Taking part in research from seafloors to galaxies — Citizen science initiatives Taking part in research from seafloors to galaxies — Citizen science initiatives – SOMETHING ABOUT SCIENCE

Taking part in research from seafloors to galaxies — Citizen science initiatives


Photo credit: NASA on Wikimedia Commons

Photo credit: NASA on Wikimedia Commons

Do you like gazing at images of galaxies? Do you like to transcribe ancient texts? Do you like to listen to whales or spot seafloor critters?

If you answered yes to any of the above, you may be on your way to making a big contribution to research projects as a “citizen scientist.”

With today’s advancement in the technology, scientists are able to obtain huge amount of data in a short period of time. For example, an underwater mapping system can take 3 million images of seafloor per day. This volume of data leaves the scientists with a dilemma; if researchers were to go through the image one by one on their own, it would take years to analyze the data. This is where citizen scientists come into play. Citizen science initiatives are crowdsourcing projects, in which the public takes part in various research projects through helping scientists deal with the flood of data.

Here, I will introduce very successful citizen science initiatives developed by the Citizen Science Alliance, called Zooniverse. Since the launch of its first project Galaxy Zoo in 2007, the projects have been growing, with over 675,000 participants worldwide. Currently, nine projects are available that cover large areas of studies, from seafloors to the galaxies.

Image analysis in the Galaxy Zoo asks participants to classify galaxies.

Galaxy Zoo project asks the participants to classify images of galaxies in hope of answering questions, such as “How do galaxies form?” Apparently, as participants go through images, they sometimes come across galaxies that take interesting shapes. Galaxies that are shaped like letters have been compiled in Galaxy Writer, where you can write a message, which then gets converted into real galaxies, or “galaxified.” I could not resist trying it out. Can you guess what I wrote with galaxy letters?

The newest addition to the Zooniverse projects is the Seafloor Explorer. This project asks participants to help researchers analyze 500 million pictures taken by an underwater vehicle, HABitat mapping CAMera System (HabCam). The project aims to create a library of seafloor life and hopes to collect information such as interactions between the habitants. Analysis involves describing the ground cover (sand, shell, gravel, cobble, or boulder) and identifying living creatures in the images (scallops, fish, seastars, and crustaceans). The participants are also currently on the look out for a possible new species, nicknamed “convict worm” (for the worm’s black-and-white stripes).

An example of an interactive image analysis in the Seafloor Explorer.

A “convict worm” could be a new species. (from the Seafloor Explorer)

What I like about the Zooniverse projects is that after every image analysis, you have the option of discussing the image with the rest of the participants. You can also check on the status of the project and see your contribution. Citizen science initiatives are a brilliant way to engage the public in research projects, while helping to advance the progress much faster than scientists working alone.

Thank you for reading the post.


Galaxy Zoo
Seafloor Explorer

Lynn Kimlicka

I am a scientist-turned writer and editor, who loves to read and write (more than doing experiments). I have a PhD in biochemistry and molecular biology, with a specialization in structural biology. My interests range widely, from life sciences to pop culture and arts to music. I am bilingual in English and Japanese.

3 Responses

  1. geo williams says:

    Nice piece… we must be clones! 🙂

    • Lynn K. says:

      I enjoyed reading your piece, too! I look forward to a new galaxy or seafloor species named after you 🙂
      I have been posting random science-related things that I found interesting (and hopefully interesting to the readers!). Please visit again 😉

  1. September 28, 2012

    […] Taking part in research from seafloors to galaxies – Citizen science initiatives (somethingaboutscience.wordpress.com) […]

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