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.

Project Details

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

    The 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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