Research for and with society: virus surveillance in collaboration with school students

A study team led by Andreas Bergthaler from MedUni Vienna has been awarded research funding as part of the FWF’s Top Citizen Science program for the project "Virus surveillance in collaboration with school students". Citizen science is about actively involving society in research projects.

This citizen science project is taking place in a particularly exciting place: school. A school has everything that viruses need to spread well, especially lots of people in a small space. During the project, which will last several months, researchers will work together with pupils to set up a transdisciplinary research project to get to the bottom of the transmission and spread of viruses via the air. The scientists bring medical, epidemiological and sociological research expertise and experience, while the pupils bring curiosity and an open mind. "As our cooperation partners, the students are very closely involved in the whole process," says Andreas Bergthaler, virologist at MedUni Vienna, who is leading the project. "This means that we develop the research design together, design the experiments, set up the air filters, collect and analyze the samples together, etc. In the end, the students are also co-authors of the publication." As the project is transdisciplinary, social science methods will also be used to investigate the social conditions that are epidemiologically relevant. And the project is exceptional in another respect: it makes itself the subject of research. The results are also incorporated into the students’ pre-scientific work. Whether all’of the young participants later embark on a scientific career is of secondary importance: "Ultimately, projects like this are about communicating with the next generation," says Bergthaler. "Regardless of the topic, we want to convey how science works and how to deal with complex issues. I am convinced that this is of general importance for society, not just to get young scientists interested in research."

About Top Citizen Science

Top Citizen Science promotes research activities that enable the participation of citizens and contribute to a substantial, additional gain in scientific knowledge. The scientific quality of Top Citizen Science projects is ensured by an associated FWF research project ("basic project"), which has not yet been completed by the time of the funding decision (October of the submission year). A Top Citizen Science project can last a maximum of 24 months and receive a maximum of 100,000 euros in funding. The decision on funding as a Top Citizen Science project is made by the FWF Board on the basis of an international review.

This year, the Austrian Science Fund FWF is funding a total of six Top Citizen Science projects. The funding volume amounts to almost 300,000 euros; natural sciences, social sciences and humanities disciplines are represented, from medicine to nursing sciences, sociology, computer science, geosciences and history or archaeology. In terms of the number of projects and funding volume, this year’s funding round is the largest since the program was established in 2015.

The current six projects will run for two years. Submissions for the next funding round of the Top Citizen Science program are possible until 8 April 2024.