April E-News: The Born Identity – Celebrate National Sibling Day with FUN Science!

While we have spent a lifetime with our siblings, getting to know every quirk, trait and annoying habit that they have, we often don’t stop to think of the real impact that our sisters and brothers have on who we are and how we act. Love them or hate them, your sisters and brothers are by far the most influential people in your life — more so than your parents, your husband, your own children. From the time we’re born, they’re our collaborators and co-conspirators, our role models and our cautionary tales. Compared to other significant relationships in our lives – our own children arrive comparatively late in our lives; our parents leave us too early.

Whether it’s the order you were born in or all that good-natured (or bad-natured as the case may be) ribbing to which you subjected each other, our siblings can have an intense and long lasting effect on our lives, influencing everything from our health to how we interact with others. National Siblings Day is April 10th & what better way to celebrate than with some sibling science!  Here are our top 5 facts that show just how special the relationship between siblings is! 

1. Children spend more time with their siblings than with friends, parents, teachers or even alone.

While siblings may not always get along, they do choose to pass a great deal of their free time with one another — more than anyone else in their life, in fact. By the time children reach age 11, they’re spending about 33% of their free time with siblings. Even as they grow older and get busy with their own lives, a Penn State University study found that they still spend about 11 hours a week with one another. In big families, these numbers can be even higher, with kids passing 17 hours with one another.

2. Firstborns are generally smarter than the younger siblings, having on average, a three-point IQ advantage over the second sibling.

As unfair as it may be, siblings who are born first tend to have a substantial academic advantage. They outperform their younger siblings by the equivalent of having had an extra year of schooling and are more likely to score higher on an IQ test. There are several theories on why this is the case, the strongest being that older siblings spend time teaching their younger siblings, thereby reinforcing their own understanding of concepts and ideas. Oddly enough, other studies have shown that younger siblings are generally born with a higher IQ, but this disparity reverses by the time children reach age 12.

3. Younger siblings tend to be more extroverted than older siblings in large families.

Some believe that this is because they are so used to dealing with a large number of siblings, they are forced to speak up to get attention. It can also occur in smaller families for similar reasons. This extraversion can have long lasting effects, with surveys of siblings showing that younger siblings often have an easier time being funny and having lighthearted interactions with others. Younger siblings in the study were also found to be more creative, unconventional and rebellious than their older siblings, who were often much more serious.

All those fights with siblings may just change who you are as a person. Skills children learn in conflict resolution with siblings can carry over into other areas of life, making us better or worse at forming romantic relationships, working with others, having lasting friendships or even career success. Here are a few of our favorite findings when it comes to the role our siblings have in our own personality development:

  • Your odds of one day becoming President shoot up if you’re the oldest. More than half of American presidents have been firstborns. Experts say that older children often help their parents look after younger siblings. So, they develop strong “Presidential” skills at an early age, like managing people and communicating.
  • Middle children are the Peacemakers among siblings & probably a little secretive.   Researchers say that middle kids feel like they don’t get as much attention as their siblings. So, they tend to keep their feelings to themselves. The advantage middle kids have is this: They have to learn to get along with both older and younger siblings, which forces middle kids to learn good communication skills and creative ways of solving problems. It also helps them develop a heightened sense of right and wrong. So, it’s no surprise that Abraham Lincoln and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were both middle children.
  • Are you the youngest? Consider a career in Hollywood! A study found that younger children are usually drawn to showbiz careers because they’ve been in the spotlight their whole life – basking in the adulation of their parents! Famous youngest children comedians include Jim Carrey, Goldie Hawn and Steven Colbert – who is the youngest of 11 kids!
  • Only children are usually more mature! Growing up without other kids – the only child gets used to, and comfortable with, speaking with adults at an early age.

5. The number of siblings you have and your birth order can influence your health.

Younger siblings are less likely to develop allergies and eczema than their older siblings, perhaps because by the time they arrive their home is already awash with germs brought in by other siblings helping to build a stronger, better immune system. Of course, all that health early on might not matter, as older siblings are much more likely to live past the age of 100. Researchers think it has more to do with the age of the mother when she gives birth than anything else, with the idea that younger eggs and wombs means healthier babies.


April E-News: Rise of the Citizen Scientists: Science Needs YOU!

They’re scouring the sea floors, charting the cosmos, tackling genome research and more!

A 14-year-old boy in Donetsk, Ukraine, made a fascinating discovery halfway around the world and nearly 3,000 feet under the sea. Kirill Dudko was watching Neptune Canada’s live-stream footage of the ocean floor near Vancouver Island on his computer when he saw a creature with a “nose and mustache” eat a hagfish. It seemed unusual so he contacted Neptune scientists who checked the footage and identified an elephant seal. 

It was unusual. Predators normally spit out the eel-like hagfish or avoid them altogether because they excrete foul slime when threatened. Scientists had never before seen an elephant seal eat one and may not have noticed this evidence had it not been for Kirill. They believe the seal quickly slurped up the hagfish before it could release its slime.

Kirill doesn’t have a laboratory, or a degree — but nonetheless, he is a scientist. He’s part of a growing movement of citizens taking an active interest in science, and often doing it themselves. Given the right tools, one science maker starts making a difference, and soon, he may be joined by others: his fellow citizen scientists.  

The Changing Face of Science

citizen scientist is an individual who, more often than not, voluntarily contributes his or her time, effort, and/or resources to formal or informal scientific research without necessarily having a formal science background.

It’s a growing movement that brings together professional scientists and regular people from around the globe. Together, they use their eyes, ears, smartphones and the Internet expand scientific knowledge and give us all a better understanding of the world we live in. Birdwatchers, hockey players, gamers, astronomy lovers, and health enthusiasts all have the ability and knowledge to contribute to the scientific community.

Like many “citizen scientists,” Kirill played an important role in advancing our understanding of the world. It takes a lot of study and training to become a scientist, but with some knowledge of scientific method, anyone can practice science. 

It used to be that a citizen scientist referred to a bird watcher or an amateur astronomer, but today, citizen scientists come from all walks of life. This includes current and former NFL and NBA cheerleaders who are tuning non-traditional audiences into citizen scientists; online gamers who lend their skills to specially designed programs to analyze folding protein structures; and students who want a more hands-on experience outside the classroom. Retirees, community organizations, and even prison inmates are getting in on the action.

Enlisting ordinary citizens aren’t new to science. As early as the 1700s European bird surveys included reports from backyard birders. Amateur astronomers, weather-watchers, and other hobbyists have also made contributions. What’s different today is the Internet, which has helped recruit hundreds of thousands of volunteers over the past decade.

Citizen science has exploded in the last few years thanks to smartphones that, with the right apps, become powerful scientific instruments. And, thanks to the Internet, citizen scientists and their data have connected to the scientists who collect, analyze and share the results — in scholarly journals and online.

Opportunities Abound

The opportunities to participate in citizen science are no longer limited by access to tools. Mobile technology makes it possible to help the USGS measure and record earthquake tremors, join NASA’s effort in counting passing meteors, or even help monitor noise and light pollution in our communities. Citizen scientists can help solve the mystery of ZomBees, help astronomers classify galaxies, and discover moon craters

Projects like SciSpy and iNaturalist provide a mobile app with which participants can share photos and observations of wildlife in their backyards, cities, and towns. The idea behind these diverse projects is that anyone, anywhere can participate in meaningful scientific research. For some projects, volunteers literally don’t have to go further than their own backyards to contribute!

On its website, Scientific American describes a range of citizen science projects designed to do everything from tracking animals in Africa’s Serengeti to analyzing historical patterns in human DNA to studying the ways people play with their dogs.

Beyond providing valuable research, citizen science is a fun way for people to engage with nature and learn about the world and their place in it. Some citizen scientists get involved simply for fun. Others have a general interest in science or a particular research area. Kirill Dudko plans to become a marine biologist. Regardless of their reasons or level of involvement, all citizen scientists help us gain a better understanding of the world and our place in it.

Studying the Stars

One of our favorite examples of citizen science is Galaxy Zoo. Users need only an internet connection & a mouse to participate in citizen-friendly astronomy research. Hanny Van Arkel never studied astronomy in school. But in 2007, the 25-year old teacher from the Netherlands spotted an astronomical object that had never been seen before. Driven by her natural curiosity, Hanny sent an email to the astronomers asking what it was. Their response was simply “We don’t know either.”

Now, the object known as Hanny’s Voorwerp is the subject of much research. Since her discovery, the natural-born astronomer has gotten more involved with science. Now she teaches others about the wonders of space – going into local schools & telling people of her groundbreaking discovery. Hanny credits her inexperience for helping her find something others might have missed. “I wasn’t the first person who saw the picture, but I was the first person to ask the question, ‘What is this?’ And there are other pictures out there — you could still discover something.”

Since the Galaxy Zoo website launched in 2007, discoveries have been made by people looking at images freshly captured by satellites. Volunteers judge these images based on the shape the galaxies form. In the first year alone, 50 million classifications were made by a group of users 150,000 strong.

Bridging The Gap

Citizen science is working to bridge the gaps by harnessing the power of people who are motivated by a desire to advance research, a connection with nature, and a goal to improve human health and communities.


From chemistry to biology to data science to astronomy to archiving sheet music, citizen science brings together a range of disciplines with a spectrum of projects that’s diverse and abundant. And the best part is that you don’t need a degree or any scientific background at all. It’s not expensive. You might just need a plastic bag or a pair of binoculars.

Depending on your interest, you can do anything from taking a video of someone playing with your dog,  collecting antsrecording severe weather in your own back yard, to swabbing for microbes in your home,  school or sports stadium. You can even keep track of when your neighborhood outdoor hockey rink freezes and thaws or look for Camel Crickets  in your basement.

This is just a drop in the bucket of cool projects that let the average Joe take part in important science. For more projects you can help out with, some app-based, some not, check out the resources on Cornell’s Citizen Science CentralSciStarter and Scientific American.

Who knows? You might discover a new ant species, learn something new, or even participate in a study that helps make the world a better place. Are you involved in a citizen science project? Tell us all about it.