Find answers to frequently asked questions here. If you have any questions or inquiries about Soil Science Lab, becoming a participating citizen scientist, collecting and analyzing soil samples, using our community database, or data usage, please contact us at [email protected].

What is soil science?

Soil science is the study of the chemical, physical, and biological processes occuring in soil. Soil scientists track the development of soils over time to better understand the environments that led to their creation.

What are nematodes?

Nematodes are non-segmented worms, ranging from 0.3 mm to 8 meters long, which are abundant in soils all over the world. Also known as roundworms, nematodes feed on plants, bacteria, fungi, animals and other nematodes. They play an important role in the health of the soil and the organisms within it.

How big are nematodes? Can you see them with the naked eye?

Nematodes can be anywhere from 0.3 mm to 8 meters long. Most nematodes are microscopic, and can only be viewed under a microscope. Some beneficial nematodes used for composting can grow to a 1/4 of an inch long.

Are nematodes dangerous?

It depends! Nematodes can be parasitic to humans, animals and plants. Most parasitic nematodes are introduced through drinking or eating contaminated food and water, or being bitten by an infected insect. However, it is good practice to wear shoes and gloves while collecting your sample, and to always wash your hands! Also, try not to eat the dirt :)

What is the purpose of nematodes?

Nematodes help to cycle nutrients through the soil and regulate the populations of their predators and prey within the soil environment. To learn more, check out our Science page.

How have nematodes been used for research in the past?

Nematodes are often used to understand the quality of the soil environment. Many researchers have studied treatments for nematodes that infect humans and crops, which have negative health and economic consequences. The hunting strategies of nematodes has also been studied in zero-g environments on the International Space Station.

How do I sign up to be a participating citizen scientist?

Please complete our New Participant Sign Up Form on the Contribute page to become a participating citizen scientist. You will recieve a Participant ID via the email you provided in the form, which will be used within our database to protect your personal information.

Where can I find materials for collecting soil and isolating nematodes?

Please refer to our Bill of Materials table below to source the materials required for this project. The majority of these supplies can be found within your own home or at your local dollar store, but we have provided links to vendors such as Amazon and Walmart for your convinience. Note that there are alternatives to some of these materials that you may be able to find more easily in your home (for example, if you don't have a funnel, you can use an empty water bottle instead!). Our goal at Soil Science Lab is to make science as accessible to students and educators as possible! If the materials required for this project are not accessible to you, please reach out to us at [email protected] or note this in the New Participant Sign Up form. We have kits available and ready to ship for those in need. If you require any materials to perform the soil collection and nematode isolation projects (such as microscopes, petri dishes, beakers, or safety equipment) please tell us which materials you need, in what quantity, and why. Soil Science Lab has partnered with Foldscope to make kits available and ready to ship for those in need. Please understand that while we will provide these kits free of charge, we are not able to cover the cost of shipping. Preference will be given to teachers at schools that are composed of at least 25% low-income students, or 25% of students that identify as an underrepresented race or ethnicity in STEM. This includes Native American or Alaska Native, Black or African American, Hispanic or Latinx, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander (Melanesian, Micronesian, or Polynesian). Please understand that while we will provide these kits free of charge, we are not able to cover the cost of shipping.

Component Vendor/Link Quantity Unit Cost Total Cost ($) Notes
Scale Amazon 1 8.89 8.89
Distilled Water (dH2O) Walmart 1 gal 0.76 0.76 Also sold at groceries or auto shops
pH Strip Amazon 1 pack 3.98 3.98 We have instructions for a DIY pH test alternative
Gelatin Amazon
Salt (NaCl)
Mason Jars or Beakers
Petri Dish
Paper towels or Coffee Filters
Paper clips or Binder clips
Eye Safety
Baking Soda (Optional) For DIY pH test, if pH strips are inaccessible
Vinegar (Optional) For DIY pH test, if pH strips are inaccessible

How can this project be used in the classroom

The Soil Science Lab project is an ideal, low-cost experiment to teach the basics of biology, ecology and basic experimental design and research techniques. Students can work independently or in teams to collect samples, isolate nematodes, and observe them under a microscope. We encourage all students to keep a detailed log of their findings to share with our wider community over at Microcosmos, a sharing platform designed by our parters at Foldscope.

Upon completing the New Participant Sign Up form you will be emailed a unique link to the community database which will take you directly to form. Complete the form for each soil sample you collect and click submit. Your observations will be logged in our community database. You can submit the form as many times as neccessary, however, if you realize you've made a mistake after submitting, please contact us at [email protected] so that we can flag your submission. At the end of every month we will release the data collected by all of our citizen scientists to this website as a downloadable zip file.