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.

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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.

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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

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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:

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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: http://www.jobs.ac.uk/job/AJB887/citizen-science-front-end-developer/

 

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.

Demonstrating Citizen Science at Adler Planetarium

Today’s guest post comes from Jesse Feddersen and Rachel Wolf about their experience developing a citizen science themed floor experience at the Adler Planetarium as part of the summer school sponsored by the University of Chicago’s Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics. 

Jesse Feddersen is a PhD student in the Astronomy department at Yale University. He is especially interested in observational studies of galaxy evolution. He believes scientists have a responsibility to actively engage in public outreach, and it’s fun too! When he’s not doing science or outreach, Jesse enjoys hiking, baking, and singing songs from Frozen. Do you want to build a snowman with him?

It doesn’t have to be a snowman…

Rachel Wolf is a PhD student in the Physics and Astronomy department at the University of Pennsylvania.  Her research focuses on observational cosmology using Type Ia supernovae.  She loves sharing science with the public and is especially passionate about getting kids excited about science! In her spare time, she loves to cook, host game nights, and cheer for her UCLA Bruins!

“I don’t need to help scientists, I’m already a scientist!”

The sentiment of one precocious little girl perfectly reflects our philosophy: everyone can be a scientist, and through Zooniverse and other citizen science projects, contribute to research projects in the fields they find most exciting.

We came to Chicago for a summer school sponsored by the University of Chicago’s Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics. This two week program was designed for graduate students in astronomy and physics who are interested in education and public outreach and partnered them with teams at the University and Adler Planetarium. We chose to work with the Zooniverse team at Adler.

On our first day at the planetarium, we met with Laura and the citizen science team and situated ourselves in Zooniverse HQ. This felt a little like meeting the Wizard of Oz, or getting a backstage pass to a Queen concert. We soon realized that to planetarium guests, the Zooniverse presence at Adler was confined to a room hidden away in a dark corner at the end of a hallway. There were few exhibits or demonstrations explaining what the Zooniverse is and how to get involved. It seemed like a great starting point for increasing exposure was to create an interactive activity introducing planetarium guests to the Zooniverse.

Early on, we decided to tailor our demonstration to elementary school kids and their families. We spent some time looking through the various Zooniverse projects and thought, “We could teach about galaxy formation!  We could teach about magnetic fields and solar activity! We could look for cute pictures of baby elephants all week!” The more we brainstormed the more we realized why we were so excited. Sure, images of space are mesmerizing and everyone loves baby elephants, but we were also just really curious about these things. As astronomers, it’s our job to be curious and to figure out new things. But science is certainly not limited to people like us – it’s for everyone! That’s when we decided our activity should get at the core of the Zooniverse and demonstrate just how everyone can be a scientist.

We knew we wanted to emphasize key components of citizen science projects, like observation and collaboration, but we weren’t sure how to integrate these ideas into an activity that would attract a sugar-buzzed eight year old. Our hook had to be exciting and offer guests a unique “I’m in a space museum” experience. After much thought, an idea finally hit us: how cool would it be if we had a meteorite small enough for guests to hold?  From there, our activity almost designed itself(even though we had yet to confirm the existence of said meteorite). After discussing our first draft with Laura and Julie and making a few changes, we had a solid outline of what we wanted to do. “Mystery Rocks” was born!

Step 1: Present the guests with a problem. We incorporate the meteorite into the activity by having guests compare it to Earth rocks (found in the flowerbeds outside the planetarium). Our opening line sounds something like, “We have some rocks we know nothing about. Can you help us?”

Step 2: Make some observations. At this point, we offer our rocks to the guests and encourage them to make observations using the tools available (magnifying glass, magnet, etc). After a few minutes, we ask guests to shout out their observations as we write them on a whiteboard for everyone to see.

Step 3: Classify the objects and vote. We then group the rocks based on the observations (e.g. rough v. smooth, heavy v. light, magnetic v. non-magnetic) and have guests vote on the classifications. Our goal was to make this part of the activity tactile.  After rummaging through the supply cabinets of the public programs department, we found some clear plastic graduated cylinders and large, colorful, fuzzy pom-poms that we thought would do the trick. For each classification, we use the pom-poms as our “ballots” and the graduated cylinders as our “ballot boxes” and have each participant cast his or her vote in a different box. After determining the group consensus, we write the classifications of the rocks on the whiteboard.

Step 4: We just did science! Here is our chance to emphasize how everything we just did in the activity is precisely how science works. We then introduce the idea of citizen science and talk about the Zooniverse.

Step 5: Use the voting results to learn about the rocks. Hopefully we still have the group’s attention and can discuss how to use our classifications to learn about the rocks.  We ask the group if they can tell us where the rocks came from and then blow them away with the fact that they are actually holding a rock from space!

Having cobbled together a prototype of our activity, we headed upstairs to try it out with visitors. Our first trial run was in the Planet Explorers area, with a group of kids:

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 Here’s the initial set-up of “Mystery Rocks” (first image) and a mid-activity shot of the whiteboard full of observations (second image). We tried to write down everything the crowd observed!

We took two big lessons from this first demo. The first was that kids love distractions, and we provided them many by having lots of clutter on the activity cart. The second was that kids love pom-poms and stickers, and having these props helps to keep their interest. Surprisingly for us, most kids were not very impressed when we told them they were holding a meteorite, but were more interested in making observations about the rocks. We would never have come to these realizations ourselves, and we learned just how invaluable it is to actually test an activity, even if it is still rough around the edges.

Using our experience on the floor as a guide, we changed our procedure to make “Mystery Rocks” more effective. We tested the activity with Adler’s Education and Public Programs department, as well as their teen interns. We got some excellent critiques about our hook and how best to communicate concepts of citizen science. We also learned the requirements for floor programs and documented “Mystery Rocks” for future use at Adler and beyond. Keeping all the feedback in mind, we took the floor again, ready to excite planetarium visitors about citizen science!

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“Mystery Rocks” by the beautiful Milky Way panorama just around the corner from Zooniverse HQ.  This gave us an excellent opportunity to talk about Galaxy Zoo! 

The philosophy of citizen science, and of “Mystery Rocks”, is that everyone can participate in science. Of course, our little visitor already knew this and we’d like to inspire this same enthusiasm in others by showing how everyone can be a part of the scientific community. Our activity not only demonstrates how science works, but also how much learning thrives through teamwork. Many people we interacted with during our time at the planetarium had never thought of themselves as scientists and we hope we changed that! This little girl, however, was clearly excited about a life in science:

Us: “What kind of science do you do?”

Girl: “I’m an inventor! I’m going to invent wings that people can wear, and a way to go to the places you see on TV. […] I’m going to work in a lab!”

Us:  “Well you know, we’re scientists, but we don’t work in a lab.”

Girl: “Well then you can’t be scientists!”

We’ll just have to work on that another time.

We would like to thank Laura and Julie for all of their guidance and support as we developed our activity! We learned so much from you and had such a great team working with the Zooniverse team!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Call for Proposals

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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 http://conscicom.org/proposals/form/

 

 

 

Guest Educator Bloggers Wanted

Are you a classroom teacher or informal educator using Zooniverse or other citizen science projects in your teaching practice? We’d love to hear about how you’re doing it and share it with others!  Whether you’re using Seafloor Explorer with third graders, Radio Galaxy Zoo with adult learners, or Operation War Diary in a history museum.

If you’re interested in sharing how you use citizen science to engage students or other audiences on the Zooniverse Education Blog, please email education@zooniverse.org with a brief description of how you’re doing it.

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

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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 www.sunspotter.org.

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.

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Taiwan Teachers Workshop

Teacher professional development workshops run in conjunction with science meetings offers educators and scientists a unique opportunity to learn from one another.  On Sunday March 2, 2014 the Taiwan Teachers Workshop was held as part of the Citizen Science in Astronomy Workshop  at the Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Academia Sinica in Taipei.  The Citizen Science in Astronomy Workshop brought together astronomers, data scientists, and web developers together to discuss the challenges of working with large datasets and best practices in utilizing the power of citizen science to work with these datasets.  Recognizing an opportunity to bring Zooniverse project scientists together with area educators,  Meg Schwamb, Stuart Lynn, Lauren Huang and Mei-Yin Chou worked with teachers to introduce concepts of citizen science with special focus on Planet Four and Galaxy Zoo.  Earlier this year these two projects were translated into Traditional Chinese as part of  Zooniverse’s push to translate various projects into as many languages as possible through the efforts of our extensive volunteer community.

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To add to this translation effort, a number of existing Zooniverse educator resources were also translated into Traditional Chinese including Planet Four & Galaxy Zoo lesson plans and Galaxy Zoo teacher and student guides.  You can find the workshop presentations and links to the translated educational materials at  http://taiwan.zooteach.org/.

 Funding for the Taiwan Teachers Workshop was generously provided by Taiwan’s Ministry of Science and Technology.

 

 

 

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 http://www.icg.port.ac.uk/2014/04/senior-research-associate-zooniverse/

My Path to Informal Science Education

It seems as though how one gets into informal science education is different for everyone. I’m going to share my experience of how I became an educator with Zooniverse at Adler Planetarium. I feel very lucky to be in my current position, and there was a lot of researching and networking involved in getting to this point.

My background is in Astronomy and Space Physics. I went to University of Kansas for my undergraduate career and earned Bachelors of Science degrees in Astronomy and Physics with a research certificate. During this time, I was engaged in outreach opportunities and practice presentations through departmental organizations and internships. We were asked to present our research for a variety of audiences, including professionals, school children, and the public. My advisors had taught me that it was part of the job of being a researcher to be able to communicate my work to anyone.

I went on to graduate school at University of Michigan for Space Physics. My graduate advisor was quite supportive of us participating in education and outreach, but I quickly learned that this is not the case with all advisors. After spending three years in a science program geared toward becoming a researcher, I changed my academic goals. I wanted to work primarily on informal science education.

I had been so focused on conducting research for the past six years of my life that I was not sure how I make such a jump to another path. I started by looking for volunteer opportunities and working on my graduate advisor’s NASA Education and Public Outreach (EPO) grant. I also asked everyone I met at museums and through NASA EPO about how they got into their informal education positions.

Some of the career paths I heard from informal educators involved graduate programs in education or museum studies, participation in teacher training programs, and employment or volunteering throughout high school and college at informal education institutions. I did a search for programs (programs I found are included below), but I ended up finding out that there was a graduate certificate program at Michigan that could be completed in one year. Within two months I had found the program, applied, met with the director, and was accepted for the following year’s program. No one from my department had been involved in this program and as it turned out very few science or engineering students ever had. I felt very lucky with how things worked out.

The Museum Studies Program at University of Michigan seems quite thorough for a program that can be completed in one year. The program includes museum seminar courses covering all aspects of museums, several museum visits to experience different types of museums, elective courses involving the museum area of your interest, and a practicum or museum internship. The practicum is where your networking skills really come in handy and was how I found an internship at Adler Planetarium. I interned in the citizen science department where I now work, and some of my fellow museum studies students also found work at the institutions they interned at. Most museum internships are unpaid, but the museum studies program at University of Michigan tries to help people out with funding during their practicum. Volunteering can also give you experience though, since some volunteers work on a particular project in an area that interests them.

From my experience thus far, I recommend a few things. First, volunteer, even if you only have 3 hours a week to help out. It shows that you are interested in being a part of that field and gives you experience. I also recommend taking advantage of as many opportunities as possible to learn more about informal education, because it happens in many places that you would not always suspect. Finally, make sure you get out there and network. It could be through workshops, volunteering, or even online sites such as LinkedIn. Meet other people in informal education to hear about the path of their career and to gain a connection with other institutions and people in the field.

Museum Studies Programs

Museum Education Programs

Informal or Science Education Programs

There is a group of informal educators at Northwestern University that have been putting together resources like this, you can find these resources at: https://sites.google.com/site/stembridgenetwork/home

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