All posts by Helen Spiers

Who’s who in the Zoo – Liz Dowthwaite

In our Who’s who in the Zoo blog series we introduce you to some of the people behind the Zooniverse.

In this edition, meet Dr Liz Dowthwaite, who is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Nottingham, and long-term Zooniverse research collaborator

– Helen


Name: Liz Dowthwaite

Location: University of Nottingham, UK

Tell us about your role within the team 

I have been working with the Zooniverse off and on for about 3 years. I don’t have an official Zooniverse job title, I am a Senior Research Fellow in Trustworthy Autonomous Systems (https://www.tas.ac.uk) and Horizon Digital Economy Research (https://www.horizon.ac.uk/) at Nottingham, and am lucky enough to be able to spend some of that time working with the Zoo team. However, I have been called the ‘tame psychologist’! My work with the Zooniverse focuses on understanding how volunteer experiences can be enhanced to encourage continued participation and benefit the volunteer.

What did you do in your life before the Zooniverse?

Before working with the Zooniverse I was doing the same things I do now! I did BSc Psychology and an MA in The Body and Representation at the University of Reading, UK. I also worked in the academic library there for 7 years as a library assistant receiving all the shiny new books. I did my PhD in Digital and Creative Economy at Nottingham, in the Horizon CDT, studing online webcomic communities. I started as a Research Assistant in Horizon in 2016 whilst writing up my PhD, moving on to Research Fellow when I graduated in 2018, and recently won a promotion to Senior Research Fellow.

What does your typical working day involve?

I am a research psychologist based in a computer science department, so I study how people interact with technology. I mostly work from home in a tiny village in Oxfordshire, being frequently interrupted by two cats who would swear they have never been fed in their lives. I travel up to Nottingham about once a month to see my PhD students, and also to teach postgrads about digital footprints, responsible research and innovation (RRI) and experimental design. In my day-to-day I work across a range of multidisciplinary projects, for example online moderation and end-to-end encryption, trust in technology among people with mental health difficulties, benchmarks for measuring trust, and online wellbeing. This involves a lot of online meetings with my colleagues around the country, and lots of time spent reading things on the internet! Some of this is managing and planning the projects, some is conducting research – I write and analyse a lot of questionnaires!

How would you describe the Zooniverse in one sentence?

The Zooniverse is a force for good in the online world, allowing anyone anywhere to make a real difference.

Tell us about the first Zooniverse project you were involved with

I tend to study the Zooniverse as a whole but I last year I worked with some of the team at Science Scribbler: Placenta Profiles to help them to understand more about their volunteers.

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

I found a Supernova! Does that count?!

What’s been your most memorable Zooniverse experience?

When we run surveys with volunteers we often get some really lovely stories about what the Zooniverse really means to people, and I think that’s really wonderful. Our projects have connected people to their own histories and cultures, and made impacts on their current lives, which is really heartwarming and I love reading them.

What are your top three citizen science projects? 

I don’t really have a favourite, I like to play with a range of projects. I tend to enjoy images and graphs the most. I was completely addicted to the original Muon Hunters, I saved all the images that looked like smiley faces, and it was really simple and quick and had a real ‘just one more’ vibe. I also love the University of Wyoming Raccoon Project because who doesn’t love trash pandas?

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

Think about how you can support and engage with your volunteers beyond just asking them to take part in the project!

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

Just get clicking! There really is something to interest everyone on the Zooniverse – explore the project pages and dive in. Most of the projects have excellent tutorials to get you started. Remember that it’s ok to get things wrong, many people classifying the same things leads to an excellent consensus and high quality data. And if a project isn’t for you, there is bound to be another one out there that you’ll love.

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

On the internet! But also reading the London Review of Books, drinking wine, or walking in the beautiful countryside around Oxfordshire – sometimes all of those at once if we find an awesome country pub! I’m also a keen cook (but not baker) and an extremely keen eater, and a reluctant runner (partly due to all of the eating)…


You can hear more from Liz on Twitter or on her blog.

Who’s who in the Zoo – Maysa Bashraheel

In our Who’s who in the Zoo blog series we introduce you to some of the people behind the Zooniverse. This week, meet Maysa, a developer in our Oxford team

– Helen


Name: Maysa Bashraheel

Location: Oxford University, but based in Manchester.

Tell us about your role within the team 

This is my third week! I am the Zooniverse Developer Intern.

What did you do in your life before the Zooniverse?

About 4 weeks ago I was still a science teacher at a secondary school in Manchester – I came to my role after spending the last couple of years dabbling in coding and building stuff. I only realised I could potentially make a career out of a hobby in January. In a past life I was a Research Scientist for the Manchester Collaborative Centre for Inflammation Research (MCCIR) and specialised in Immunology with a focus on Transplants and specifically the heart. My bachelors is in Biomedical Science and I have a postgraduate degree in Education.

What does your typical working day involve?

Currently, I am learning a lot, I spend a lot of time familiarising myself with the codebase that makes up the Zooniverse. I am attempting to solve some issues, asking a million questions and exploring.

How would you describe the Zooniverse in one sentence?

The Zooniverse is a nurturing organisation that is committed to radical transparency and connects people from all corners of the world.

Tell us about the first Zooniverse project you were involved with

I think it was Beluga Bits! But I really have been fascinated by the Dental Disease projects and some of the interesting work around Etch-A-Cell. I think I have a thing for drawing projects.

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

The TESS Planet Hunters discovery planetary systems was cool. My personal favourite is the Galaxy Zoo discovery of Pea Galaxies (a class of compact extremely star-forming galaxies that look like green peas!)

What’s been your most memorable Zooniverse experience?

So far, the 2022 Zooniverse Team Meeting. Truly a wonderful and productive and just overall exciting experience.

What are your top three citizen science projects? 

The Big Sleep Survey, Parasite Safari, Stall Catchers.

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

The volunteers are your biggest asset!

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

I’m hoping it will be a part of the Education system in a massive way. I would love if homework for students outlined contributing to a citizen science project and the curriculum actively involved scientists from a spectrum of backgrounds to inspire the future generation.

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

Hiking! My next hike will be up Snowdon in the dark so I can watch the sunrise.

Do you have any party tricks or hidden talents?

I can do some weird stuff with my tummy.


Who’s who in the Zoo – Kat O’Brien Skerry

This week meet Kat O’Brien Skerry, our Public Engagement Officer, who has been taking Zooniverse projects into schools around the UK.

– Helen


Name: Kat O’Brien Skerry

Location: University of Oxford, UK

Tell us about your role within the team 

I joined the team in January 2022 as a Public Engagement Officer and I work on a fixed term contract bringing the Zooniverse to schools and educational settings around the country.

What did you do in your life before the Zooniverse?

My background is in STEM education having originally trained as a physics and maths teacher. I moved from there into informal education and most recently spent 5 years at the science museum in London in their learning team.

What does your typical working day involve?

My role is split between delivering workshops in schools and developing those workshops and convincing schools that they’re a great idea. So some days, I will be in classroom leading hands on activities, getting kids stuck into the Zooniverse, or facilitating zoom calls with the researchers. Some days I will be trying out experiments and explanations on anybody who I can find who appears (reasonably) willing to play. Some days I have a bit more of an office life and I’ll be finessing what we’ve done, contacting schools and all that stuff..

How would you describe the Zooniverse in one sentence?

A one stop shop for citizen science.

Tell us about the first Zooniverse project you were involved with

I first used Galaxy Zoo as an activity in a STEM club that I was running and had just as much fun playing as the kids did. Being added as an editor on projects so that I could take on this role was pretty terrifying!

What’s been your most memorable Zooniverse experience?

The feedback from one of my most recent schools was just the best. I had one pupil ask me, wide-eyed, “Did I really do actual science?” and respond to my “Of course you did!” with “Wow, maybe I could be a scientist”. I could have cried. To me, Zooniverse is a way to get kids to see themselves as scientists and seeing that impact becoming real is wonderful.

What are your top three citizen science projects? 

I’m biased by the two I work on, so Galaxy Zoo and Science Scribbler: Virus Factory. But I also have a real soft spot for the Davy Notebooks Project because I’m a big history of science fan.

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

Again, I’m biased, but think about if it could be useful in outreach!

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

Give it a go! There are so many great projects out there from annual birdwatching and insect hunts which you can do at home, to more supported projects in museums if you want a bit more help as you get started.

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

I’d love to see citizen science embraced as a way to make science education and outreach more meaningful for both schools and researchers, and Zooniverse as a means to do so.

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

I’m studying for an MA in Education at the moment (specialising in STEM education) so spend a lot of time in the library. Otherwise, I am found inexpertly herding and raising a small menagerie of children, chickens and chameleons.

Do you have any party tricks or hidden talents?

I can come up with a kid friendly STEM activity for almost anything. And will. Often without being asked.

Who’s who in the Zoo – Mary Westwood

In our Who’s who in the Zoo blog series we introduce you to some of the people behind the Zooniverse.

In this edition, meet Dr Mary Westwood, a recent addition to the Zooniverse team.

– Helen


Name: Mary Westwood

Location: University of Oxford, UK

Tell us about your role within the team 

I joined the Zooniverse as a postdoctoral research assistant/project manager at the end of January 2022.

What did you do in your life before the Zooniverse?

I did a BSc and MSc in Biology at Wright State University in Ohio (where I’m from), then moved to the UK to do a PhD in Evolutionary Biology at the University of Edinburgh. Mostly I’m interested in how timing affects interactions between individuals, and towards the end of my PhD I started to dabble in bioacoustics and machine learning. Those last two topics are what led me to the Zooniverse.

What does your typical working day involve?

It varies a lot, but primarily I split my time between helping research teams get their projects up and running and doing my own research. I also get to write the weekly newsletters, which is a lot of fun.

How would you describe the Zooniverse in one sentence?

The innate curiosity and goodness of people put to very good use.

Tell us about the first Zooniverse project you were involved with

When I first checked out the Zooniverse, I wanted to see how bioacoustics projects were run on the platform. I can’t remember every project I looked into, but I do remember seeing HumBug and thinking what an incredible project it is.

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

Research from the Penguin Watch team and volunteers has led to additional protections to marine protected areas, which is a really awesome outcome from a Zooniverse project.

What’s been your most memorable Zooniverse experience?

Best memory: all of the project launches, they’re a lot of fun.

Worst memory: mistakenly thinking I’d changed the background image of the entire Zooniverse website.

What are your top three citizen science projects? 

I love them all equally.

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

Just go for it. Start building a project, play around with setting up workflows. Delete them, start again. Don’t be afraid to reach out to us for help.

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

Browse which projects we’re hosting to see what sparks your interest. Download apps like iNaturalist and Merlin Bird ID – both awesome platforms which get you out into nature (win) and help science (double win).

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

Everywhere. Since discovering the Zooniverse, I can’t believe everyone doesn’t already know about it.

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

I’m about to experience my first Zooniverse Team Meeting. Very excited to finally get together with all of the awesome people I’ve worked with remotely over the past six months.

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

Somewhere outdoors and with a pint, possibly also with a book or friends.

Do you have any party tricks or hidden talents?

My party trick is strong-arming any topic of conversation into a discussion about circadian rhythms.


You can check out Mary’s Zooniverse project here: The Cricket Wing

You can hear more from Mary on Twitter.

News from the Etchiverse – our first results!

Just over three years ago we launched the first Etch A Cell project (https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/h-spiers/etch-a-cell). The project was the first of its kind on the Zooniverse: never before had we asked volunteers to help draw around the small structures inside of cells (also known as ‘manual segmentation of organelles’) visualised with very high-powered electron microscopes. We even had to develop a new tool type on the Zooniverse to do this – a drawing tool for annotating images.

In this first Etch A Cell project, the organelle we asked Zooniverse volunteers to help examine was the nuclear envelope (as you can see shown in green in the image below). The nuclear envelope is a large membrane found within cells. It surrounds the nucleus, which is the part of the cell that contains the genetic material. It’s an important structure to study as it’s known to be involved in a number of diseases, including cancer, and it’s often the first structure research teams inspect in a new data set.

This gif shows an image of a cell taken with an electron microscope. This particular cell is a HeLa cell, a type of cancer cell that is widely used in scientific research. The segmented nuclear envelope is shown in green.

The results…

Earlier this year, we published the first set of results from this project. I’ve summarised some of our most exciting findings below, but if you’d like to take a look at the original paper, you can access it here (https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.07.28.223024v1.full).

1. Zooniverse volunteers dedicated a huge amount of effort! Zooniverse volunteers submitted more than 100,000 segmentations across the 4000 images analysed in this first Etch A Cell project. Through this effort, the nuclear envelopes of 18 cells were segmented (shown below in green) from our original data block (shown below).

2. Volunteers were very good at segmenting the nuclear envelope. As you can see in the gif and images below, most classifications submitted for each image were really good! Manual segmentation isn’t an easy task to do, even for experts, so we were really impressed!

An unannotated image is shown on the left. The image on the right shows an overlay of all the volunteer segmentations received for this image. As you can see, most volunteers did a great job at segmenting the nuclear envelope.

3. There’s power in a crowd! The image below shows an overlay of every single segmentation for one of the nuclei studied in Etch A Cell. As you can see, through the collective effort of Zooniverse volunteers, something beautiful emerges – by overlaying everyone’s effort like this, you can see the shape of the nuclear envelope begin to appear!

To make sense of all of this data, we developed an analysis approach that took all of these lines and averaged them to form a ‘consensus segmentation’ for each nuclear envelope. This consensus segmentation, produced through the collective effort of volunteers, was incredibly similar to that produced by an expert microscopist. You can see this in the image below: on the left (in yellow) you can see the expert segmentation of the nuclear envelope of one cell compared to the volunteer segmentation (in green). The top image shows a single slice from the cell, the bottom image shows the 3D reconstruction of the whole nuclear envelope.

4. Volunteer segmentations can be used to train powerful new algorithms capable of segmenting the nuclear envelope. We found that volunteer data alone, with no expert data at all, could be used to train computer algorithms to perform the task of nuclear envelope segmentation to a very high standard. In the gif below you can see the computer predicted nuclear envelope segmentation for each of the cells in pink.

5. Our algorithm works surprisingly well on other data sets. We ran this new algorithm on other datasets that had been produced under slightly different experimental conditions. Because of these differences, we didn’t expect the algorithm to perform very well, however, as you can see in the images below, it did a very good job at identifying the location of the nuclear envelope. Because of this transferability, members of our research team have already begun using this algorithm to aid their new research projects.

The future…

We’re so excited to share these results with you, our volunteer community, and the research communities we collaborate with, and we’re looking forward to building on these findings in the future. The algorithms we’ve been able to produce from this effort are already being used by research teams at the Crick, and we’ve already launched multiple new projects asking for your help to look at other organelles – The Etchiverse is expanding!

You can access all our current Etch A Cell projects through the Etch A Cell Organisation page

Who’s who in the Zoo – Bart Elen

In the first Who’s who in the Zoo of 2020, meet Bart from the Eye for Diabetes project

– Helen

 


Bart - Bart Elen

Project: Eye for Diabetes

Researcher: Bart Elen

Location: Health department, VITO, Belgium

 

What are your main research interests?

Data science, deep learning, analysis of retinal images, Internet of things

 

Who else is in your project team? What are their roles?

Patrick De Boever (VITO), Project Leader

Carina Veeckman (VUB), User Engagement

Sven De Boeck (VUB), Science Communication

Luk Buyse, President of Diabetes Liga

 

Tell us more about the data used in your project

We use retinal fundus images collected by the EyePACS screening network for Diabetic Retinopathy.

 

How do Zooniverse volunteers contribute to your research? 

The Zooniverse volunteers look for lesions on the fundus images, caused by Diabetic Retinopathy.

 

What have been the biggest challenges in setting up your project?

It was challenging to design our project to enable everyone to perform the challenging labelling task of finding the lesions caused by Diabetic Retinopathy. We took a number of approaches to make this possible, including writing a good tutorial, a training module and augmenting our images.

 

What discoveries, and other outputs, has your project led to so far?

The volunteer labels have led to an improvement in our algorithm for automatically detecting lesions. Our project has also had a lot of media coverage in Flanders.

 

Once you’ve finished collecting data, what research questions do you hope to be able to answer?

The new data labels will enable the creation of better computer models for the automatic detection of lesions caused by Diabetic Retinopathy. We hope that these models will enable a more consistent diagnoses of Diabetic Retinopathy by ophthalmologists, and a better follow-up of the disease progress.

 

What’s in store for your project in the future?

In the future, there will be more labeled data, the creation of a better computer model for the automated detection of Diabetic Retinopathy lesions, and the release of the newly created label dataset to the research community.

 

What are your favourite other citizen research projects and why?

The “Radio Meteor Zoo” project on Zooniverse. Speaking to the creators of this project convinced us to choose the Zooniverse platform for our own citizen science project.

 

What guidance would you give to other researchers considering creating a citizen research project?

Contact the teams running existing citizen science projects. You will learn a lot from their experiences.

 

And finally, when not at work, where are we most likely to find you?

I like go running, follow MOOCS, play board games, and watch tv.

 


 

You can learn more about Eye for Diabetes here (note, this website is in Dutch)

 

 

 

Who’s who in the Zoo – Adam Taylor

In the this edition of our Who’s who in the Zoo series, meet Adam Taylor, Professor in Anatomy at Lancaster University, and lead of the ‘Where are my body organs?‘ project. 

– Helen

 


Adam Taylor Profile - Adam Taylor

Project: ‘Where are my body organs?’

Researcher: Adam Taylor, Professor in Anatomy

Location: Lancaster University, England, UK

 

 

What are your main research interests?

Anatomy, Human Body, Public Engagement, Medical Education

 

Who else is in your project team? What are their roles?

Dr Quenton Wessels, Senior Lecturer in Anatomy. Professor Peter Diggle, Distinguished Professor of Statistics.

 

How do Zooniverse volunteers contribute to your research? 

We asked volunteers to add numerous structures to the outline of the body, so that we could analyse what they know and use this to inform how we educate medical professionals and design public health campaigns. We asked for some demographic information to help us understand if there are certain things that make individuals more or less knowledgeable about the body.

 

What have been the biggest challenges in setting up your project?

The biggest challenge setting up our project was making sure we were getting the best utilisation of volunteers time by asking them to perform tasks that were going to give us the most valuable data set to analyse. It would have been easy to ask vast numbers of things but being selective about the things that would be most useful to everyone involved going forwards. One of the most unexpected challenges was the initial response we got, originally planning for approximately 20,000 responses which we surpassed in the first few hours. This was a welcome unexpected challenge as it meant we had to think about how to much more data we could analyse and utilise in our project.

 

What discoveries, and other outputs, has your project led to so far?

At the launch of the project we received global media coverage which helped bolster our participant numbers. We are incredibly grateful for this. We had a number of local radio interviews. We have just begun analysing the data points and demographics, which has given us over 4.5 million data points to look at.

 

Once you’ve finished collecting data, what research questions do you hope to be able to answer?

We are hoping to answer what organs and structures the public know about. This should help us to educate medical and allied health professionals about organs that the public are less aware about, enabling clearer education about the health or pathology of that structure. We will be able to give indication of association of knowledge of structures with demographic information. We also hope to be able to inform public health campaigns around each of the structures in the study and design appropriate materials to help understanding.

 

What’s in store for your project in the future?

We hope to publish multiple papers and already have multiple ideas for follow-on projects.

 

What are your favourite other citizen research projects and why?

Anything relating to wildlife.

 

What guidance would you give to other researchers considering creating a citizen research project?

Get involved as a citizen scientist before creating, it is important to look at it from a participant perspective before designing.

 

And finally, when not at work, where are we most likely to find you?

With family, doing some form of contact sport or something aviation related.

 

 

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/

 

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.)