Research often involves teams of scientists collaborating across continents. Now, using the power of the Internet, non-specialists are participating, too. Citizen Science falls into many categories. A pioneering project was SETI@Home, which has harnessed the idle computing time of millions of participants in the search for extraterrestrial life. Citizen scientists also act as volunteer classifiers of heavenly objects, such as in Galaxy Zoo. They make observations of the natural world, as in The Great Sunflower Project. And they even solve puzzles to design proteins, such as FoldIt. We'll add projects regularly—and please tell us about others you like as well.
AgeGuess is an on-line game that lets you guess the ages of other players as well as post your own photos for others to analyze. By participating in AgeGuess, citizen scientists create a research data set for the study of human aging.
The success of AgeGuess depends on participation. The game’s organizers request that players spend time on the site guessing other people’s ages but also upload several pictures of themselves and their family members of varying ages. Players earn points based on their guesses and can compete against other citizen scientists.
Citizen scientists will learn about nanomedicine and explore how nanovehicles can cooperate with each other and their environment to kill tumors. Best strategies will be considered for validation in vitro or in robotico.
NanoDoc is a system where scientists can setup simulated tumor scenarios and players are then invited to design nanoparticles to attack the tumor. Various characteristics of the nanoparticles can be manipulated and strategies developed by utilizing players’ own intuition, the true source of crowdsourced research projects.
Before any gaming can commence though, the players are first led through a training session that introduces them to concepts in nanomedicine and how the NanoDoc is to be used. Players then participate in creating new nanoparticles and the most promising candidates will end up being validated in:
1) in vitro tissue-on-a-chip constructs that we have designed to emulate the extravasation of functionalized nanoparticles from artificial vessels into a compartment containing tumor cells and
2) robotic swarm systems (kilobots) in collaboration with Radhika Nagpal’s lab from the Wyss Institute at Harvard University.”
Plankton are a critically important food source and play an important role in the global carbon cycle. This cycle captures the sun’s energy and the atmosphere’s CO2 at the surface of the ocean and releases it to other organisms and other areas of the ocean.
Zooniverse’s Plankton Portal shows citizen scientists one of millions of plankton images taken by the In Situ Ichthyoplankton Imaging System (ISIIS), a unique underwater robot engineered at the University of Miami. ISIIS operates as an ocean scanner that casts the shadow of tiny and transparent oceanic creatures onto a very high-resolution digital sensor at very high frequency.
The dataset used for Plankton Portal comes a period of just three days in Fall 2010. In three days, researchers collected so much data that would take more than three years to analyze it themselves. That’s why they need help from citizen scientists. A computer will probably be able to tell the difference between major classes of organisms, such as a shrimp versus a jellyfish, but to distinguish different species within an order or family, that is still best done by the human eye.
Our current understanding of any word is simply based on its relationship with other words. Dictionaries have existed for centuries, but scientists still haven't worked out the exact meanings for most words. At VerbCorner, we are trying to work out what verbs mean. Rather than try to work out the definition of a word all at once, we have broken the problem into a series of tasks. Each task has a fanciful backstory but at its heart, each task is asking about a specific component of meaning that scientists suspect makes up one of the building blocks of verb meaning.
Ultimately, we hope to probe dozens of aspects of the meaning of thousands of verbs. This is a massive project, which is why we need help from citizen scientists. We will be sharing the results of this project freely with scientists and the public alike, and we expect it to make a valuable contribution to linguistics, psychology, and computer science.
Zooniverse’s Space Warps project calls on citizen scientists to help discover elusive objects in the universe by looking through images that have never before been seen. Computer algorithms have already scanned the images, but there are likely to be many more space warps that the algorithms have missed. Space Warps’ creators think that it's only with human help that all of them will be found.
Einstein's theory of gravity, General Relativity, predicted that massive objects, such as stars, would bend the space around them such that passing light rays follow curved paths. Evidence for this theory was first obtained by Arthur Eddington in 1919, when during a solar eclipse he observed that stars near the edge of the Sun appeared to be slightly out of position.
Observations of the distorted background galaxy can also provide useful information about the object that is behaving as a gravitational lens. The separation and distortion of the lensed images can tell astronomers how much mass there is in the object, and how it is arranged. It’s one of the few ways of mapping out where the dark matter in the universe is, how “clumpy” it is and how dense it is near the centers of galaxies. Knowing this can provide crucial information about how galaxies evolve.
Gravitational lenses help astronomers answer all kinds of questions, including how many very low mass stars–that aren’t bright enough to detect directly–are lurking in distant galaxies. Read more on the Space Warps blog.
Natural history museums across the world share a common goal—to make scientific data accessible to those who would use it. Zooniverse’s Notes from Nature project gives citizen scientists the opportunity to make a scientifically important contribution. Every transcription that is completed brings researchers closer to filling gaps in our knowledge of global biodiversity. Help museum staff and scientists by transcribing the labels and ledgers that have been meticulously recorded and stored for the very reason that they might be someday be useful.
People have been collecting specimens from the natural world for centuries—minerals, plants, fungi and animals. Today, there are an estimated two billion specimens housed in natural history museums around the world! These biological collections document where species and populations exist now and where they existed decades and centuries before, so they hold irreplaceable information necessary for uncovering the patterns of changes in species distributions and ecosystem composition over time. Scientists use such data and information in order to address key environmental issues we are facing right now, such as the impacts of climate change and how diseases affect wildlife and humans.
For the information held in these collections to be used to its full potential there must be better digital access to these data. Most natural history collections are housed in museum cabinets, where they are not easily available to citizens and researchers. Only a small fraction of all natural history specimens is available digitally over the Internet, while the vast majority remains locked away from view in an inflexible, limited format. The Notes from Nature transcription project is a citizen science platform built to address this problem by digitizing the world’s biological collections one record at a time!
University of Minnesota researchers set up hundreds of cameras to cover more than 2,500 square kilometers throughout Africa’s Serengeti ecosystem initially to study lions. Now the researchers are looking to expand their knowledge via the Snapshot Serengeti citizen science project to better understand how competing species coexist in a shared environment.
Researchers Ali Swanson and Margaret Kosmala, working with Craig Packer, professor of ecology, evolution and behavior, have developed a site to enlist volunteers to identify millions of “camera trap” photos taken to study animal behavior in the Serengeti.
Citizen scientists view sequences of two or three photos and identify all the different animals that appear in the photos.
The Genographic Project is a multiyear research initiative that uses cutting-edge genetic and computational technologies to analyze historical patterns in DNA from participants around the world to better understand our human genetic roots.
By participating in the latest phase of this real-time scientific project, you can learn more about yourself than you ever thought possible. You will also help support the Genographic Legacy Fund, which works to conserve and revitalize indigenous cultures around the world.
The three components of the project are:
The Genographic Project is anonymous, nonmedical, and nonprofit, and all results are placed in the public domain following scientific peer publication. For more details, visit: Genographic.nationalgeographic.com/about/
Over the past several months, members of Sebastian Seung’s lab at M.I.T. have been taking its EyeWire game through its paces. During this beta testing period, an average of 30 to 50 people played EyeWire each day, collectively mapping more than 160,000 individual cubes.
The project is now ready for wider use, and the researchers are asking citizen scientists to help them make the great scientific leaps necessary for us to understand the brain’s higher functions. The project will also test whether citizen science can impact neuroscience in the same way that it has impacted fields like astronomy and biology.
In the coming months, the researchers will release new game features, including interactive updates and dynamics that will enhance the EyeWire experience. The researchers encourage citizen scientists to subscribe to their blog and connect with them on Facebook to be the first to get the latest EyeWire news.
The researchers’ challenge is to map a J cell, a particular type of retinal neuron. While this task would take weeks for a professional neuroscientist, EyeWire’s goal is to map a J cell in just one week. Mapping the J cell and its connections will help the researchers understand how the retina functions in visual perception. If successful, this will be the first example of a “neural circuit” mapped by an online community.
No specialized knowledge of neuroscience is required; citizen scientists need only be curious, intelligent and observant. Their input will be used by engineers to improve the underlying computational technology, eventually making it powerful enough to detect "miswirings" of the brain that are hypothesized to underlie disorders like autism and schizophrenia.
uBiome has launched a citizen science effort to map the human microbiome, the microorganisms that inhabit every inch of our skin as well as our ears, mouth, sinuses, genitals and gut. The correct balance of microbes serves to keep potential pathogens in check and regulate the immune system. Microbes also perform essential functions such as digesting food and synthesizing vitamins.
The biotech startup from the University of California San Francisco branch of the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3) seeks to spark the era of personalized medicine by providing the public with easily accessible information about their own bodies using the latest in high-throughput DNA sequencing technology.
uBiome provides citizen scientists with a catalog of their own microbes; detailing the microbial composition of the body and explaining what is known about each genera of microbe. In addition, uBiome compares participants’ microbiomes with numerous past studies on the role of the microbiome in health, diet and lifestyle. uBiome also provides personal analysis tools and data viewers so that users can anonymously compare their own data with crowd data as well as with the latest scientific research. uBiome is HIPAA compliant and will not release personal identifying data or information to anyone.
The more people join the uBiome community, the more statistical power the project will have to investigate connections between the microbiome and human health. For example, with 500 people, uBiome will be able to answer questions about relatively common diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. With 2,500, the project can investigate connections to breast cancer. With 50,000 people, the project can begin to address multiple sclerosis and leukemia.
Halloween may be over for another year, but citizen scientists can still help their professional peers better understand these nocturnal creatures by listening to recordings and identifying different bat calls. The goal is to use citizen-science classifications to create software that researchers worldwide can use to extract information from bat recordings, making it really easy to track bat populations. This will make understanding how bat populations are being effected by global change much easier.
Bat Detective begins its journey in Europe and, over the course of the project will release data from more areas from around the world. In Europe, there are more than 40 species of bats, and all use echolocation to eat insects. Most species hibernate to escape the food shortage in insects during the winter. Others migrate to other parts of Europe during winter, but very little is known about which species do this. In the summer, most species split into separate female and male roosts (in buildings, tree cavities, under bridges, caves), where the males just chill out whilst the females busily gather insects to raise their baby. During the autumn the males and females come back together again to mate and then don’t emerge again until the next spring.
Many believe that monitoring the status of bat populations can help tell us about the health of a natural environment as a whole; the bats serve as an early warning, like a canary in a coal mine. This is because bat species are distributed all over the world, and provide lots of services to humans through controlling pests by eating vast quantities of insects and pollinating and dispersing commercially important crops (for example bananas, tequila).
Bat Detective is a partnership project between University College London, Zoological Society of London, The Bat Conservation Trust, BatLife Europe, University of Auckland, and the Citizen Science Alliance.
The Citizen Sort Web site is designed to help biologists and ecologists with scientific classification tasks and to help information scientists and human-computer interaction researchers evaluate the role of motivation in citizen science. Citizen Sort needs the help of citizen scientists to classify species and aid the exploration of how motivation, citizen science and gaming all interact.
In the biological science space--particularly entomology, botany and oceanography-- experts, enthusiasts and curious members of the general public routinely collect and upload photographs of different living things. A photograph of an insect, plant or animal, tagged with the date and location where it was taken, can provide valuable scientific data, e.g., on how urban sprawl impacts local ecosystems or evidence of local, regional or global climactic shifts. However, to be useful, it is necessary to know what the picture is of, expressed in scientific terms, i.e., the scientific name of the species depicted. Some participants have the necessary knowledge (e.g., avid birders can generally identify particular bird species), but many potential participants do not. To support the biological science goal of image classification, we have developed several games and tools that let ordinary members of the public undertake to classify various photos of living things.
In the information science space, games have great potential as a motivator for participation and as a tool for producing high quality scientific data, so Citizen Sort lets us explore how different kinds of games and tools might make citizen science more fun for participants. In addition, Citizen Sort lets us explore how different kinds of players, games, and tools might produce different qualities of data in the biological sciences.
Zooniverse invites the public to help identify objects they see in images of the seafloor through a new interactive Web site called "Seafloor Explorer," the result of a collaboration between oceanographers studying seafloor habitats, Web programmers and social scientists.
Citizen scientists will indicate whether they see fish, scallops and other organisms in each image, provide basic measurements and describe whether the seafloor is sand or gravel, and whether they see boulders and other interesting objects in the frame.
The project's organizers have more than 40 million images, but have launched the site with a preliminary set of 100,000—all of them taken by HabCam, a habitat mapping underwater vehicle. HabCam was developed and built by the HabCam group, which comprises marine biologists and engineers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) as well as fishermen and other scientists. The Seafloor Explorer interactive Web site was funded by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and built in collaboration with the HabCam Group by the Citizen Science Alliance (CSA), the developers behind interactive sites found on Zooniverse.org.
CycloneCenter.org is a Web-based interface that enables the public to help analyze the intensities of past tropical cyclones around the globe. The global intensity record contains uncertainties caused by differences in analysis procedures around the world and through time.
Patterns in storm imagery are best recognized by the human eye, so scientists are enlisting the public. Interested volunteers will be shown one of nearly 300,000 satellite images. They will answer questions about that image as part of a simplified technique for estimating the maximum surface wind speed of tropical cyclones.
This public collaboration will perform more than a million classifications in just a few months—something it would take a team of scientists more than a decade to accomplish. The end product will be a new global tropical cyclone dataset that provides 3-hourly tropical cyclone intensity estimates, confidence intervals, and a wealth of other metadata that could not be realistically obtained in any other fashion.
The Quake-Catcher Network (QCN) has renewed its call for citizen scientists to help its researchers capture key seismic data to improve scientific understanding of earthquakes, provide detailed information on how they shape Southern California and aid earthquake emergency response efforts.
Quake-Catcher Network is a collaborative project sponsored by the National Science Foundation in which earthquake scientists around Southern California enlist volunteers to deploy small, easy-to-install seismic sensors in their homes, offices and other locations that have a computer with Internet connectivity. The project is conducted by scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at U.C. San Diego, California Institute of Technology, Stanford University, U.C. Berkeley, University of Delaware and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
For more than a century researchers have been unearthing known and unknown literary texts as well as the private documents and letters that could improve their understanding of the ancient lives of Graeco-Roman Egypt. Yet many of these papyri have remained unstudied due to a lack of resources. These writings have been digitized, but there is such a large number of images to examine that the researchers are inviting volunteers to help catalogue and transcribe the text via the Web.
Zooniverse has set up the Ancient Lives project to help Oxford papyrologists and researchers, the Imaging Papyri Project, the Oxyrhynchus Papyri Project, the Egypt Exploration Society and other institutions with this work. For more details, visit the Ancient Lives site.
The North American Bird Phenology Program (BPP), part of the USA-National Phenology Network, was a network of volunteer observers who recorded information on first arrival dates, maximum abundance and departure dates of migratory birds across North America. (Phenology is the study of the timing of natural events.) Active between 1880 and 1970, the BPP was coordinated by the federal government and sponsored by the American Ornithologists' Union. It exists now as a historic collection of six million migration card observations, illuminating almost a century of migration patterns and population status of birds.
Today these records are being scanned and placed on the Internet so the information can be curated and made publicly available. Become one of the many volunteers worldwide who transcribe these records on the BPP Web site and add them into a database for analysis. This will allow the migration records to become accessible to the public and to scientists for analysis.
The University of Virginia (UVA) Bay Game is a large-scale participatory simulation based on the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The game allows players to take the roles of stakeholders, such as farmers, developer, watermen, and local policymakers, make decisions about their livelihoods or regulatory authority; and see the impacts of their decisions on their own personal finances, the regional economy, and watershed health. It is an adaptable educational and learning tool for raising awareness about watershed stewardship anywhere in the world; a tool for exploring and testing policy choices; and a tool for evaluating new products and services.
The UVA Bay Game provides players with a new sense of individual and collective agency, and game play records suggest new directions for research in behavior change and policy development. The UVA Bay Game also has a global reach, through development of simulations for other watersheds, such as the Murray-Darling Basin in Australia.
The Old Weather Citizen Science project continues to collect historical air pressure, wind speed, temperature and other atmospheric information from ships' logs in an attempt to better understand historical weather patterns worldwide. Now the Naval-History.net project wants to take advantage of this information gathered by citizen scientists to study the history of each ship, as told in their logs.
Naval-History.net archivist Gordon Smith is leading the process of converting the events records the Old Weather project has collected into ship histories. These ship histories include all the transcribed events day-by-day, and allow everybody to follow the actions of the ships as described in each log's "terse but fascinating style." To date information about the Acacia, Cochrane, Eskimo, Goliath, M.25, Saxon, Warrego and another 50-odd ships have been converted into histories available on the Naval-History Web site.
Inside the retina, tucked away at the back of the eye, lies an incredibly dense tangle of interconnected neurons. If researchers can map the many connections between these cells, they will be closer to understanding how vision works. To achieve this, they need something more intelligent than even the most powerful supercomputer—citizen scientists.
By playing Eyewire, a game of coloring brain images, citizen scientists can help map the connections of a neural network. No specialized knowledge of neuroscience is required; citizen scientists need only be curious, intelligent and observant. Their input will help scientists understand how the retina functions. It will also be used by engineers to improve the underlying computational technology, eventually making it powerful enough to detect "miswirings" of the brain that are hypothesized to underlie disorders like autism and schizophrenia.
Though it may appear to be just a game, Phylo is actually a framework for harnessing computing power to solve the problem of multiple sequence alignments. Citizen scientists play the game by arranging nucleotides. The goal of the game is to maximize the matches and minimize the mismatches between the DNA sequences on the digital game board.
A sequence alignment is a way of arranging the sequences of DNA, RNA or protein to identify regions of similarity. These similarities may be consequences of functional, structural or evolutionary relationships between the sequences. From such an alignment, biologists may infer shared evolutionary origins, identify functionally important sites, and illustrate mutation events. More importantly, biologists can trace the source of certain genetic diseases.
Traditionally, multiple sequence alignment algorithms use computationally complex heuristics—trial-and-error efforts—to align the sequences. This approach requires a lot of computing power given the sheer size of the genome, which consists of roughly three billion base pairs. Humans are good at recognizing patterns and solving visual problems efficiently, so adding citizen scientists to the equation is expected to optimize alignments in ways that the computer algorithm can't.
Citizen scientists can help study whale communications and pass along their observations through the Whale Song Project (aka Whale FM), a whale-song identification project that Scientific American launched in partnership with the Citizen Science Alliance (CSA). The Whale Song Project, available as part of the CSA’s suite of Zooniverse citizen-science projects, is designed specifically to assist in killer (Orca) and pilot whale research being conducted by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts and the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) at the University of St Andrews in Scotland.
Through the Whale Song Project, citizen scientists are presented with a whale call and shown where it was recorded on a map of the world’s oceans and seas. After listening to the whale call—represented on screen as a spectrogram showing how the pitch of the sound changes with time—citizen scientists are asked to listen to a number of potential matching calls from the project’s database. If a match is found, the citizen scientist clicks on that sound’s spectrogram and the results are stored.
The dataset generated by this project should help scientists to answer a number of questions regarding whale communication. For example, researchers want to know the size of the pilot whales’ call repertoire and whether repertoire size is a sign of intelligence. In addition, researchers seek to understand whether the two different types of pilot whales—long fin and short fin—have different call repertoires, and, if so, whether this signifies a distinct dialect.
There is no reliable cure or vaccine for the prevention and treatment of all forms of malaria—particularly the drug-resistant strains caused by Plasmodium falciparum, which kills more people than any other parasite and is of particular interest to the researchers.
Scripps Research and IBM are encouraging anyone in the world with a personal computer to join World Community Grid, which will crunch numbers and perform simulations for GO Fight against Malaria. World Community Grid, an initiative of the IBM International Foundation, is fed by spare computing power from the nearly two million PCs that have been volunteered so far by 575,000 people in more than 80 countries. It gives each PC small computing assignments to perform when the devices aren't otherwise being used by its owners, then sends the results to scientists seeking a faster way to cure disease, find renewable energy materials, create clean water techniques, or develop healthier food staples.
By tapping into World Community Grid Scripps Research scientists hope to compress 100 years of computations normally necessary for the effort into just one year. The scientists will use this resource to more quickly evaluate millions of compounds that may advance the development of drugs to cure mutant, drug-resistant strains of malaria. Data from the experiments will then be made available to the public.
Old Weather—part of the Zooniverse network of citizen science projects—seeks to gather and study information from ship's logs as a means of better understanding historical weather patterns worldwide. The goal isn't to prove or disprove global warming but rather to gather information about historical weather variability in an effort to improve the ability to predict weather and climate in the future.
Over the past several centuries, ships have traveled around the world on voyages of exploration and trade, often recording accurate weather observations along the way. (In fact, it was an offense to falsify a log.) Of course, until recently ships' logs were hand written and kept in disparate locations. Logbooks are difficult for a computer to analyze accurately, so the Old Weather project relies on citizen scientists to analyze scanned log pages and input the data appearing on each page.
For example, one of the major areas of interest to Old Weather are log books from the English East India company in the period from the 1780s to the 1830s. About half of the logbooks that exist in the British library for those ships that trade between the UK and India or China have instrumental measurements Old Weather's organizers would like to record.
Old Weather citizen scientists visit the project's home page, log in (see below), choose a ship and get started. Participants are assigned rank based upon the amount of data they input, all the way up to Captain. (It takes 30 weather reports more for promotion to Lieutenant, to give you some idea of how it works.)
Old Weather's organizers cross-check the data that is entered to catch as many errors or inconsistencies as possible.
Since 1995, more than 500 planets have been discovered to be orbiting stars outside our solar system. These exoplanets—terrestrial and larger planets orbiting other stars—are detected with help from NASA's Kepler spacecraft, which launched in March 2009 with the goal of using the transit technique to detect exoplanets. With this method, planets that pass in front of their host stars block out some of the starlight causing the star to dim slightly for a few hours. The Kepler spacecraft stares at a field of stars in the Cygnus constellation and records the brightness of those stars every thirty minutes to search for transiting planets.
The time series of brightness measurements for a star is called a light curve. The Kepler spacecraft beams data for more than 150,000 stars to Earth at regular intervals. With every download of data, the time baseline of the light curves is extended. The Kepler team's computers are sifting through the data, but the Planet Hunters project is betting that there will be planets that can only be found via the human ability for pattern recognition.
NASA is releasing light curves into the public archive to encourage broader participation, which is where you come in. Planet Hunters is an online experiment that taps into the power of human pattern recognition. Participants are partners with Zooniverse's science team, who will analyze group assessments, obtain follow up observations at the telescope to understand the new classification schemes for different families of light curves, identify oddities, and verify transit signals. The main interface plots Kepler's data on a chart and asks the citizen scientist questions about what they see, such as patterns or dips in light.
Inside your cells, proteins allow your body to break down food to power your muscles, send signals through your brain that control the body, and transport nutrients through your blood. Every protein consists of a long chain of joined-together amino acids, which are small molecules made up of atoms of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur and hydrogen. Small proteins can consist of 100 amino acids, whereas some human proteins are much larger, with thousands of amino acids.
Each type of protein folds up into a very specific shape, which specifies the protein's function. The Foldit exploration puzzle game attempts to predict the structure of a protein by taking advantage of our puzzle-solving intuitions and having people play competitively to fold the best proteins. Players can also design brand new proteins that could help prevent or treat important diseases.
Another objective of the project is to find new proteins that can help in turning plants into fuel. For this to happen plant material must be broken down (this is currently done by microbial enzymes—proteins—called "cellulases").
This game is a product of a collaboration between University of Washington Departments of Computer Science & Engineering and Biochemistry.
The Quake-Catcher Network (QCN) is a collaborative initiative for developing the world's largest, low-cost strong-motion seismic network by utilizing sensors in and attached to Internet-connected computers. Volunteers can help the Quake-Catcher Network provide better understanding of earthquakes, give early warning to schools, emergency response systems and others. The Quake-Catcher Network also provides educational software designed to help teach about earthquakes and earthquake hazards.
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Conventional washing machines cause excessive damage and wrinkling to clothes primarily during the water removal step. With the introduc
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