Update: EyeWire

Update: EyeWire

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.

Project Details

  • PRINCIPAL SCIENTIST: Sebastian Seung, professor of computational neuroscience
  • SCIENTIST AFFILIATION: The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.)
  • DATES: Ongoing
  • PROJECT TYPE: Data Processing
  • COST: Free
  • GRADE LEVEL: All Ages

    Eyewire site features quite a bit of information about neurons and the retina. After brushing up on the basics, sign up and play the game.

See more projects in FreeData ProcessingAll Ages.

What Is Citizen Science?

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.

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