Rick Keil ~ Citizens' Scientist


Students and Citizens Working Together to Conduct Significant Research

Dr. Keil's expertise as a chemical oceanographer and his enthusiasm for Education and Outreach (E&O) has found a perfect symbiosis in SoundCitizen. SoundCitizen brings citizens and undergraduate students together in a community-based water sampling network to understand the transport of organic compounds (natural and pollutants) from the Seattle Metropolitan Area into Puget Sound.

Citizen science was not something Rick Keil dreamed that he would be involved in. But on a field trip with students on Puget Sound in 2006, a comment he made, about how it should be easy to find traces of holiday cooking spices in Puget Sound, ignited a fire under three of the students. "Whenever a student wants to jump on something like that you just have to say yes," says Rick.

SoundCitizen in the News
After working with a local sewage treatment facility and analyzing just a few samples, it became apparent that, yes, the lab could indeed show the appearance of holiday cooking spices in the waters around Puget Sound. Over the following summer they developed a sampling kit. Rick's COSEE colleagues saw the great potential for E&O and became a sponsor, and Ricks wife Elizabeth came up with a name - SoundCitizen.

Since November 2008, SoundCitizen has distributed more than 3,000 kits and has had over 2,000 samples collected. "The neat thing about the growth of SoundCitizen is that it was very organic," says Rick, "fueled by student interest and supported by many people who thought there was value there." COSEE OLC has remained a SoundCitizen sponsor.

"Focusing on familiar spices allows citizens to make a connection between their homes and Puget Sound," says Rick. "This often leads to a deeper conversation about connections that aren't as benign." Today samples are analyzed for a variety of organic chemicals found in homes, such as plasticizers (BPA, DBP, DEHP), endocrine disrupters and pharmaceuticals.

SoundCitizen continues to operate with undergraduate involvement. Dozens of kits are sent out each week, there are always undergraduates at work in the SoundCitizen lab, and multiple sponsors are involved. High school students also participate in every aspect of the SoundCitizen process through the SoundCitizen Science Apprenticeship program.

Book cover
New developments include a groundwater study measuring certain types of emerging pollutants. And a new team member will be facilitating work between SoundCitizen and COSEE OLC in an effort to help relate core science to the developing educational mission.

Book cover: SoundCitizen helped celebrate the 50th anniversary of the publication of One Fish Two Fish, Red Fish Blue Fish.

Tansy Clay
Tansy Clay, Ph.D., UW School of Oceanography
Gaining an appreciation for informal education