events. Steve Linder started Vocal Trash.

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STEVE LINDER: "What we are doing is taking old classics and giving them a redo, recycling old classics and giving them an urban hip-hop feel."

CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: Steve Linder not only plays the trash can, he also plays hubcaps from automobiles, metal buckets, plastic barrels and plastic water bottles. So do the other five members of the group. Kelsey Rae is the lead vocalist.

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KELSEY RAE: "We started the group about eleven years ago. We were singers first, so we put together the name Vocal Trash."

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JUNE SIMMS: The show also includes music from today and breakdancing.

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STEVE LINDER: "When we first started the group it was just to be an entertainment entity. The awareness grew out of people coming up to us and saying, 'I love the recycled instruments and the message you have.’ ” And we started being more aware of that we’ve got lightening in a bottle, we’ve got something to say here.”

The percussion instruments are not the only ones that have been recycled.

KELSEY RAE: "We like to say we rescue items from a landfill and make music out of them. We come up with the designs and we have a company make them for us.”

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CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: The body of the upright bass was once a milk can. And band members play some very interesting looking guitars.

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STEVE LINDER: "We are playing a tool box guitar that would normally end up in a landfill. Just a tool box, an old toolbox, that has been refurbished and now sounds great."

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STEVE LINDER: "This is a gas can that would normally sit on the back of a jeep. It has been transformed into a really nice sounding blues guitar. You can't help but see the instruments and get the message out of what we are doing."

A couple of years ago, Steve Linder and Kelsey Rae decided to make that message more clear.

KELSEY RAE: "My partner and I looked at each other and thought, ‘why not be a group with a message?’ And that's when we came up with 'Think before you throw it away.'"

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After all, it took some thought to think of a toolbox as a musical instrument.

JUNE SIMMS: It also takes some thought to think of a chainsaw as a tool for an artist. Most people use chainsaws to cut down trees or cut off branches. But Marty Long uses a chainsaw to carve sculptures out of wood.

Recently, at the Maryland State Fair, he showed his skill at speed carving. In just forty-five minutes he created an owl from a block of wood.

MARTY LONG: "I love chainsaw carving. It's art. It's fun. People love it. It makes people smile."

CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: Marty Long began his career carving ice sculptures, also with a chainsaw. Then he began carving tree stumps. Today, he is with a group called Masters of the Chainsaw. They organize shows and competitions.

Tim Sorrelles and his wife, Chris, stopped to watch Mr. Long at work.

TIM SORRELLES: "To saw a block of wood into pieces of art, it's just incredible."

CHRIS SORRELLES: "To watch it from the stump to turn into artwork, I didn't know you could do that with a chainsaw."

Marty Long uses many different kinds of blades.

MARTY LONG: "It is like having different paint brushes. You start with the big ones and you work your way down and you use the finer ones for details."

He also uses blow torches and stain to add definition to his art. Of course, working with a chainsaw has risks.

MARTY LONG: "Chainsaws are one of the most dangerous tools you can use, and the chainsaw companies will say it's the most dangerous thing you can do with a chainsaw."

JUNE SIMMS: Marty Long says his ideas come from drawings and photos and wild animals. He likes the challenge of working with wood, even with the safety risks.

MARTY LONG: "In this owl, we found a nail. There are knots and fissures and cracks."

There is variety in his work.

MARTY LONG: "I would say eagles, owls and bears are the most popular. What I like to carve is something in motion, something telling a story."

Like a six-meter dragon on a tree stump.

MARTY LONG: "It was for a family that had adopted two Chinese girls. On the bottom we put a Chinese symbol for double happiness."

CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: There is a waiting list for people who want a tree stump carved on their property. The stumps are priced between three thousand and six thousand dollars.

MARTY LONG: "One of a kind seems to be really attractive to people. The fact that it's still rooted into the ground. It's kind of an experience rather than just a piece of art."

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CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: Our program was produced by Brianna Blake, with reporting by Tom Banse, Susan Logue and Deborah Block. I'm Christopher Cruise.

JUNE SIMMS: And I'm­­­­­­­­ June Simms. You can find videos based on today's program at our website, voaspecialenglish.com. You can also find transcripts and MP3s of our programs, along with podcasts and activities for learning English. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.

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