Category Archives: News

Zooniverse is 10 today!

Zooniverse is ten years old! On 12th December 2009, Zooniverse.org sputtered into life, celebrated with a post on this very blog (https://blog.zooniverse.org/2009/12/12/the-zooniverse-is-go/). Truth be told, there wasn’t a huge amount to show – the only project there was our first, Galaxy Zoo, which had been running for a couple of years by that point. What a contrast to today’s bustling home page, with 229 live projects for you to choose from. Early in 2010 two new projects – Solar Stormwatch and Moon Zoo – were launched, before Old Weather became our first project based here on Earth instead of out in the cosmos.

To celebrate, we’re redoubling our efforts to reach two million volunteers. We’re about 50,000 short, so if every one in twenty of you invites a friend to join in we’ll be there in no time. We have a prize lined up for the lucky two millionth, and anyone who classifies on any project on that auspicious day will go into a draw for some Zooniverse swag.

Birthdays are also time for reflection. To be honest, I was a bit surprised when I realised that we were approaching this milestone birthday. Galaxy Zoo had arrived with a big bang, a sudden explosion of effort, but as the above description suggests Zooniverse grew more slowly, as project after project was added to our nascent platform. Over the years, we rebuilt the codebase (more than once), projects came and went, and the army of Zooniverse volunteers grew in strength and in numbers. Looking back, though, the decision we made to launch Zooniverse set in stone some important principles that still guide us today.

For starters, it meant that we were committed to building a universe of projects which volunteers could move easily between. Projects which were lucky enough to get publicity – featuring on BBC Stargazing Live, for example – thus benefited other projects by bringing new people into the Zooniverse community. We built a shared codebase, so that funding for a particular project could support the development of code that benefited everyone. For most participants, their experience of the Zooniverse is limited to the project they’re participating in, whether it involves penguins, papyri or planets, but these network effects have been hugely important in sustaining such a rich variety of projects for a decade.

We’ve always tried to make it as easy as possible for researchers to build the best projects they can imagine, investing in the project builder tool that now supports all of the projects listed on our homepage. The choice – made early – to present the Zooniverse as a tool that’s free for researchers to use has caused problems; we are almost completely dependent on grant funding, which is a risky way to run a railroad, to say the least. But it has meant that those researchers, often early in their careers, have been able to turn to Zooniverse for help without reservation, and I think we’ve had better results – and more fun – as a consequence. 

There have been so many great moments over the last ten years, but just for a bit of fun here are my top 3 favourites:

  1. First hearing the Solar Stormwatch results were good – realising the method doesn’t just work for Galaxy Zoo.
  2. Climbing up a hill in the Antarctic to retrieve Penguin Watch data.
  3. The morning where we thought Higgs Hunters volunteers had discovered something truly remarkable (sadly it turned out they hadn’t).

So here’s to ten years of the Zooniverse. At any point in the last decade, I’d have been wrong if I’d tried to predict what the next few years would bring. I’m looking forward to more adventures and surprises in our second decade!

Chris

PS I can’t possibly list all of the people who were instrumental in building and guiding the project over the years, but I hope the team will forgive me for mentioning Arfon Smith, my co-founder and the technical genius behind the Zooniverse’s first few years, Lucy Fortson, whose wisdom we’ve relied on from the start, and Lauras Whyte and Trouille who have in turn led the Adler team in Chicago through this mad decade. Special thanks too to the volunteers – all of you – but especially Elisabeth Baaten, Jules Wilkinson, and PMason, whose spirit and generosity is a constant source of wonder and inspiration. 

Panoptes CLI 1.1 now available

I recently released version 1.1 of the Panoptes CLI – the command-line interface for managing Zooniverse projects. This update includes some exciting new features. Here are the highlights.

You can install the update by running pip install -U panoptescli. Any bugs or issues should be raised via GitHub. See the changelog for the full list of changes.

Resuming failed subject uploads

This one adds what is probably the CLI’s most requested feature: the ability to resume a failed upload from where it left off, without duplicating subjects or requiring manual changes to the manifest. I hope this will be a huge help to researchers, especially when uploading large manifests.

If the upload fails for any reason – whether that’s an issue with our systems, a problem with your internet connection, a bug in the CLI itself, or if you just decide to stop the upload by pressing ctl-c – the CLI will detect that there was a problem and will ask you if you want to be able to resume the upload later. If you say yes, it will then save a new manifest in YAML format containing the remaining upload queue along with all of the upload’s command line options. Then to resume, you just start a new upload with the YAML manifest instead of the original CSV.

Multithreaded subject uploads

Uploading new subjects can often take a long time. The total upload time depends not only on your internet connection speed, but also on the time it takes for the CLI to talk to the Panoptes API. Creating a new subject typically requires the CLI to make two HTTP requests: one to create the subject and one to upload the subject’s media (the image, or video, or whatever). If the subject has multiple images then that only increases the number of requests. Plus subjects need to be linked to the subject set; this happens in batches, but it can still add up to a lot of requests for large uploads. If you’re uploading 10,000 subjects for example, that means the CLI has to make a minimum of 20,000 requests (probably more), and each of those requests includes some overhead where the CLI is waiting for the server to respond, which is all basically wasted time.

Luckily the Panoptes CLI 1.1 gets around that, by taking advantage of the multithreading features of the Panoptes Client for Python which were released earlier this year. Now, those 20,000 requests will happen five at a time, so for example three of them can be sending data while two of them are waiting for the server, meaning your internet connection is fully utilised the whole time and no time is wasted. In my testing, this substantially sped up subject uploads, potentially saving hours of your time.

Adding and removing lists of subjects to and from subject sets

Often project owners need to add large numbers of existing subjects to a new set, or remove subjects from their current set. It was possible to do this with the previous version of the CLI by passing subject IDs on the command-line, but it was often difficult to modify large numbers of subjects this way (it was possible with xargs on Linux and macOS, but this isn’t the most intuitive way to do it).

Now, there’s a new option to pass a list of IDs in a text file rather than having to specify IDs on the command-line. (The old way is still there too if you prefer to do it that way!) Just produce a text file containing the relevant subject IDs, one per line. If you already have the subject information in a spreadsheet, exporting a CSV file with just the subject ID column will produce the right file (just make sure it only contains the one column).

For example, if you have a file called subject_ids.csv containing the following:

1234
5678
9012

You can run:

panoptes subject-set add-subjects -f subject_ids.csv 1357

to add subjects 1234, 5678, and 9012 to subject set 1357.

 

Edited 29 November 2019: Fixed typo in pip command for upgrade.

ESA Image of the Week created by Zooniverse volunteer


Main-belt asteroid 2001 SE101 passing in front of the Crab Nebula (M1). The streak appears curved due to Hubble’s orbital motion around the Earth. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, M. Thévenot (@AstroMelina); CC BY 4.0

Last week, the European Space Agency released the above Image of the Week from the Hubble Asteroid Hunter project. It shows an asteroid passing in front of the Crab Nebula, M1, an image found in the ESA HST archives by citizen scientist Melina Thevenot, who created a colour image of it. 

Hubble Asteroid Hunter was created using our Zooniverse Panoptes platform by a team of researchers from the European Space Agency, and launched on International Asteroid Day (30 June 2019) with the aim of identifying serendipitous observations of asteroids in archival Hubble data. Over the almost three decades of observations, HST provided a vast wealth of images that are available in the archives. Many of these images targeting far away galaxies or clusters contain photobombing asteroids, passing in front of the intended targets (for example asteroids passing in front of Abell 370 cluster in the Hubble Frontier Fields – https://hubblesite.org/contents/media/images/2017/33/4082-Image.html?keyword=Asteroids) . Rather than being a nuisance, astronomers realised that the images can be used to better characterise the asteroids themselves and determine their orbits. 

A pipeline was set up in ESA’s discovery portal (ESA Sky – https://sky.esa.int/) that matches the asteroids’ predicted positions in both time and space from the IAU Minor Planet Center database with the European HST archival images. The predicted positions of these objects, nevertheless, have some uncertainties as the ephemerides are not always known to great precision. This is a great opportunity for citizen scientists to inspect Hubble images and mark the positions of the trails. Knowing the exact positions of the trails allows researchers to update the ephemerides of the asteroids, and better characterise their orbits. This is important, especially for Near-Earth Objects, which can be potentially hazardous for the Earth. 

So far, over 1900 citizen scientists participated in the project, providing over 300,000 classifications. The project was extended with images from the ecliptic plane to search for potentially unknown asteroids, and with other longer exposure archival images to search for possible past interstellar visitors, such as 2I/Borisov. The volunteers have the chance of exploring beautiful Hubble images of galaxies, clusters and  gravitational lenses with these new images! 

Happy asteroid hunting on www.asteroidhunter.org

UKRI Citizen Science Exploration Grants

UK Research and Innovation have announced a scheme to support citizen science projects, focused especially on new and innovative uses. It seems like an excellent opportunity to experiment, or to work on designing a new project and we hope it persuades many more people to take the plunge and start using citizen science approaches in their research. More details at https://www.ukri.org/funding/funding-opportunities/citizen-science-exploration.

We at Zooniverse would be keen to help any UK-based researchers thinking of applying for such a grant – if you’re interested, or would like to discuss how you might use the Zooniverse platform, contact Grant Miller : grant@zooniverse.org

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.

 

 

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.

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.