All posts by Helen Spiers

Who’s who in the Zoo – Sarah Allen

In this week’s edition of Who’s who in the Zoo, meet Sarah Allen, a front-end web developer in the Zooniverse team. 

– Helen


SarahAllen - Sarah Allen

Name: Sarah Allen

Location: Adler Planetarium, Chicago

 

 

Tell us about your role within the team:

I’m a front-end web developer and have been with the team for three and a half years. I’ve worked on a variety of projects including Chimp & See, Wildcam Gorongosa, Zooniverse Classrooms’ educational tools, Gravity Spy, and day to day maintenance of zooniverse.org.

 

What did you do in your life before the Zooniverse?

I originally did IT for a couple of medical schools involving Windows server management, Google domain management, application management, and general help desk. I eventually decided to learn to code and went to a code bootcamp when those first started getting popular. Then continued to self-teach as well as freelance before I joined the Zooniverse team.

 

What does your typical working day involve?

Usually first checking slack, email, and the Zooniverse talk board for any bug reports. Then I prioritize code reviews, following up to any pull requests I’ve submitted, then new feature development or learning about something new in the afternoon

 

How would you describe the Zooniverse in one sentence?

We empower researchers and the public to find answers to questions in real data.

 

Tell us about the first Zooniverse project you were involved with

Cyclone Center! My first project was implementing the project redesign and classification challenge.

 

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

Tabby’s star on Planet Hunters. It’s been one of my go to examples when explaining what it is that we do.

 

What’s been your most memorable Zooniverse experience?

Building and launching Chimp & See. It was a mostly solo project for me and although there was a learning curve and frustrating times with it, I felt very accomplished when it launched. I learned a lot from the process

 

What are your top three citizen science projects? 

Chimp & See, Planet Hunters, and Gravity Spy.

 

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

Do lots of prototyping and beta testing with the project builder before you launch so you have a solid idea of the data format going in and what the resulting classification data will look like. Have a timely plan on how to process the data and get that results back to the volunteers.

 

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

Seeing live music, dining out, playing video or board games, or cooking at home.

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Who’s who in the Zoo – Becky Rother

In this week’s edition of our Who’s who in the Zoo series meet Becky Rother, who is visual design lead here at the Zooniverse.

– Helen


becky-2 - Becky Rother

Name: Becky Rother

Location: Adler Planetarium, Chicago, IL

 

 

 

Tell us about your role within the team: 

I’ve been the Zooniverse designer for a little over a year. In this role, I design custom projects like Scribes of the Cairo Geniza in addition to general Zooniverse.org and public-facing design needs. I also help organize public Zooniverse events here at the Adler Planetarium.

 

What did you do in your life before the Zooniverse?

I actually have a degree in Journalism, and have worked in various roles from newspaper page designer to mobile app designer.

 

What does your typical working day involve?

Being on the US team, there’s usually some catch up to be done from our UK colleagues involving reviewing an implemented design or answering questions on our Slack channel. Besides that, every day is different! I may design a giant banner one day, then the next work on wireframes for a new project we’re just getting started.

 

How would you describe the Zooniverse in one sentence?

Zooniverse is an exceptional group of people working together to positively effect science and the humanities.

 

Tell us about the first Zooniverse project you were involved with

The first custom project I worked on was the Anti-Slavery Manuscripts, a collaborative transcription project in partnership with the Boston Public Library. It’s a really special project for a number of reasons, and a great introduction to the Zooniverse community.

 

What are your top three citizen science projects?

I’m obsessed with our camera trap projects – Chicago Wildlife Watch in particular. It’s SO COOL to get to see actual animals in their native habitats. I also really enjoy Gravity Spy – as a non-astronomer, it’s neat to be able to help scientists study gravitational waves. Lastly, I may be biased but I really enjoy Anti-Slavery Manuscripts. Reading these first-hand accounts from people actually involved in the abolitionist movement during the Civil War really brings history to life.

 

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

Chicago has so many great music venues, so I love taking advantage of that and going to indie rock shows. I also love travel and will take any opportunity to explore somewhere new.


 

Focussing effort where it is needed: picking out the Bugs that are harder to Bash

Below is a guest post from Dr Philip Fowler, who leads our award-winning bug-squishing project BashTheBug. This project aims to improve the diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis, which remains one of the leading causes of death worldwide.

This project has a huge amount of data to get through, so Phil is working hard to make sure this is being done in the most efficient way possible. Read on to find out more. 

– Helen

 


Focussing effort where it is needed: picking out the Bugs that are harder to Bash

 

BashTheBug has been running for a little over a year now and in that time 11,303 volunteers have classified 834,032 images of the bacterium that causes tuberculosis growing on 14 antibiotics at different strengths. These images correspond to a bit less than 4,000 different samples of M. tuberculosis since each image is shown, by default, to different 15 volunteers to generate a consensus.

The goal of the larger CRyPTIC project that BashTheBug belongs to is to match all this data with the genomes of each and every sample and thereby produce the most comprehensive and accurate catalogue of what genetic variants confer resistance to specific antibiotics. This is important because there is a shift towards using genomic methods to diagnose which antibiotics would be best to treat individual patient infections because genomics can be faster, cheaper and probably more accurate as well.

 

Too many new images?

The CRyPTIC project has produced a new dataset of 4,286 samples. These have been collected from people with tuberculosis from all over the world.

This dataset alone would need 900,060 classifications if we were to simply require each antibiotic lane to be seen by 15 different volunteers and, unless a lot more people joined the project, would take at least a year. Our problem is the project is producing around 1,000 samples a month, which would require 210,000 classifications a month, which our volunteers at present could not keep up with!

Ultimately the CRyPTIC project will collect at least 30,000 samples over the next few years, so we are only at the beginning!

 

Some images are easy…

What might help is we’ve found that some of the images of bacterial growth are easy to classify. For example, all 15 volunteers identify well number 2 as the first well in which there is growth.

Unknown

If the volunteers find this easy, a computer might also, so we wrote some computer software (called AMyGDA) that tries to measure the growth in each of the wells on the 96-well plate. It does a good job on these simple cases, but is confused by cases where this is little growth, or there are artefacts on the image, like air bubbles, contamination or shadows.

We can identify the “easier” images based on how much growth there is, and whether the computer software agrees with the single reading we have of each plate done by a laboratory scientist. On our new dataset of 4,286 samples, this approach identifies 84% of the antibiotic lanes as easy to classify.

If we only send the remaining 16% of images to the volunteers, that reduces the number of classifications we need to complete this dataset down to 144,000 with a monthly growth rate of 34,000 which is much more achievable!

 

…and some are hard.

But this means you will all be seeing images that are harder to interpret and classify and therefore should be more of a challenge.

This is an example of an image that is harder to classify.

Unknown-1

In our existing dataset, these images have typically elicited a range of answers. Some volunteers might say they cannot classify the image, whilst others would identify a range of wells as being the first with no growth. We can, of course, still form a consensus (I’d say well 5), but the variation is itself telling us something about how and why the image is hard to classify, which is potentially useful (for example, for training a machine learning classifier).

 

A few things to think about

Because the images should be, on average, more challenging now, you will have to make more frequent judgment calls about whether that blob in well 5 is an artefact or whether it “looks like” growth, and if you think it is, whether or not it is big enough to be relevant. Personally, I’d say for something to be growth it has to look like the growth in the positive control wells. If it is a lot smaller (like a dot) then I personally tend to ignore it. Don’t spend too long on individual images – rely on the collective power of the volunteers to allow us to extract a consensus from all your answers!

 

Focussing your efforts

In summary

– there are a lot of new images available to classify on our Zooniverse project page and
– they should be, on average, a lot more interesting and challenging

 

To get more frequent project updates,

– check for banners on the Zooniverse project page
– follow BashTheBug on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook
– check out our blog

 


Philip W Fowler
6 August 2018

Who’s who in the Zoo – Michele Darrow

In this week’s edition of Who’s who in the Zoo, meet Science Scribbler‘s Michele Darrow.

– Helen


 

IMG_20180427_171949

 

Project: Science Scribbler

Researcher: Michele Darrow, Development Scientist

Location: TTP Labtech & Diamond Light Source

 

What are your main research interests?

I’m interested in various imaging techniques and how best to process the data collected from them to answer both biological questions and to develop algorithms to automate the process in the future.

 

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

Our team spans biologists, imaging technique experts and software engineers.

 

Tell us more about the data used in your project

Right now, Science Scribbler is working to process a dataset related to Huntington’s Disease. Many of the circular objects marked by volunteers as part of the project are organelles. These are smaller compartments inside of each cell, and each type of compartment has a different job. In Huntington’s Disease, some of the compartments are dysfunctional, but details about how the disease leads to this dysfunction aren’t really known. By comparing a diseased cell to a non-diseased cell we’re hoping to learn about organelle changes due to the disease.

 

How do Zooniverse volunteers contribute to your research? 

Zooniverse volunteers are amazing! Without them, this project would be moving at a glacial speed!

For this project, volunteers are asked to place marks in the centers of objects and outline the objects. This information will first tell us where all of the organelles are so we can begin to answer our biological question. And second, using this dataset as a standard, we hope to create a computer algorithm that will use just the center points to find the outlines of the objects, making the task easier and faster in the future.

 

 

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

We have retired 50% of the images in this first dataset. Because we’re far enough along, Mark, one of the software developers on the project, has begun to process the data. You can see the code that he is working on and his descriptions of what it does here.(https://github.com/DiamondLightSource/zooniverse/blob/master/notebooks/science_scribbler.ipynb)

 

 

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

The problem of segmentation – marking out parts of a dataset in order to analyze is – is a common problem across many imaging techniques and disciplines. One of the benefits of working on these problems at Diamond Light Source is that there are always people and projects that need improved segmentation. Our next project on Science Scribbler will focus on a new imaging technique and a new segmentation problem. This switch in focus will give the original project some time to process the data, come up with potential computer algorithms to improve the process and think about the next steps. And it will give a new project and new researchers a chance to interact with the Zooniverse to jumpstart their research!

 

What are your favourite other citizen research projects and why?

I love Wildwatch Kenya! I find it super chill and it’s always fun when you find an animal in the picture!

 

 

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

Long walks with my husband and dogs (Jinx and Charm) and reading good books (right now, re-reading the Harry Potter series).

 

IMG_20180612_110727 - Michele Darrow

Who’s who in the Zoo – Sam Blickhan

In this week’s edition of our Who’s who in the Zoo series meet Dr Sam Blickhan who leads the development of new Humanities projects here in the Zooniverse. 

– Helen


IMG_9388 - Samantha Blickhan

Name: Sam Blickhan

Location: Adler Planetarium, Chicago IL, USA

 

 

Tell us about your role within the team:

I’m the IMLS Postdoctoral Fellow and Humanities Lead. I started in March of 2017 as a Postdoc, and started to take on more Humanities Lead duties in 2018.

 

What did you do in your life before the Zooniverse?

Before coming to the Zooniverse I was a student. I did my undergrad at the University of Iowa, studying Medieval English Literature and classical Voice Performance. Then I did a Masters in Musicology at Oxford, and went on to do a PhD in Musicology at Royal Holloway, University of London, writing about the palaeography of medieval music notation. I’ve always been interested in technologies of writing and the development of language, as well as digital approaches to research and teaching, so being able to work on transcription projects with Zooniverse is a really great way to continue that academic work in a not-so-traditional format.

 

What does your typical working day involve?

Always coffee. Depending on what I’m working on, my day could involve communication with research teams, project planning/design/development with my Zooniverse colleagues, grant writing, data analysis, preparing conference papers & presentations, professional development, and/or researching & writing articles. It varies quite a bit from day to day, which I love — I never, ever get bored, and I get to meet lots of interesting people!

 

How would you describe the Zooniverse in one sentence?

Zooniverse is as much or as little as you want it to be; a way to relax, to learn, and engage with others.

 

Tell us about the first Zooniverse project you were involved with

When I was in grad school I used to volunteer on Seafloor Explorer as a way to relax — I felt like I could turn off the part of my brain that was doing lots of critical thinking, while still doing something productive and interesting. The first project I was actually a part of developing was Anti-Slavery Manuscripts.

 

What’s been your most memorable Zooniverse experience?

I’m lucky to be able to travel regularly for my job, and I love meeting people from other platforms and/or institutions and learning about how their crowdsourcing projects work. I was part of a panel discussion at the IMLS (Institute of Museum and Library Services) in 2017, and got to meet some people who have been doing really amazing work for a long time. It was exhilarating to be able to have conversations about public research methods and access to archival materials and data, and learn from these larger communities of researchers and advocates, as well as show them what tools and opportunities for research we at Zooniverse have to offer.

 

What are your top three citizen science projects? 

SCOTUS Notes (www.scotusnotes.org) is one of my favorite new projects. I’m a bit of a politics junkie, so reading the Justices’ comments can be a very interesting look at the thought processes behind these Supreme Court decisions. I think that the American Soldier project (https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/tkotwim/the-american-soldier) is also incredible. The soldiers’ responses to the questions are often very moving and powerful to read. Outside the Zooniverse, I’m a big fan of the Colored Conventions Project (http://coloredconventions.org/) — I was lucky enough to meet some of their team at a conference last year, and they do an incredible job of engaging their community in a positive way, and reminding the public how important it is to keep re-examining history and working to create space for those who have been overlooked. I’ve learned a lot from listening to them and watching their work.

 

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

Look at as many other projects as you can! Really spend some time classifying, but also try to get a sense of what the volunteer and research communities are like across projects. Reach out to other project owners, as well as volunteer and Talk moderators, and ask about their experiences. It’s hard to anticipate what it will be like to run a project if you haven’t yet participated in one. Learn by doing!

 

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

Since it’s summer, I’m probably outside running, biking, or on a patio with friends. I love to make things and enjoy knitting & embroidery in particular. Music is a big part of my life, too — I go to lots of concerts and play music with friends whenever I can.


 

You can follow Sam on twitter @snblickhan

Who’s who in the Zoo – Yassine Benhajali

In this week’s edition of our Who’s who in the Zoo series, meet Yassine Benhajali, who runs Brain Match.

– Helen

 


yassine - Yassine Benhajali

Project: Brain Match

Researcher: Yassine Benhajali

Location: Anthropology Department, Université de Montréal, Canada.

 

What are your main research interests?

How nature and nurture interact to influence brain functioning.

 

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

Sebastian Urchs, Aman Badhwar and Pierre Bellec (Project Supervisor).

 

Tell us more about the data used in your project

Brain Match uses images of brain that have been made freely available thanks to the efforts of The Neuro Bureau (http://www.neurobureau.org/) and the ADHD-200 consortium (http://fcon_1000.projects.nitrc.org/indi/adhd200/index.html).

 

How do Zooniverse volunteers contribute to your research? 

In general, manual quality control of brain images is very subjective and time consuming task. Zooniverse volunteers are helping us in two key ways; firstly, they are helping to validate our brain image quality control procedure, and secondly, to produce enough rated images to train computers to perform the quality control automatically.

 

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

Our biggest challenge was to build simple and comprehensive instructions.

 

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

To date, with the help of Zooniverse, we have developed the first quality control procedure on brain imaging that could be performed by both novice or expert neuroscience raters. They both agree on most of the ratings. We are hoping to present this work at a conference soon (http://www.neuroinformatics2018.org/abstracts/).

 

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

The next step will be to train machine learning model based on the information from Zooniverse raters, and to test if this model can perform as well as human rater.

 

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

More data to rate, and other brain imaging modalities.

 

What are your favourite other citizen research projects and why?

I like all wildlife protection projects.

 

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

Make your tutorial clear and concise.

 

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

Biking, running and swimming.

 

 

Who’s who in the Zoo – Ellie Mackay

In this week’s edition of Who’s who in the Zoo, meet Mission Director of The Plastic Tide, Ellie Mackay.

– Helen 


 

07061701 Ellie 117 - Ellie Worldwide.jpg

 

Project: The Plastic Tide

Researcher: Ellie Mackay, Mission Director & Drone Pilot

Location: London, UK

 

 

What are your main research interests?

Plastic pollution, aerial imagery and image object recognition.

 

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

Peter Kohler, Co-Founder.

 

Tell us more about the data used in your project

The photographs come from aerial surveys of over 40 beaches in the UK and worldwide.

 

How do Zooniverse volunteers contribute to your research? 

They help us to train the algorithm to detect plastics automatically – this is a huge task which requires lots of photo tagging, so the volunteers help immensely with getting through all these images.

 

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

Financial backing/funding! We’ve had to self-fund to get the project off the ground and we’re now looking for sponsors to take the project to Phase 2.

 

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

Extensive media coverage on multiple national and regional media channels as well as social media. Informed a secondary project on the psychological wellbeing of beach cleaning vs online volunteering.

 

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

Where is the missing 99% of ocean plastic? Which beaches are most polluted and why? Which types of plastics wash up on different types of beaches? What are the most common types of plastic marine litter? How does plastic marine litter vary seasonally/after storms/over time/following innovations?

 

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

Securing funding for:

  • Increasing the accuracy of the autonomous detection
  • Gathering more imagery from global contributors. -Accumulating further tagging by volunteers through Zooniverse
  • Creating greater public awareness through documentary, video and audio promotion
  • Generating engagement in citizen science through educational programmes and public engagement programmes
  • Creating an open source global map of plastic pollution.

 

What are your favourite other citizen research projects and why?

Everything on Zooniverse!

 

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

Definitely use Zooniverse if you can – it makes life a lot easier and gives you access to a whole network of dedicated and brilliant volunteers.

 

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

Travelling, diving, filming or photographing the great outdoors, Speaking at Adventure Uncovered, RGS or similar events, or at schools across the UK Promoting plastic-free living through my website and social media.

 

 

WHO’S WHO IN THE ZOO – MEG SCHWAMB

In this week’s edition of Who’s who in the Zoo Meg Schwamb tells us more about the Planet Four: Terrains project.

– Helen

 


IMG_9047_1 - Meg Schwamb

Project: Planet Four: Terrains

Researcher: Meg Schwamb, Assistant Scientist

Location: Gemini Observatory, Hilo, Hawaii

 

What are your main research interests?

I study how planets and their building blocks form and evolve, applying ground-based surveys to probe our Solar System’s small body reservoirs and citizen science to mine large datasets for Solar System science.

 

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

Candy Hansen (PSI) is the PI of the project, K-Michael Aye (LASP) & Anya Portyankina (LASP) are also members of the science team.

 

Tell us more about the data used in your project

The images reviewed on Planet Four: Terrains come from the Context Camera (CTX) aboard Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The Context Camera takes black and white wide view images (~30 km x ~60 km with ~6 m/pixel resolution) of the Martian surface that we cut into smaller chunks reviewed on the site.

 

How do Zooniverse volunteers contribute to your research? 

We ask volunteers to review the CTX subimages of the South Polar region of Mars and identify whether they see specific features: (1) araneiforms (including features with a central pit and radiating channels known as ‘spiders’) carved by carbon dioxide jets; (2) erosional depressions, troughs, mesas, ridges, and quasi-circular pits characteristic of the South Polar Residual Cap (SPRC) which we collectively refer to as ‘Swiss cheese terrain’, and (3) craters.

 

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

Figuring out the format and contents of the classification exports.

 

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

Our first paper was accepted last year to a journal. Planet Four: Terrains has identified new regions of carbon dioxide jet activity including areas with jet carved channels (spiders/araneiforms) on geologic units previously thought to be resistant to the process (locations the spiders/araneiforms weren’t expected to be). More details here (http://blog.planetfour.org/2017/08/29/planet-four-terrains-first-science-paper-accepted-for-publication/).

 

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

What is the distribution of aranaeiforms (spiders) over the South Polar regions? Why do we find araneiforms (spiders) in specific locations outside of the South Polar Layered Deposits?

 

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

Expanding to a larger search area and exploring areas further from the South Pole of Mars to see how far North spiders may exist.

 

What are your favourite other citizen research projects and why?

I’m currently involved in several Zooniverse projects, so I think they are all my favorites: Planet Four, Planet Four: Ridges, and Comet Hunters.

 

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

Be cognizant that combining the multiple volunteer classifications together is likely very different from what you’ve done in the past for data analysis. Also, treat your project volunteers’ as your collaborators.

 

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

Baking and watching soccer (hoping the Chicago Fire make the playoffs).

 

For more information, check out the Planet Four Blog Post.

 

 

 

 

Who’s who in the Zoo – Martin Jones

In the third of our Who’s who in the Zoo series, meet Etch A Cell‘s Dr Martin Jones

– Helen

 


HarryMugshot - Martin Jones.png

Project: Etch A Cell

Researcher: Martin Jones, Deputy Head of Microscopy Prototyping

Location: Electron Microscopy Science Technology Platform, The Francis Crick Institute, London, UK

 

What are your main research interests?

Imaging and image analysis.

 

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

Lucy Collinson (head of EM STP) leads the EM team, Chris Peddie (Principal Laboratory Research Scientist) acquired the data, Anne Weston (Senior Laboratory Research Scientist) performed the expert analysis.

 

Tell us more about the data used in your project

The images are from our “serial block face scanning electron microscope” and are of small groups of HeLa cells (a type of cancer cell). The electron microscope allows us to see objects down to a few billionths of a metre in size. Each cell is divided up into around 200-300 individual sections (like a loaf of sliced bread) so we can see the insides of the cell. To start with we hope to analyse around 50 cells, but as a core facility we have an endless supply of different types of data we’d like to analyse!

 

How do Zooniverse volunteers contribute to your research? 

The Zooniverse volunteers help us with our “segmentation” task – tracing a line over the nuclear envelope, which is a very important membrane inside the cell that separates the nucleus from the rest of the cell.

 

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

One of the key advantages of the citizen science approach is that we can have several different volunteers analyse each image, allowing us to combine the results to get a statistical understanding of the data. Combining the volunteers’ work in the most effective way possible turns out to be pretty tricky though! Especially since our data is stored as lots of individual lines, meaning a simple average doesn’t really work.

 

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

The first thing we wanted to make sure was that the data we get is good enough, which thankfully it looks like it is! Even that was perhaps a bit unexpected to some people! We’ve found it has been popular as an education and outreach tool too, with reports of teachers using it in their classes to teach about cells. We’ve also shown it off at an event at the Natural History Museum in London and a CRUK event in Manchester and spoken about it at several conferences around the world. We’re writing up the first journal article about it right now in fact!

 

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

While electron microscopy produces amazingly detailed images, there are very few studies where data has been fully quantified at large scale, since it’s such a labour-intensive process at the moment. By measuring the shapes of each object (nucleus, mitochondria etc.) in different types of cell we can perform robust quantitative comparisons that are not currently possible. This sort of knowledge will help us to understand many different diseases, like cancer, malaria and tuberculosis, as well as help us find effective treatments for those diseases.

 

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

There’s a lot more to come from Etch a cell! We have plenty more data that we’d like to analyse in the same way – tracing outlines – but for some other objects inside a cell we think a different approach might be easier and more effective. We’re working on a few options, and hopefully future iterations will be easier for people to work with on mobile devices. In parallel, we’re also building an artificial intelligence system to use the results from Etch a cell to enable us to train computers to be as good at the task as humans.

 

What are your favourite other citizen research projects and why?

Bash The Bug was released at the same time as Etch a cell and is a really great project. EyeWire is another electron microscopy project that has been groundbreaking in the field of “connectomics” – trying to understand how the cells in brains are connected together. Cancer Research UK has produced several different projects with a great deal of success, it was our initial interaction with their team that brought citizen science to our attention in the first place.

 

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

Have a play around with the project builder, setting up a basic project is really easy!

 

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

I try to get outdoors as much as possible, whether that’s walking, running or cycling.

 

 

Penguins, Plastics, and Poo

This week’s guest blog post is from Dr Gemma Hall, who is leading a range of Zooniverse educational outreach initiatives in the UK. Read on to find out about the activities she led earlier this month during British Science Week.

– Helen

 


 

Penguins, Plastics, and Poo

Science Week, a week when we scientists gush about our favourite subject, attempt to explain to others what we do all day or just get plain messy with icky, sticky crowd-pleasing experiments. I think I successfully covered all these things during Science Week. And I have Zooniverse to thank for (most of) this.

I’m a STEM Ambassador (https://www.stem.org.uk), which means I do lots of science outreach. And I’m a huge Zooniverse fan. Whether it’s bashing bugs, elephant expeditioning or galaxy-gazing, I love that anyone with a computer/internet connection can help with real people-powered research, including children.

So, for Science Week, instead of just talking about what scientists do, I used Zooniverse to get primary school children being the scientists. Children like feeling important, so key to engaging them from the outset meant emphasising the importance of helping real researchers make the world a better place. Cue dramatic gasps and disbelieving looks all around the ICT Suite!

Children also like being able to relate to what they’re learning about. And so, I introduced them to the researchers they would be helping…

 

Penguins

 Scene: Children transfixed by a PowerPoint presentation showing a picture of Dr Tom Hart, of Penguin Watch, wrapped up against the harsh Antarctic elements, surrounded by penguins.

Tom is a Penguinologist, and I almost had to stop the teachers stampeding out of the ICT Suite in an effort to re-train so they too can get such a great job title. The children, meanwhile, were more captivated by the wondrous site of the hundreds of penguins.

I told the class that Tom’s laboratory is the Antarctic and he wears hefty, cold weather gear rather than a white lab coat. He studies penguins because they give us a really good indication of the effects humans have on the Antarctic. Tom needs to keep an eye on the penguins across many Antarctic sites, all day, every day of the year. However, I continued, Tom can’t live in the Antarctic all year because it’s too harsh and he’d miss his family. He has cameras taking hundreds of photos every day and now has so many that he needs help to analyse them.

And with that, the children keenly set about tagging penguins: Adelies, King, Gentoos, Chinstraps; adults, chicks and eggs. They were careful to observe the behaviour of the penguins and their habitats, which both gave indications of whether the penguins might be incubating eggs or caring for chicks. They imagined what working in the harsh Antarctic environment would be like and they were intrigued about what penguins get up to in the night!

The energy in the classroom could have powered the computers the children were using! And the concentration levels and tagging skills were higher than I’ve seen many adults apply (sorry, Adults!). Furthermore, they asked if they could continue helping to spot penguins at home, so huge was their passion to help.

If you want spot penguins too, go to: penguinwatch.org

 

Plastics

Scene: Children looking at a PowerPoint presentation picture of a beach, with Peter Kohler and Ellie McKay of The Plastic Tide flying their drone.

Plastics have been in the news lots recently and these children were very clued-up, so they needed little introduction to the plastic problem. Already sufficiently motivated to help clean up our planet, they were spurred on even more by hearing that the The Plastic Tide project is the official project of British Science Week and that it was featuring on Sky News and the BBC!

I explained that Peter and Ellie needed help to tag plastic or litter in beach pictures taken by drones. Tagging the pictures teaches a computer program to recognise plastic. The more pictures that are tagged, the better the program will become. Soon, computers will be able to find the plastics themselves, aiding the creation of a global inventory of marine plastic pollution.

The children set to the task with determination, but it soon became apparent that they were not all totally happy; some were frustrated that not all the images had plastics in. After a gentle reminder that we really shouldn’t be hoping to find plastics and that it’s better to have plastic-free beaches, they returned to the task, only to exclaim later that tagging plastics was making them angry. However, this time, they were annoyed that they had spotted so much plastic and litter. Among their finds we had shoes, old toys, many bottle tops, rope, plastic bags, scores of fragments and even an old, gnarled “danger” sign.

We calculated that in one class of 30 children, each child had tagged between 10 and 20 images, so all together they had helped tag an outstanding 300–600 images. With many other schools around the country also tagging plastics, no wonder the Science Week target to tag over 250 000 images was smashed within days. In fact, by the final day, The Plastic Tide had a record-breaking 1.5 million tags—6 times their original target! That equates to 290 000 a day or 800+ tags a minute!

I spoke to Peter at the end of Science Week and he was blown away by the energy and support:

“Science Week has been a huge boost to tagging. The more tags we get, the better the computer algorithm becomes at detecting plastic. Each tag could help find millions more of the same item and will help us clean up our beaches”.

Peter also confided that there are some very exciting announcements coming soon from The Plastic Tide, so keep an eye out for those, and KEEP TAGGING!

 

Poo

I bet you’re wondering where the “poo” in the title comes from? Well, that’s the icky sticky crowd-pleaser I was referring to at the start. Let’s just say that soggy Weetabix squeezed through nylon tights with a hole in the toe end is a really great way to demonstrate the intestine and how it results in… poo! And I’m also told that before you see a penguin colony in the Antarctic, you smell it first.

For a cleaner approach to science, use Zooniverse!

 

Get tagging!

Get your children tagging!

Help with REAL research and make the world a better place.

 


 

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Dr Gemma Hall is a Science & Technology Writer and STEM Ambassador. She loves explaining complex things simply, and enthusing people about the importance of science to their everyday lives. Gemma is working to develop Zooniverse in schools, enabling young people to perform real research so that they better understand what scientists do.

 

Email: gemmaSTEM@gmail.com

Twitter: @Gemma_STEM