25-nation workshop in Trieste

Safecast has just wrapped up an intensive three-week workshop on citizen science for environmental measurement at the International Center for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste, Italy. The ICTP, which was founded in 1964 by the late Nobel Laureate Abdus Salam, focusses on providing continuing education and skill development for scientists from developing countries. Much of the work done at ICTP is interdisciplinary, and our group of 29 expert participants came from 25 different countries, primarily in Africa, Central and South America, and the Middle East, with fields of specialization including air quality monitoring, radiation monitoring, electronic engineering, network systems, sensor design, medical imaging, chemical analysis, and others.

Details about the course can be found here:

Joint ICTP-IAEA Workshop on Environmental Mapping: Mobilising Trust in Measurements and Engaging Scientific Citizenry

Trieste is the beautiful upper northeast corner of the Adriatic. The alps can be seen in the distance from the ICTP on a clear day.

Safecast holds many workshops, lectures, and other presentations, but this one, held at the fabulous ICTP SciFabLab, was unique. It was the largest done with a single group, the longest, the most intensive, and the most thorough. Safecasters Joe Moross and Azby Brown were joined by about 30 other lecturers and speakers who covered topics such as open-source hardware design, digital fabrication, data visualization, sensor calibration, and scientific communication skills. The emphasis was on hands-on training and experience and teamwork. Participants, who were selected from 150 applicants, were each provided with a bGeigie kit to build and take home. Overall, the curriculum was designed so that the participants could return to their home countries with weeks of experience building and using the bGeigie, analyzing and visualizing its data, and communicating the results and significance of Safecast and other citizen science projects to skeptical institutions and the general public. Our intent was to nurture effective citizen science practitioners in developing countries, who can continue to participate in Safecast and encourage others to do so. The group bonded very well, was extremely enthusiastic and travelled together as groups, and we hope to keep them all in contact with each other in coming months and years.

Video welcome message from Safecast advisor Ray Ozzie

From the point of view of the hosting institutions, Safecast represents an important validation of the principles of citizen science. Many specialists have been observing the development of citizen science, particularly for environmental monitoring, and this workshop is an indication of the degree of receptiveness that has emerged for it in many leading scientific quarters. In particular, the ICTP felt that Safecast’s citizen science techniques can enable financially-limited developing countries to accomplish otherwise difficult and expensive scientific tasks while bolstering science education overall. Safecast was happy to contribute time and energy to this cause.

The ICTP SciFabLab is large and extremely well-equipped and staffed (we counted thirteen 3d printers in various stages of operability…). Thirty people were able to build their Nanos simultaneously without trouble.


Joe and Azby kept things moving along during the build sessions.


Successful first power-on tests!


Savina, from India, looking pleased with her progress.


The first outdoor test of the completed bGeigies. Happy with the results!

Week one was devoted to hardware, and the main task was to build bGeigies. While the group included a few engineers who regularly build their own equipment, most had little or no prior experience building electronics.  All were successful, however.  Their assignment was to gather data on their sightseeing trips to Venice and elsewhere over the first weekend, and to upload it to the Safecast API. The group was also introduced to the Safecast project overall, and to the concepts of citizen science and openness, particularly as they apply to issues which have emerged due to the Fukushima disaster.

A friendly group of scientists sets out on a mapping excursion with their bGeigies ready.


The group covered a lot of Venice on foot, logging data with their bGeigies as they went.


Maryam, one of the Iranian participants, mapping radiation data as she crosses a bridge in Venice.


The end of a long day mapping Trieste.


The group Safecasted a large portion of Venice on their one-day holiday there.

Data collected by the group can be seen here

The second week was primarily devoted to visualization. GIS and data analysis specialist Franck Albinet provided several days of intensive training on the use of the open-source QGIS software for producing and analyzing map-based data. Participants were split into groups and assigned to develop original visualizations and analyses of the Safecast data they had gathered. Among other interesting presentations, Sebastian Buettrich of IT University of Copenhagen described his group’s ongoing air-quality monitoring project, with an emphasis on the difficulties of finding and calibrating appropriate sensors. At the end of the week, Luka Mustafa, who has helped design and build Safecast hardware including the Integrated bGeigie and upcoming Safecast devices, gave a very engaging presentation about the development of open-source hardware projects, including his KORUZA wireless free-space optical (FSO) internet-access system.

Luka Mustafa, aka “Musti,” demonstrates the hardware he’s built.


Musti sent some 3d printing files for Solarcast components to the SciFabLab ahead of time, as part of his demonstration of hardware development techniques.


Towards the end of Week Two, the teams demonstrated their new visualizations an analyses of Safecast data.

Week three focussed on the wider social context of citizen science, including social and political factors, transparency and openness, and communication. Highlights included Bob Marsh’s presentation of Calflora, a botanical citizen science project which has been running for 20 years; Elisabetta Tola of Google News Lab, gave a good lesson on online image literacy and source analysis, and a hands-on tutorial in using Google tools for quickly producing map-based visualizations; Kate Shaw of ICTP provided a thorough rundown of how Physics Without Frontiers and the Atlas project at CERN effectively utilize social media for communication; Nadja Zeleznik, of Nuclear Transparency Watch, discussed why transparency is needed and how it can best be achieved; and Gill Tudor gave a superb and amusing presentation on how to avoid media “car wrecks” when presenting information or being interviewed.

At the end of the week many participants made custom plates for their bGeigies. Mirjana Cujic from Serbia shows hers off.


SciFabLab director Carlo Fonda helps Marine Voskanyan (Armenia) laser-cut her custom Nano plates.

It may well be that we were blessed with an exceptional group of participants, but the result of the workshop exceeded our expectations. A great deal of the credit goes to the ICTP staff, particularly Marco Zennaro and Carlo Fonda, and Iain Darby of the IAEA, who clearly know how to host and motivate large culturally diverse groups. We found quite a few new interesting colleagues, and were introduced to many new resources. We look forward to staying in touch with them all, and supporting their citizen science activities around the world.

There was a lot of dancing at the closing party!


Joe awarded prizes!


Mirjana and Marine show off their new Safecast pins.

See more photos from the workshop here.

Follow along:  #smr2858    #citizenscience

About the Author

Azby Brown

Azby Brown is Safecast's lead researcher and primary author of the Safecast Report. A widely published authority in the fields of design, architecture, and the environment, he has lived in Japan for over 30 years, and founded the KIT Future Design Institute in 2003. He joined Safecast in mid-2011, and frequently represents the group at international expert conferences.