Live Coding the Zooniverse

Here at the Zooniverse, we make scientific discovery accessible to the community. Now, we’re incorporating that philosophy into our software engineering.

Our mobile developer, Chelsea Troy, live streams some of her development work on the Zooniverse Mobile App (available on the Apple App Store for iOS and Google Play for Android). This means that you can watch her as she codes, and you can even submit questions and suggestions while she is working!  For an introduction to the App and Chelsea’s code development efforts, check out this YouTube video.

Why did we decide to try out live coding? Chelsea talks a little bit about that decision in this blog post. Among the reasons: live coding videos are a great way to attract and recruit possible open source contributors whose work on the Zooniverse mobile app and other codebases could greatly benefit the Zooniverse.

After each live stream, a recording of the session will remain on YouTube. Chelsea also publishes show notes for each stream that include a link to the video, a link to the pull request created in the video, an outline of what we covered in the video (with timestamps), and a list of the parts of the video that viewers found the most useful.

Sound interesting? Willing to contribute to Zooniverse open source code development? Keep an eye on Chelsea’s Twitter account (@heychelseatroy) and blog for future live stream events.  But go ahead and check out the recording of her first live stream and show notes to get you started.

For more information on the mobile app, see related blog posts:
Blog Entry: Notes on the Zooniverse Mobile App – New Functionality Release
Blog Entry: A First Look at Mobile Usage and Results

Featured Image Credit: Reddit/cavepopcorn

U!Scientist and the Galaxy Zoo Touch Table at Adler Planetarium

“Everyone try to grab the same galaxy,” a boy exclaimed while motioning to his classmates. Around the table, six students began dragging an image of a galaxy from the center of a large touch screen onto their own workstation. It’s very likely these students are the first people to set eyes upon this galaxy and decide how it should be classified. This kind of work isn’t reserved for astronomers in observatories or researchers in labs. Any visitor to the Adler Planetarium in Chicago can participate in real scientific research through the new U!Scientist touch table exhibit.

In July, the Zooniverse team finished their year-long development of a multi-person touch table experience and accompanying exhibit to remain on the Adler floor for several years. On the touch table, visitors participate in the Galaxy Zoo project (galaxyzoo.org), which provides valuable data to researchers in the U.S. and abroad by asking volunteers to classify galaxies by shape. In an effort to bring the Zooniverse experience to the Adler floor, the National Science Foundation awarded the Adler-Zooniverse team a grant to design a multi-person touch table experience, allowing guests to participate in the Zooniverse in a more social, collaborative way.

At the table, guests step up to their own color-coded workspace and select galaxies from an explorable image sliver of space in the middle of the table. Next, the guest must decide if the galaxy is smooth in shape, contains unique features, or isn’t a galaxy at all. After submitting a classification, the volunteer is shown a quick tally of how past volunteers have classified the galaxy. Adler visitors of all ages, from school groups to grandparents, are becoming quick Zooniverse volunteers.

U!Scientist includes some firsts for the Zooniverse, including the ability to collaborate directly with one another while classifying. When finding an oddly-shaped galaxy, volunteers can send the image to a neighbor for advice or begin a conversation with their group. Hopefully, these in-person conversations about science will spark curiosity and cause planetarium visitors to become active Zooniverse volunteers online.

Since cutting the red ribbon, guests are finding new ways to interact with the exhibit. Couples take the opportunity to compete with one another in classifying the most galaxies, facilitators explain the research process to campers arriving early to the museum, and children outsmart their parents by explaining the shape of galaxies using examples at each workstation. On average, Adler guests are responsible for over one thousand classifications per day through U!Scientist.

Want to see how the touch table app is doing? Visit uscientist.org to see a running tally of U!Scientist and Galaxy Zoo classifications as well as a world map of current classifications through Galaxy Zoo.

The U!Scientist touch table exhibit is supported by the National Science Foundation under grant #AISL-1713425.

How To Communicate With The Zooniverse

Since the launch of our first project in 2007, the Zooniverse has grown and matured thanks to the tremendous contributions from our amazing community of volunteers around the world, as well as the Zooniverse web development teams and researchers based at the University of Oxford, the Adler Planetarium, the University of Minnesota, and many individual project research teams.  Together, these efforts have led to over 200 successful projects to date!

One of the features that makes the Zooniverse so special is that volunteers engage directly with researchers through each project’s “Talk” discussion forum. Not only have many breakthrough scientific discoveries been made through Talk (e.g., Boyajian’s Star), but equally important, it is the place where communities form. We love that this happens, and we strive to support an inclusive, nurturing community within the Zooniverse. Our fantastic Talk moderators play a central role in creating this supportive environment; helping to welcome and orient newcomers, answer questions, share insights, and focus the research team’s attention on questions and threads that particularly need their input.

Another way volunteers boost the quality of Zooniverse projects is through the direct feedback they provide on new projects before they launch. Over 50,000 volunteers have signed up to review projects during beta testing! The feedback these testers provide clarifies project tasks and goals, makes projects easy to use, and improves data quality. We take this feedback very seriously and important project refinements often emerge from this review process.  To sign-up as a beta test reviewer, visit your Zooniverse account email settings page.

In addition to engaging with the researchers through the project ‘Talk’ discussion forums and participating in the review process for new projects, we wanted to share additional ways to find information as well as share your ideas and feedback with us.

  • For FAQs (e.g., how to unsubscribe from emails, reset your password, etc.):
  • If you notice a bug/problem:
    • Email contact@zooniverse.org.In your email, include the web browser and operating system you’re using (visit whatismybrowser.com if you’re unsure).Please understand that the Zooniverse team is small and busy. We read all emails and take your feedback very seriously, but unfortunately we cannot directly reply to all of the emails we receive.

  • If you want to loop a Zooniverse team member into a Talk discussion when there is an issue that cannot be resolved by the project team:
    • Tag the Zooniverse team in your Talk post using “@support”.

  • If you have a general question and/or comment that’s not specific to an individual Zooniverse project:
  • If you notice a Security issue:
  • If you’re using the Project Builder Platform (zooniverse.org/lab) to build a new Zooniverse project and have a question:

Thank you so much for your contributions to the Zooniverse community!

Laura
Zooniverse Co-PI, VP of Citizen Science at the Adler Planetarium

Notes on the Zooniverse mobile app: A first look at mobile usage and results

We’re happy that in the three weeks since the email newsletter advertising the Zooniverse Mobile App (available on the Apple App Store for iOS and Google Play for Android) we’ve seen a great response from the Zooniverse community!

Exciting Numbers

New downloads of the app show that Zooniverse volunteers are interested in contributing to projects while on their phones. Since July 15th, the iOS app has been downloaded more than 1,620 times, and the Android app more than 1,000 times. In total, the app has been downloaded more than 30,000 times since its first release!

When it comes to classifications, mobile workflows are making an impact. Since July 15th, over 30% of submitted classifications have come from the Zooniverse Mobile App — that’s over 800,000 classifications! These numbers show that there is a willing community of volunteers ready to contribute through their mobile devices.

How Zooniverse Projects Use the Mobile App

The mobile app is a great tool that’s been used in a number of different ways by Zooniverse projects. In some cases, a project’s entire classification task can be included in the mobile app — for example, check out Bash the Bug and Radio Meteor Zoo. For other projects, workflows hosted on the mobile app provide crucial help by sorting and filtering images. As an example, multiple projects use simple “Yes/No” questions to filter out and retire empty images, which significantly reduces the total number of classifications required for the project.

One example where this filtering technique was recently tested: the Local Group Cluster Search project, which is searching for star clusters in images of nearby galaxies. We examined how mobile-based classifications stack up to those made through the project’s primary drawing-based workflow by posting images in both mobile app and desktop browser workflows to make a direct comparison between the two. We show in the plot below that classifications obtained via the mobile app workflow agree well with those obtained through the drawing workflow, as shown by the trend highlighted by the red line.

2D histogram showing a strong correlation between the fraction of “Yes” responses to the mobile workflow question “Is there a cluster, galaxy, or emission region in the image?” on the x-axis, and the max hit rate (the fraction of people who clicked) for objects in the same image on the y-axis. The red line shows the trend in the data, where the “Yes” fraction and max hit rate trace track one another, representing agreement between the two sets of classifications.

This successful test demonstrates that filtering workflows in the mobile app can be used to identify blank images and retire these subjects quickly. In the case of the Local Group Cluster Search, we estimate that the number of classifications needed to complete the search will be reduced by 30% — that’s significant volunteer effort saved!

We look forward to the continued success of the Zooniverse Mobile App! Download the app today from the Apple App Store or Google Play. For more information on the mobile app, check out these blog posts.

The Zooniverse is Now Powered by Kubernetes

We recently finished the first stage in a pretty big change to our web hosting infrastructure. We’ve moved all of our smaller backend services (everything except Panoptes, Ouroboros, and frontend code) into a Kubernetes cluster. I’m pretty excited about this change, so I wanted to share what we’ve done and what we’ll be doing next.

Kubernetes is what’s called a container orchestration system, which is a system that lets us run applications on a cluster of servers without having to worry about which specific server each thing is running on. There are a few different products out there that do this sort of thing, and prior to this we were using Docker Swarm. We didn’t find Docker Swarm to be a great fit for us, but we’re really pleased with Kubernetes and what it’s letting us do.

As a result of moving to Kubernetes, we’ve been able to fully automate the process of updating our server-side apps when we make changes to the code. This automation is important, because it means that the process of deploying updated code is no longer a bottleneck in our development process – it means that any member of our team can easily deploy changes, even in components they haven’t worked on before. This smooths out our development process and it should make our jobs a little easier, meaning we can more easily focus on the job of building the Zooniverse without our infrastructure getting in the way.

Not only has Kubernetes made it easier for us to automate things, but we’ve also found it to be a lot more reliable. So much so, in fact, that we’re now planning to move all of our web services into a Kubernetes cluster, including Panoptes and our main HTTP frontend servers. This is the part I’m really excited about! By making this change, we’ll be making our infrastructure a lot simpler to manage while also saving money by using our cloud computing resources more efficiently (since the cluster’s resources are pooled for everything to share). That should obviously be a huge win, because it will leave more time and money for everything else we do.

Watch this space for updates as we make more improvements to our infrastructure over the coming months!

Zooniverse New Functionality: Organizations

We recently deployed new functionality on the Zooniverse platform supporting ‘Organizations’; the ability to have a single landing page for multiple projects.

Screen Shot 2019-06-13 at 3.56.42 PM

The above screenshot of the Snapshot Safari Organization illustrates the look and feel of an Organization landing page. The page provides a brief overview, information about the team leading the effort, and quick access to the 8+ related projects (e.g., Snapshot Serengeti, Snapshot De Hoop, etc.). The page also displays a few aggregated statistics across the projects: total number of projects within the Organization, total number of subjects, total number of classifications, and the total number of completed subjects. In 2020 we’ll provide a page linked to each Organization with more complete listing of its projects’ statistics, mirroring the information available through each individual project’s statistics page (e.g., https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/shuebner729/snapshot-de-hoop/stats).

Screen Shot 2019-06-13 at 3.59.42 PM

The above screenshot of the Notes from Nature Organization landing page illustrates an additional ‘filter’ functionality that some Organizations will find useful. By clicking on the ‘Plants’, ‘Bug’, etc. buttons, you can filter down to just projects tagged with those keywords.

Screen Shot 2019-06-13 at 4.03.01 PM

https://lab.zooniverse.org provides access to the editor interface for building Projects and building Organizations.

Screen Shot 2019-06-13 at 4.06.21 PM

Within the Organization Editor Interface, the Organization owner and their collaborators can upload text and image content and link Projects to their Organization.

Which projects can be linked into an Organization?

  • You can only link projects for which you’re an owner or collaborator.
  • Only ‘launch approved’ projects will appear in the public view of your Organization landing page.
  • When linking a project to your Organization, the interface indicates whether that project is ‘launch approved’ or not.
  • As an Organization owner or collaborator, you can link a project to your Organization that isn’t yet launch approved and you can see how that project will look in your Organization landing page. By clicking on ‘volunteer’ view, you will then see only the ‘launch approved’ projects (i.e., the public view). This was put in place as a way for owners and collaborators to ‘preview’ a new project under development within a live Organizing landing page.

Once you are ready for your Organization landing page to be a publicly accessible URL, send an email to contact@zooniverse.org for the Zooniverse team to review and list it as public. We have slated development time in 2020 to add a new component within https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/ listing all live Organizations.

If you have questions about setting up an Organization, please post within the ‘Building an Organization’ thread within the ‘Project Building’ Discussion Forum (https://www.zooniverse.org/talk/18).

Top ten tips – writing a great Zooniverse tutorial

How to build a Zooniverse Project

Top ten tips for writing a great Zooniverse tutorial

 

  1. Don’t reinvent the wheel

Before you get started, take some inspiration from the excellent tutorials of these Zooniverse projects:

https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/lawildlife/wildlife-of-los-angeles/classify

https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/zhcreech/castaway/classify

https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/yli/humbug/classify

 

  1. Introduce your project

On the first step of your tutorial include a sentence or two to welcome volunteers, describe the broad context of your project and its research goals, and give a brief overview of the task.

 

  1. Describe the task

On the following steps, explain how the task should be completed. If there are particularly common challenges associated with task completion, include a step to describe these. Add less common issues to the Field Guide, FAQs and Talk, but make sure to mention any additional resources in the tutorial (note, the last step of your tutorial is a good place to put this information!). If your project has multiple workflows with different tasks, create a different tutorial for each.

 

  1. Include descriptive titles

Add a brief title as a header to each step to succinctly summarize what part of the task is being described. Check out HumBug (https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/yli/humbug/classify) and Wildlife of Los Angeles (https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/lawildlife/wildlife-of-los-angeles) for good examples of how to use descriptive titles.

 

  1. Short is sweet

A very long and wordy tutorial can make simple tasks appear more complicated than they actually are, which can discourage further participation in your project. Keep both the number of steps and the word count for each step as low as you can, while sufficiently describing the task. Reducing the number of instructions per step can make your tutorial more readable.

 

  1. The power of pictures

Use clear and high quality images to communicate the task (but try to avoid file sizes over 256 kb). Ideally, have one image per step (to avoid the need for lots of scrolling) and keep the formatting of these as consistent as you can (size, resolution etc.).

Clear and simple annotation of tutorial images (inclusion of text, arrows, circles etc.) is a powerful way to communicate complicated tasks, but please ensure your tutorial remains understandable with a screen reader so that your project is accessible to our visually impaired community.

Finally, don’t forget that it’s possible to use videos in tutorials.Take a look at the tutorials of Solar Stormwatch II (https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/shannon-/solar-stormwatch-ii/classify) or Milky Way Project (https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/povich/milky-way-project/classify) for examples of how videos can be used.

 

  1. Sparingly embolden

Use bold to draw attention to the key terms or requirements on each step.

 

  1. Assess readability

Your tutorial should be as accessible and understandable as possible. Avoid jargon and use common language conventions. You can assess the readability of your tutorial here https://datayze.com/readability-analyzer.php. We recommend aiming for an 8th grade reading level or below.

 

  1. Proof-read

No one licks a typo.

 

  1. Finally, mind your Ps and Qs

Most importantly, in your final step make sure you thank volunteers for their effort on your project!

 


 

You can read more about Zooniverse tutorial design in this publication from Holly Rosser and Andrea Wiggins.

 

Who’s who in the Zoo – Coleman Krawczyk

In this week’s edition of our Who’s who in the Zoo series, meet Coleman Krawczyk, who helps develop new analysis tools for Zooniverse data

– Helen


Coleman - Coleman Krawczyk

Name: Coleman Krawczyk

Location: University of Portsmouth, UK

 

 

 

Tell us about your role within the team 

I have been with the Zooniverse team for 4.5 years. I started out working as a front-end developer for two years and than switched to creating various data analysis tools used by the project teams.

 

What did you do in your life before the Zooniverse?

Before joining the Zooniverse I was a graduate student at Drexel University in Philadelphia getting my PhD in astrophysics.

 

What does your typical working day involve?

My typical work day involves researching new methods for analyzing data produced by Zooniverse projects, writing python code, and co-supervising PhD students.

 

How would you describe the Zooniverse in one sentence?

A collection of people working together to further our understanding of the world and the universe around us.

 

Tell us about the first Zooniverse project you were involved with

My introduction to the Zooniverse was reading the Galaxy Zoo 2 data release when I was in graduate school. I was so impressed by the project that when I was finishing up my PhD and saw a job opening as a Zooniverse developer I immediately dropped all my other applications and ended up submitting the Zooniverse one a month before the deadline (submitting anything early in astronomy almost never happens).

 

What are your top three citizen science projects? 

The Planetary Response Network – it is amazing to see the community come together to help out others in need.

Galaxy Builder – This project was developed by Tim Lingard (PhD student I am co-supervising) and has produced some amazing data to help us understand how galaxy spiral arms form.

Galaxy Zoo – This project is the reason the Zooniverse exists and paved the way for all the projects that came after it.

 

What advice would you give to a researcher considering creating a Zooniverse project?

It is easier than you think to create a project.

 

Where do you hope citizen science and the Zooniverse will be in 10 years time?

In 10 years I expect the Zooniverse and citizen science in general will be more integrated with machine learning allowing even larger data sets to be processed (I’m looking at you Large Synoptic Survey Telescope).

 

Do you have any party tricks or hidden talents?

I am good at working with yarn (crocheting, macrame, latch hook, knitting, etc…)

 

When not at work, where are we most likely to find you?

Playing video games, playing table top RPGs, reading books

 


 

Coleman is also involved with the Tactile Universe project that is helping to make astronomy more accessible to students with vision impairments.
Check it out here; https://tactileuniverse.org/

 

Notes on the Zooniverse Mobile App: New Functionality Release

We recently deployed new functionality to our Zooniverse mobile app (available via iTunes and Google Play for iOS and Android). The list of what’s now available is:

  • Swipe (binary question [Yes/No, A/B, etc.] response)
  • Multi-answer question (A/B/C/D/etc.)
  • Rectangle drawing task (drawing a rectangle around a feature within a subject)
  • Multi-image subjects (e.g. uploading 2+ images as a single subject; users swipe up/down to display the different images)
  • Subject auto-linking (automatically linking subjects retired from one workflow into another workflow of interest on the same project; note – this is relevant not just for workflows on the app)
  • Push notifications (sending messages/alerts about new data, new workflows, etc., via the app)
  • Preview (an owner or collaborator on a project in development being able to preview a workflow in the ‘Preview’ section of the mobile app)
  • Beta Review (mobile enabled workflows are accessible through the ‘Beta Review’ section of the app for a project in the Beta Review process; includes an in-app feedback form)

Note: we will continue developing the app; this is just the end of Phase 1.

With this functionality in place, we’re reaching out to research teams to encourage them to ‘enable on mobile’ any workflows that use the above functionalities. Our goal is to have at least 6 active projects on the mobile app in June. At that time, we’ll send an e-newsletter to the full community of Zooniverse users encouraging them to download the app and check out the projects. This will be the first promotion of the app to our full community. The feedback we’ve received from the few projects that have used it so far has been great. We’re so excited to do a major push and we really want as many projects as possible to benefit from the attention and engagement.

With that in mind, if you’re leading a Zooniverse project and have any questions about where in the Project Editor ‘workflow’ interface to ‘enable on mobile’, don’t hesitate to email contact@zooniverse.org. And/or if you’re a volunteer and wonder if workflow(s) on a given project could be enabled on mobile, please post in that project’s Talk to start the conversation with the research team and us. The more, the merrier!

Looking forward to having more projects on the mobile app and launching a major promotional/recruitment push in June!

For more information on the mobile app, see:
https://blog.zooniverse.org/2018/11/05/beta-for-mobile/
https://blog.zooniverse.org/2018/05/18/notes-on-mobile-launching-a-workflow/

Who’s who in the Zoo – Brooke Simmons

In this week’s edition of our Who’s who in the Zoo blog series meet Brooke Simmons, Lecturer in Astrophysics at Lancaster University and Zooniverse team member. 

– Helen


simmons_head_fromwiyn_kpno - Brooke Simmons

Name: Brooke Simmons

Location: Lancaster University

 

 

 

Tell us about your role within the team:

I joined Galaxy Zoo in 2012 and the Zooniverse at more or less the same time. In addition to project-specific roles I wrangle the Analysis Group, which helps project teams with data analysis, and the Transients Group, which is for helping address the specific needs of projects needing results from live or near-live data.

 

What did you do in your life before the Zooniverse?

I joined GZ and the Zooniverse right as I was finishing my PhD in Astronomy. My PhD path was a bit winding as for non-work reasons I ended up taking 4 years’ leave of absence. I call it that now, but really I thought I was leaving academia. I started a tutoring business and one day I realized how much I missed research. I was very fortunate that my PhD supervisor was glad to welcome me back.

 

What does your typical working day involve?

Emailing, meetings, teaching, meeting with students about their research projects or just being a friendly source of advice. I try to fit in some research every day but that doesn’t always work out!

 

How would you describe the Zooniverse in one sentence?

The Zooniverse is a platform where anyone and everyone in the world can come together and help solve real research problems that can’t be solved any other way

 

Tell us about the first Zooniverse project you were involved with

I joined Galaxy Zoo as a classifier on its launch day in 2007.

 

Of all the discoveries made possible by the Zooniverse, which for you has been the most notable? 

I’m really proud of the Planetary Response Network’s work. For example, in 2017 we were able to quickly survey satellite data in the Caribbean after Hurricanes Irma & Maria and provide island-wide data on road blockages, floods, and structural damage. One of our volunteers discovered a blocked airport runway and we were able to pass that information on even before the first round of classifications was finished. The organization we partnered with on the ground gave us feedback that the work our volunteers & team did *truly* helped save lives. It is amazing to me that we were able to do that.

 

What’s been your most memorable Zooniverse experience?

I love taking code that I’ve written to help with data analysis on one project and using it for something that seems completely different, but is actually the same problem. When we ran our first humanitarian project for the PRN (in Nepal in 2015) I wrote some code to extract classifications and make sense of all those clicks. Later on I adapted that code to help the Pulsar Hunters science team find undiscovered pulsars (rapidly spinning neutron stars) in a Stargazing Live project. And later I adapted that code again to help the Exoplanet Explorers team find new planets around other stars. It just reinforces that so much of science (and beyond) all have at heart the same data problems they need to solve.

 

What are your top three citizen science projects?

I’m directly involved as a team member on more than 3 Zooniverse projects, so I couldn’t possibly pick 3!

If we’re talking about non-Zooniverse projects, though, EyeWire is fun they do a great job of making a very complex 3-dimensional task approachable. And Mark2Cure is doing really important work learning how to cross-reference context and meaning in the overwhelmingly large regime of medical literature, which will hopefully lead to new treatments for diseases.

 

What advice would you give to a researcher considering creating a Zooniverse project?

Just jump in! And use Zooniverse Talk; there are great people there willing to help you as you learn the ropes.

 

How can someone who’s never contributed to a citizen science project get started?

If you want to start with something where you collect the data yourself and help work on really local science, try looking on a local museum’s website to see if they have anything interesting going on. If you’re looking for a project you can do during a commute or your lunch break, try the Zooniverse App!

 

Where do you hope citizen science and the Zooniverse will be in 10 years time?

I hope we’ll have handed over a lot of the simpler tasks that our volunteers do now to AI, so that our volunteers can focus on the next level of science. But I also don’t think that in 10 years we’ll fully trust the machines, either. So, separately, I’d like to see at least 100 million people having a citizen science App integrated into their Alexa or Siri or whatever creepy dystopian female-voiced machine will have taken over all our homes by then. You could have a bit of science every day with your morning coffee, to put you in a better mood so that you’re ready to face the day.

 

Is there anything in the Zooniverse pipeline that you’re particularly excited about?

I’m loving watching the mobile app grow, and also the team is doing some cool stuff with museum exhibits and I can’t wait to see how that turns out.

 

When not at work, where are we most likely to find you?

In a pottery studio somewhere, or cooking comfort food for friends & family.

 

Do you have any party tricks or hidden talents?

I once took out an entire carnival booth because they hadn’t expected someone who actually knew how to throw a softball to come by and try to topple the bottle pyramid. The back wall of the tent just wasn’t ready. (The bottles, mysteriously, barely moved.)