Category Archives: News

Who’s who in the Zoo – Will Granger

In this week’s edition of our Who’s who in the Zoo series meet one of our Chicago based developers, Will Granger

– Helen


Will - Will Granger

Name: Will Granger

Location: Adler Planetarium, Chicago, IL, USA




Tell us about your role within the team:

I’ve been with the Zooniverse team since Spring 2016 when I started as a Web Developer. Since then, I’ve expanded my roles a bit helping out with mobile development, when needed. Currently, my main project is working on a touch table application for Galaxy Zoo which should be at the Adler Planetarium Summer 2019.


What did you do in your life before the Zooniverse?

I’ve led many lives before joining the Zooniverse; however, my main occupation was teaching. I taught in various K – 12 schools in Alabama with non-profits and as a substitute teacher. I also spent a couple years overseas with the Peace Corps teaching at a university in Ukraine. Intermittently, I also spent some time opening a music venue in Alabama and touring in various bands.


What does your typical working day involve?

My typical working day involves keeping my eye on several code bases while also trying to develop the touch table application. Usually, I’ll spend part of the day doing maintenance on custom projects and the main Zooniverse page before checking on any mobile updates that need review. After that, I’ll continue building out the touch table, adding new features weekly.


How would you describe the Zooniverse in one sentence?

The Zooniverse is always expanding.


Tell us about the first Zooniverse project you were involved with

The first Zooniverse project I worked on was Astronomy Rewind. My task was to create a sort of astronomical calculator to take coordinates of celestial objects (RA, DEC, etc.) and put those into the World Wide Telescope API to see how images and charts from astronomical journals would appear in space. This was my first task as a web developer, and I was constantly under the impression that every change I made would break the Zooniverse. In the end, my work succeeded and I looked back with satisfaction that I was able to convert once-intimidating Astrometry calculations into code.


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

It’s difficult to choose one, but I’d say the discovery of a new exoplanet system during Stargazing Live in 2017 was the most exciting for me. Our team spent the prior month or so preparing for a spike of people visiting the site, and it was rewarding to see our work pay off, especially as the volunteer who made the discovery was interview on the BBC program.


What’s been your most memorable Zooniverse experience?

The first Zooniverse Team Meeting I attended was memorable. Our team is more or less separated between Chicago, Minneapolis, and Oxford, and we have the opportunity to meet together once a year. It was nice to meet everyone in person I had been working with since I started at the Zooniverse, especially since we were able to spend time after work hours getting to know each other in Chicago.


What are your top three citizen science projects? 

Anti-Slavery Manuscripts: This project is important to me because it was one of the first projects I took a lead on, and we did several new things with the Zooniverse, such as saving classifications in progress to return to later.

Galaxy Zoo: The longest running project on the Zooniverse deserves a mention, and I’m glad to be a part of the transition of this project to a touch table.

Snapshot Serengeti: Any camera trap project deserves a mention here, but it’s exciting to see what animal(s) will show up on an image.


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

Taking a look at several active projects is a good first step. It’s good to have some ideas on how to setup a project if you’re more familiar with the breadth of projects available on the Zooniverse. Next, I’d play around with the project builder, even create a few test projects to make sure you know how those tools can be used. Once your familiar with that, I think a team should be in a good place to start implementing a project.


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

I’d recommend downloading the Zooniverse app and finding a swipe workflow to work on. These projects are easy to get into an would open the door to other projects we have on the Zooniverse. iNaturalist is also another citizen-science project worth checking out with an app available for download.


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

I hope we are able to grow in ways beyond our online presence. We have already started doing this with the mobile app and touch table, but I’m curious how this will continue developing in the future as technology advances. I would also like to see the Zooniverse partner with more institutions. We have projects with some Chicago-area museums, but it would be great to see the Zoooniverse in museums around the globe.


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

I’m excited to see how the Zooniverse will partner with new telescopes being sent to space. In the next several years, there will be many advancements in data collection for such telescopes, and I think the Zooniverse can help researchers in their data collection.


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

I’m often at a show somewhere in Chicago. It’s great to live in such a large city where bands on tour make it a point to play a show. It’s always great to head out and see artists from bucket-list bands to friends coming through.


Do you have any party tricks or hidden talents?

I used to speak Russian fluently from living in Ukraine, but my skills are now a bit rusty. Writing people’s names in Cyrillic is always a crowd-pleaser.


Adler Members’ Night recap

We had a blast hanging out with Chicago-area volunteers and Adler Members at last month’s Adler Members’ Night! Visitors were able to try out potential new Zooniverse projects and Adler exhibits, including a constellation-themed project in collaboration with the Adler’s collections department, as well as U!Scientist, our NSF-supported touch table installation which features Galaxy Zoo.

Northwestern University researchers shook it up demonstrating why earthquakes behave in different ways based on plate friction, registered jumps on a seismograph and quizzed guests on seismograms from jumping second graders, storms and different earthquakes. Their Zooniverse project Earthquake Detective is currently in beta and is set to launch soon.

And we were delighted to watch volunteer @GlamasaurusRex complete her 15,000th classification LIVE IN PERSON. She made the classification on Higgs Hunters. Check out the video here:

Beta for Mobile

One of the big efforts for the mobile app right now is to make the project building experience for mobile feel about the same as it does for web. For the most part, the experiences were very similar. In fact, they were almost identical besides the limitations we put on what workflows mobile projects can have. There was, however, a very large limiting factor for mobile project builders. There was no formal path from creating a project to getting that project to release on the app.

Introducing Beta Mode for mobile!

Now project builders who want their workflows to be enabled on mobile can have them reviewed on mobile as well. Here’s how it works:

When a project that has a mobile workflow is approved to go to beta, it will appear in the “Beta Review” section on the main page of the app.

Simulator Screen Shot - iPhone 8 - 2018-10-31 at 13.41.22

From there, users will be able to view and test all of the beta projects that are currently live.

We are launching this feature with (of course) Galaxy Zoo Mobile. It is available now for all our users, so go ahead and check it out!

Simulator Screen Shot - iPhone 8 - 2018-10-31 at 13.41.35

Like beta review on web-based projects, we will collect feedback from volunteer testers and give that back to project owners. This new process will lead to better, clearer mobile workflows in the future.

Stay tuned for more notes about upcoming mobile features!

Download our iOS and Android apps!

Who’s who in the Zoo – Syracuse University Zooniverse User Research Group

This week, meet the Syracuse University Zooniverse User Research Group – a team that works across multiple Zooniverse projects to study many aspects of citizen science, including what volunteers learn through participation and what motivates them to contribute. 

– Helen

group - Corey Jackson.png


Research Team: Syracuse University’s Zooniverse User Research Group

Location: School of Information Studies, Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York USA


What are your main research interests?

Our group studies user behaviors in Zooniverse. Our research is centered on (1) understanding the complex and emergent motivations of volunteers who contribute to Zooniverse projects and (2) investigating how amateurs learn via participation in projects. Our research covers users in Planet Hunters, Higgs Hunters, Asteroid Zoo, Seafloor Explorer, and Gravity Spy.


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

Kevin Crowston, Professor

Carsten Osterlund, Associate Professor

Corey Jackson, Ph.D. Candidate

Mabi Harandi, Ph.D. Student

Amruta Bhat, Masters Student

Dhruv Kharwar, Masters Student

Isabella Valentine, Undergraduate Student (REU)


Tell us more about the data used in your research

Our data comes from system logs, Talk posts, surveys, focus groups, and interviews.


How do Zooniverse volunteers contribute to your research? 

Zooniverse volunteers are extremely valuable to our research and in turn, enhance our ability to suggest features that encourage motivation and support learning.


What are the biggest challenges in your research?

One of the biggest challenges is learning more about newcomers and dropouts in the projects. These volunteers are valuable contributors to many citizen science projects. However, because they do not stay with the project for very long, there’s not much opportunity to interact with them. Understanding why they leave and how we can encourage them to stay can help increase contribution to Zooniverse projects.


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

We’ve published more than twenty full papers, posters, and other publications based on user research in Zooniverse. You can see the list here (


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

Our questions center on motivation and learning. For instance, when newcomers join a project, informative resources such as volunteer-created discussion threads might be hidden across the discussion forums. We’re trying to find methods to apply machine learning techniques to bring these to the fore.


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

Currently, we’re collaborating with the Gravity Spy project to design more complex citizen science tasks. For example, in Gravity Spy volunteers come up with their own labels to name phenomenon in the spectrograms they classify.


What are your favourite other citizen research projects and why?

We’re most actively involved with Gravity Spy. We’re currently working with LIGO scientists to design advanced citizen science work. We hope this research leads to the inclusion of citizen science tasks covering more phases of the scientific research process.


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

One of the most crucial aspects of a successful citizen science projects is engagement by the science team. Answering volunteer question on the discussion boards, organizing Skype meetings, providing feedback and keeping volunteers abreast of progress has been shown to encourage volunteers to remain active.


If you’d like to learn more about Syracuse University’s Zooniverse User Research Group check out their publications here (

Who’s who in the Zoo – Grant Miller

In this week’s edition of our Who’s who in the Zoo series meet Grant Miller, communications and projects manager here at the Zooniverse. 

– Helen

13041206_1165455823487713_1298078809440163818_o - Grant Miller

Name: Grant Miller

Location: University of Oxford, UK




Tell us about your role within the team:

I don’t really have a solid job title. Sometimes I say communications lead. Occasionally it’s project manager. At points it has been community manager. I’ve been with the team for over 5 years and my role essentially involves talking to everyone (volunteers, project builders, the development team, and external researchers).


What did you do in your life before the Zooniverse?

I completed a PhD at the University of St Andrews in the search for, and characterisation of, exoplanets (planets orbiting other stars in our galaxy).


What does your typical working day involve?

Quite a few emails. A lot of working with people to help them build and run their project in the best way possible. Fantastic discussions with the other Zooniverse team members about how we can improve the platform.


How would you describe the Zooniverse in one sentence?

The Zooniverse breaks down barriers, leading to open research that wouldn’t be possible without the help of millions of volunteers worldwide.


Tell us about the first Zooniverse project you were involved with

I was a masters student doing a summer internship when Galaxy Zoo launched. I fell in love with it and did thousands of classifications one week instead of the work I was supposed to be doing.


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

People all around the world, of all ages, races, genders, and socioeconomic backgrounds will help you with your research if you just ask, and they’ll do it for no more than their desire to see progress.


What’s been your most memorable Zooniverse experience?

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to spend 3 weeks on an expedition to the Southern Ocean and Antarctica with the Penguin Watch research team, helping them maintain their cameras and monitor the penguin colonies. That’s hard to beat, but there have been many many other highlights over the last 5 years.


What are your top three citizen science projects? 

Plankton Portal (It was the first one I helped launch, and it is awesome. The images of the tiny sea creature are fantastic.)

Snapshot Serengeti (…and all other camera trap projects that followed. It was the original camera trap project on the Zooniverse and my first experience of the amazing and candid shots you could get of wildlife when they don’t think they’re being watched.)

Planet Hunters (it was the first exoplanet project we launched. On it the volunteers showed us just how awesome they could be when allowed to talk to each other. They discovered the first ever planet with 4 stars! I wish I had been smart enough to create a project like this to help with my PhD…)


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

You’re entering a huge collaboration with lots of wonderful volunteers. Treat them with respect and communicate with them as often as you would a professional collaborator. They will reward you with awesome discoveries and unrivaled effort.


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

Just click ‘Get Started’ on any Zooniverse project. they are designed to minimise the barrier to entry. All of the tasks are pretty easy to do, and most projects come with a short tutorial to help you.


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

In every household and classroom. But seriously, just more present in people’s thoughts when they consider research methods. We also need to get humans working with machines to go through even larger datasets.


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

I’m really excited to see what happens when we get humans and machines working together on the same datasets. This will allow us to do research that isn’t even possible with a large crowd.


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

Either exploring somewhere I’ve not been before, on the golf course, on the real tennis court, listening to music, watching football (‘mon Scotland!), or in the pub with friends. Preferably all of the above on the same day.


Do you have any party tricks or hidden talents?

I play guitar, but never do it in public anymore. I can also name all 50 US state capitals, which is pretty much useless. I’m above average at balancing objects (my record is 4 golf balls, or 5 pint glasses before being asked to leave the pub.)


Zooniverse Data Aggregation

Hi all, I am Coleman Krawczyk and for the past year I have been working on tools to help Zooniverse research teams work with their data exports.  The current version of the code (v1.3.0) supports data aggregation for nearly all the project builder task types, and support will be added for the remaining task types in the coming months.

What does this code do?

This code provides tools to allow research teams to process and aggregate classifications made on their project, or in other words, this code calculates the consensus answer for a given subject based on the volunteer classifications.  

The code is written in python, but it can be run completely using three command line scripts (no python knowledge needed) and a project’s data exports.


The first script is the uses a project’s workflow data export to auto-configure what extractors and reducers (see below) should be run for each task in the workflow.  This produces a series of `yaml` configuration files with reasonable default values selected.


Next the extraction script takes the classification data export and flattens it into a series of `csv` files, one for each unique task type, that only contain the data needed for the reduction process.  Although the code tries its best to produce completely “flat” data tables, this is not always possible, so more complex tasks (e.g. drawing tasks) have structured data for some columns.


The final script takes the results of the data extraction and combine them into a single consensus result for each subject and each task (e.g. vote counts, clustered shapes, etc…).  For more complex tasks (e.g. drawing tasks) the reducer’s configuration file accepts parameters to help tune the aggregation algorithms to best work with the data at hand.

A full example using these scripts can be found in the documentation.

Future for this code

At the moment this code is provided in its “offline” form, but we testing ways for this aggregation to be run “live” on a Zooniverse project.  When that system is finished a research team will be able to enter their configuration parameters directly in the project builder, a server will run the aggregation code, and the extracted or reduced `csv` files will be made available for download.

You’re invited!

Once again, we’re hosting a meetup for our Chicago-area Zooniverse volunteers during Adler’s Members’ Night.

Visit us at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago where you’ll be able to:

  • Meet Zooniverse team members
  • Talk to researchers from Northwestern University about an upcoming project
  • Preview new projects
  • Help us beta test a new exhibit for the Adler

The event is free for all Zooniverse volunteers – at the door, just show your Zooniverse profile either on a mobile device or printed out. You’ll be able to participate in all of the Adler’s Members’ Night activities and tour the planetarium after hours.

Adler Planetarium Members’ Night
Friday, October 26
6:00-10:00 pm

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


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.

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 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.


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.


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