AAAS Symposium in Feb. 2015: Cutting-Edge Research with 1 Million Citizen Scientists

Some colleagues and I successfully proposed for a symposium session on citizen science at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in San Jose, CA in February 2015. (The AAAS is the world’s largest scientific society and is the publisher of the Science journal.) Our session will be titled “Citizen Science from the Zooniverse: Cutting-Edge Research with 1 Million Scientists.” It refers to the more than one million volunteers participating in a variety of citizen science projects. This milestone was reached in February, and the Guardian and other news outlets reported on it.


As we all know, the Zooniverse began with Galaxy Zoo, which recently celebrated its seventh anniversary. Galaxy Zoo has been very successful, and it led to the development of a variety of citizen science projects coordinated by the Zooniverse in diverse fields such as biology, zoology, climate science, medicine, and astronomy. Most of you are familiar with many of them, and the projects include, for example: Snapshot Serengeti, where people classify different animals caught in millions of camera trap images; Cell Slider, where they classify images of cancerous and ordinary cells and contribute to cancer research; Old Weather, where participants transcribe weather data from log books of Arctic exploration and research ships at sea between 1850 and 1950, thus contributing to climate model projections; and Whale FM, where they categorize the recorded sounds made by killer and pilot whales. And of course, in addition to Galaxy Zoo, there are numerous astronomy-related projects, such as Disk Detective, Planet Hunters, the Milky Way Project, and Space Warps.


We’re confirming the speakers for our AAAS session now, and the plan is to have six speakers from the US and UK who will introduce and present results from the Zooniverse, Galaxy Zoo, Snapshot Serengeti, Old Weather, Cell Slider, and Space Warps. I’m sure it will be exciting and we’re all looking forward to it! I’m also looking forward to the meeting of the Citizen Science Association, which will be a “pre-conference” preceding the AAAS meeting.

Thanks to the Forum – and Farewell


Today marks the end of an era for the Zooniverse: the closure of the Galaxy Zoo forum. Read all about it on the Zooniverse blog.

Originally posted on Galaxy Zoo:


After very nearly seven years online, and over 650,000 posts by its members, the time has come to shut the doors on the original Galaxy Zoo Forum. Originally an afterthought, created to deal with the fact that we couldn’t possibly deal with the volume of mail that we were getting, the Forum quickly established itself as a very special place. It generated science – the Voorwerp and its diminutive colleagues, the Voorwerpjes, the Peas and much more came from discussions amongst its boards, as well as such random fun things as the letters that power My Galaxies.

It was also a very civilized place – entirely due to the standards set by Alice and the team of moderators that followed, especially Graham and Hanny who have served most recently. The forum inspired much of what the Zooniverse tries to do today, but time has moved on and we…

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New Zooniverse digital humanities job

Here at Zooniverse we’re starting some exciting new work in the humanities!

We’re pleased to announce our new collaboration with Tate Britain, a world-leading institute for art in the modern era, based in London.

Zooniverse and Tate are teaming up to tackle the difficult task of crowd-powered full-text manuscript transcription. This project follows on from the success of projects like Operation War Diary and Old Weather and will no doubt feed into other humanities projects in the future.

The new transcription interface will enable volunteers to read and transcribe the personal papers of modern British artists. Volunteers will encounter letters, notebooks and sketches that reveal artists’ everyday lives, creative practices and the processes by which great works of art were made.

We are seeking a talented front end developer with a passion for art and the humanities to work alongside our humanities specialist and the Zooniverse and Tate teams to deliver the project.

The closing date for applications is 12 noon on 25 July, 2014. For more information and to apply, see here:


PS: We are also looking for a new web developer to join our team at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. You can view the job description here.

Call for Proposals



The Constructing Scientific Communities project (ConSciCom), part of the AHRC’s ‘Science in Culture’ theme, is inviting proposals for citizen science or citizen humanities projects to be developed as part of the Zooniverse platform.

ConSciCom examines citizen science in the 19th and 21st centuries, contrasting and reflecting on engagement with distributed communities of amateur researchers in both the historical record and in contemporary practice.

Between one and four successful projects will be selected from responses to this call, and will be developed and hosted by the Zooniverse in association with the applications. We hope to include both scientific and historical projects; those writing proposals should review the existing range of Zooniverse projects which include not only classification, but also transcription projects. Please note, however, ConSciCom cannot distribute funds nor support imaging or other digitization in support of the project.

Projects will be selected according to the following criteria:

  1. Merit and usefulness of the data expected to result from the project.
  2. Novelty of the problem; projects which require extending the capability of the Zooniverse platform or serve as case studies for crowdsourcing in new areas or in new ways are welcome.
  3. Alignment with the goals and interests of the Constructing Scientific Communities project. In particular, we wish to encourage projects that:
    1. Have a significant historical dimension, especially in relation to the history of science.
    2. Involve the transcription of text, either in its entirety or for rich metadata.

Note it is anticipated that some, but not necessarily all selected projects, will meet this third criterion; please do submit proposals on other topics.

The deadline for submissions is July 25th 2014. You can submit a proposal by following this link




Become a Sunspotter and play Solar ‘Hot-or-Not’


A few months ago we quietly placed a new project online. Called Sunspotter, it was essentially a game of hot-or-not for sunspot data – and since there were not many images available at the time, we thought it best to just let it be used by the people who noticed it, or who had tried it during the beta test. The results have since been validated, and the site works! In fact there are even preliminary results, which is all very exciting. Loads of new images have now been prepared, so today Sunspotter gets its proper debut. Try it at

On the site you are shown two images of sunspot groups and asked which is more complex. That might sound odd at first, but really it’s quite easy. The idea behind the science of Sunspotter is summed-up neatly on the Sunspotter blog:

I’m pretty sure you have an idea of which is the more complex: a graduate text on quantum mechanics, or an Italian cookbook? On the other hand, it would not be straight-forward for a computer to make that choice. The same is true with sunspot groups.

Or put another way: like many things in life, you’ll know complexity when you see it. Try it out now: it works on laptops, desktops, tablets and phones and you can keep up to date on Twitter, Facebook, G+, and the project’s own blog.

Screenshot 2014-06-13 19.39.24

Zooniverse job at the University of Portsmouth

As part of the increased involvement in the Zooniverse at the University of Portsmouth, we are offering a two-year research position to work closely with the main Zooinverse development team and help foster local Zooniverse projects within Portsmouth and beyond. This new position is part of the official buy-in of Portsmouth into the Citizen Science Alliance and builds on past and present Zooniverse interest at the university. For example, researchers at the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation were involved in getting the original Zooniverse project Galaxy Zoo off the ground in 2007, and they have also explored the subsequent data-set from this ground-breaking citizen science project. ICG researchers such as Karen Masters, Bob Nichol and Tom Melvin remain heavily involved in Zooniverse projects related to Galaxy Zoo. Also at Portsmouth, Joe Cox is PI of a funded EPSRC project entitled VOLCROWE, looking at the economics of online volunteering with particular interest in crowd-sourcing and crowd-funding. This project plans to study the motivations of citizen scientists and explore ways to optimise the breadth and depth of user involvement. The new developer would join this diverse team and help build a growing interest in all things Zooniverse at the University of Portsmouth and beyond.

Details of the job, including how to apply, can be found at

Helping the California Condor with ‘Condor Watch’

Today we’re launching a new, and hugely important Zooniverse project: Condor Watch. The are only around 200 California Condors living in the wild and they are in serious danger from lead poisoning, which they get by eating carcasses shot with lead bullets. Getting a better idea of how they interact and socialise is crucial to ongoing conservation efforts.


Using camera traps, ecologists in the US have been observing them in the wild. However the sheer volume of images is now overwhelming. Starting today we need your help to look through the first set of data: 264,000 images of condors eating, socialising, and nesting. Ecologists need everyone’s help to identify the individual birds from their numbered tags. Your efforts on this project will help preserve an endangered species – and we think that’s really special.

Try it now at

The Heartbleed Bug and the Zooniverse

On Monday Internet security researches discovered a critical vulnerability in a piece of of software called OpenSSL. The so-called Heartbleed vulnerability affected numerous sites on the Internet that rely on OpenSSL to provide encrypted connections over HTTPS. This bug has been present in the library since March of 2012 and allows malicious users to gain direct access to the memory of a server terminating an HTTPS connection.

We want to let our users know that we were among almost 66% of sites on the Internet vulnerable to this bug, and your data (including your Zooniverse password) might have been compromised due to this exploit. As of now, all our infrastructure has been updated to secure against the Heartbleed vulnerability, and our SSL certificates have been changed.

Unfortunately given the nature of the vulnerability we cannot know what, if anything, may have been obtained, but as a precaution we are recommending that our users change their passwords on the Zooniverse just in case.


Wrap-Up from the Workshop on Citizen Science in Astronomy

Last week was a productive and busy week in Taipei for the attendees of the workshop on Citizen Science in Astronomy at the Institute of Astronomy & Astrophysics at Academia Sinica (ASIAA).

In case you missed the live webcast, all the slides from the invited talks on the first day as well as video recordings are archived online at

At the workshop dinner, with the help of an iPhone and a Lazy Susan, Chris took a video of all the participants. You might spot some familiar faces from the Zooniverse and various project science teams:

Members of the Galaxy Zoo team also held a short hangout later in the week:

All and all, I think I can speak for everyone who attended by saying it was a successful workshop with the general consensus being, that funding permitting, in a few years everyone would like for a similar workshop to happen again.I look forward to hearing about the results and papers produced from the efforts to better combine classifications  started at the workshop over the coming months and year. Keep tuned to the Zooniverse blog and project blogs for updates.

This workshop was possible due to the support of the Zooniverse and the financial support from the Ministry of Science & Technology and ASIAA in Taiwan. Other co-organizers on the Science Organizing Committee were Chris, Rob, Stuart, and Arfon and on the Local Organizing Committee: Shiang-Yu Wang.

Workshop on Citizen Science in Astronomy


This weekend several members of the Zooniverse development team and many representatives from the science teams of Galaxy Zoo, Planet Hunters, Space Warps, Moon Zoo, Radio Galaxy Zoo, Planet Four, and the Andromeda Project are traveling to Taipei, Taiwan for the workshop on Citizen Science in Astronomy. I wrote about this workshop last November when it was announced. The Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Academia Sinica (ASIAA)  in Taipei, Taiwan (with support from the National Science Council) along with the Zooniverse are organizing this workshop.

The aim is to bring together for a week  computer scientists, machine learning experts, and the scientists from astronomy and planetary science based citizen science projects with the goal of taking the first steps towards addressing the critical questions and issues that citizen science will need to solve in order to cope with the petabtye data deluge from the the next generation observatories and space missions like the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) and the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST). I think it’s fair to say this is the largest gathering of Zooniverse astronomy and planetary science project teams assembled in one place. I’m looking forward to what new algorithms to better combine and assess your classifications will be developed during the week and to all the interesting results that will come out of this workshop.

In addition to the main workshop, there will be a teacher workshop held on March 2nd for local teachers in Taiwan co-organized by Lauren Huang (ASIAA), Mei-Yin Chou (ASIAA), Stuart Lynn (Adler Planetarium/Zooniverse), Kelly Borden (Adler Planetarium/Zooniverse), and myself . In preparation for the workshop, the ASIAA Education and Public Outreach (EPO) Office translated Planet Four into traditional character Chinese. You can find out more about the translation effort here. At the teacher workshop, we’ll be introducing citizen science and how it can be used in the classroom along with presenting the traditional character Chinese translations of Planet Four and Galaxy Zoo.

The first day of the main workshop will be a series of introductory talks aimed at getting everyone thinking for the working sessions later in the week. If you’re interested in watching the workshop talks,  we’re going to try webcasting the first day’s sessions on Google+ starting on March 3rd 9:30am in Taiwan (March 2nd at 8:30pm EST ). The schedule for Monday can be found here. You can find the links for the morning and afternoon video live streams here. If you can’t watch live, the video will be archived and available on youtube through the same link.

You can follow along for the rest of the week on Twitter with the hashtag #csatro.


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