There has never been a better time to be a curious person. Science has pushed our collective understanding further than we thought possible, but even as science races ahead, there's a persistent hindrance to our progress: access. For too many, taking part in the scientific process is seen as a distant and daunting endeavor.
Even the term "exploration" can seem dusty, dated, and decidedly inaccessible. If asked to name a contemporary explorer, most people would be stumped. Few are aware that 95 percent of the ocean is unexplored, that thousands of rivers remain unknown to science, and that research is uncovering new species constantly. There is still much humans don’t know.
It doesn't have to be that way. What the internet did for movies, music, and journalism—breaking down old institutional barriers—it has the potential to do for science, bring more people from diverse backgrounds into the fold.
It's time to reclaim the word “exploration” and redefine it to encompass the incredible work of present-day researchers, students, and citizen scientists. It should include those who are advancing our knowledge of our planet, finding solutions to our biggest challenges, and tearing down the walls between questions and answers.
There's a hard line around good science—peer reviewed, hypothesis-driven, well-documented. Exploration can serve as a wider rallying cry—celebrating curiosity in all its forms and building a wider on-ramp. The goal is not to lower the bar of scientific contribution, but to lower the barriers. Advances in remote sensing, the ubiquity of collaborative platforms, and the increasing accessibility of scientific tools are opening up the world to a new age of exploration. This era will be defined by the diversity of its contributors, the democratization of science, and the empowerment of everyday people.
When you give people the tools to ask questions, they will surprise you with what they ask and what they discover. Technology is already enabling expeditions mapping the most remote rivers of Angola, filming elusive pregnant North Pacific humpback whales, and documenting the changes in ice shelves in the Arctic. More importantly, it's enabling us to quickly share what we've discovered and collaborate with people around the world.
The firm belief that we're on the cusp of the next great era for participatory science inspired us to build a platform that will allow for collaboration, fundraising, and storytelling. It’s called Open Explorer, and it’s a digital field journal designed to empower everyone to see exploration as something within reach. It enables explorers to start their own projects and tell the stories of their expeditions and fieldwork, while simultaneously allowing anyone to follow along in real time.
Open Explorer is for the curious, the makers, and the doers. It's for scientists, researchers, adventurers, and students alike. We hope you'll join us!
National Geographic Society Fellow David Lang aims to connect the global exploration community with new tools and resources to further their work. Madeleine Foote is the manager of Open Explorer at National Geographic.