Tag Archives: Adler Planetarium

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.

Celebrating Earth Day

Zooniverse team members based at Chicago’s Adler Planetarium celebrated Earth Day this weekend at Earthfest, a two-day-long celebration of the planet we call home.

Visitors to the Adler Planetarium participate in a Zooniverse hands-on activity during Earthfest
Visitors to the Adler Planetarium participate in a Zooniverse hands-on activity during Earthfest

In addition to many activities for all ages throughout the museum, museum visitors were able to speak with Zooniverse team members to learn about the many earth-related projects available online and on the app. Visitors could also participate in a real-life version of Floating Forests, in which they used tracing paper to illustrate areas of kelp forests on a satellite image. The activity demonstrated how Zooniverse researchers use aggregation to combine many classifications into one very accurate result. Stay tuned for the results of those tracings, coming soon!

Check out a few more photos from the event here.

Zooniverse team members also had some help from our friends at the Field Museum, who stopped by to talk about Microplants, a Zooniverse project studying some of the earliest land plants in the liverwort genus Frullania.

We love speaking with museum visitors and sharing the excitement of participating in real citizen science projects. If you’re in the Chicago area and missed us last weekend, keep an eye out for more information about the Adler Planetarium’s spring Members’ Night, when we’ll have even more fun Zooniverse-related activities for you!

Darren (DZM) New Horizons

Dear Zooniverse community,

I have some news to break to everyone. I’ve accepted a new position at a different company, and while it’s an extremely exciting opportunity for me, it does mean that I have to step away from the Community Builder role here.

This is a bittersweet announcement for me, because as exciting as my new job is for my career, I’ve truly loved my time at the Zooniverse, helping to grow this community and our platform and getting to know so many incredible volunteers, researchers, and staff.

However, I do want to emphasize that this is definitely not goodbye! I couldn’t possibly leave completely—there are so many projects here that I enjoy doing as much as you guys do, and so many exciting developments in the pipeline that I want to see pan out. I’m not going anywhere; instead, I’m becoming one of you: a Zooniverse volunteer. I won’t be your liaison anymore, or a source for reporting your needs, but I’ll continue to be your colleague in people-powered research.

The Zooniverse is growing and changing at an incredible rate right now, and has been for much of my time here over the past 14 months. Overall, I’m blown away by what you’ve all helped us to accomplish. Projects are being launched and completed quickly, and our new research teams are more attuned to volunteers’ needs than ever before. I’ve long believed that the launch of the Project Builder would begin a process of exponentially expanding the scope of the Zoo, and we are definitely beginning to see that happening. I can’t wait to find out, along with the rest of you, what the next chapter of this story has in store for us all.

Thank you all for everything, and I’ll be seeing you all around!

Yours in people-powered research,

Darren “DZM” McRoy

Special note from the ZooTeam — Thank you Darren for all your hard work over the years! We’re so excited for you and this new opportunity. And we very much look forward to continuing to build and strengthen the relationships between our volunteers, research teams, and the Zooniverse team. Thank you all for your contributions! Onward and upward.

Teens Designing Zooniverse-Themed Programs for Their Peer at the Adler Planetarium

This summer high school juniors and seniors from the IIT Boeing Scholars Academy program joined Zooniverse educators at the Adler Planetarium for six days of program prototyping. The IIT Boeing Scholars Academy seeks to inspire high-achieving Chicago-area teens to lead and serve through STEM with an emphasis on pursuing higher education. One component of the summer portion of the program is to embark on a Service Through STEM project during which the scholars coordinate with Chicagoland organizations on projects benefitting the organization. That’s where the Zooniverse team based at the Adler Planetarium comes in.

The Problem:

It probably doesn’t come as a complete shock that the dedicated corps of Zooniverse volunteers is not largely comprised of teens. That’s something we’d like to change. What better way to figure out how to better get more teens involved in Zooniverse projects than by going straight to the source? Sixteen IIT Boeing Scholars worked with Zooniverse and Adler educators on strategies to engage more teens in Zooniverse citizen science projects at the Adler Planetarium.

The Goal:

In order to develop ideas of how to better engage young people in Zooniverse citizen science projects, the sixteen IIT Boeing Scholars stepped into the role of informal science educator to develop a series of museum programs to potentially implement at the Adler Planetarium based around Zooniverse projects.

Museum Program Development:

A huge component of any informal museum educator’s job is to develop programming. Programs come in an endless array of formats – perhaps a five-minute science demonstration, a series of workshops for teens, or an interactive activity within a museum exhibit. As the saying goes there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and that’s certainly true of program development. No matter which model of program development you follow, there is a set of common considerations to be made including

  1. Who is this program for?
  2. What is the content of this program?
  3. What is the best format or program model to use?
  4. What should the audience take away?


Answers to these questions formed the skeleton around which the programs would be built.

Who is this program for?

This was the easiest question for the IIT Being scholars to answer. Since we’re looking for ways to engage teens in Zooniverse projects, the audience for the scholars’ programs was their high-school aged peers.

What is the content of this program?

The content for the programs being designed by the scholars was limited to the science content behind active Zooniverse projects. While a constraint, with over 20 active Zooniverse projects the list needed to be considerably narrowed down. The teens began assessing Zooniverse projects to determine which would be of the most interest to their peers. After careful review they selected Radio Galaxy Zoo, Condor Watch, Cyclone Center, and Planet Hunters as the projects that would be most engaging to teens. The science case behind each of these projects would be used as the meat and potatoes behind the programs the scholars designed. 

What is the best format or program model to use?

There are endless possible formats for an informal science program at a museum. In order to explore the options the IIT Boeing Scholars spent time exploring different museum programming models at the Adler. The participated in a 45-minute field trip workshop designed for 7th-12 graders, watched science demonstrations facilitated in Adler’s exhibits, explored museum exhibitions, and watched a planetarium skyshow. After this exploration the group created a menu of museum program models and defined them so that we could develop a shared vocabulary of what program models they would be working with.

  • Structured Workshop – a longer facilitated hands-on program with a set start and finish time
  • Unstructured Workshop –a longer hands-on facilitated program where museum guests can come and go as they like
  • Demonstration – a short facilitated program on the museum floor
  • Exhibit – one small piece of an exhibition that (e.g. a model and accompanying text panel about Saturn)
  • Exhibition – a collection of exhibits that group together around a central theme (e.g. Our Solar System)
  • Planetarium Skyshow – a presentation including images, music, and narration presented in one of the museum theatres

What is the goal of this program?

Some informal science educators would call them learning goals; others might call them program objectives. Whatever they’re name, program developers should identify what they want their audience to take away from a program. These may be experiential goals like “Have fun” or more content driven goals like “ Program participants will be able identify lead poisoning as a threat to the endangered California condor population.”   The IIT Boing Scholars aimed to incorporate at least one experiential goal and one content goal in their programs.

The Programs:

Once they were able to answer the questions above, the scholars were ready to put some meat on skeleton the questions provided. The scholars broke into four small groups with each group working together to write a rough draft of a program outline that could be used by a person unfamiliar with their ideas to facilitate the program. Here are the program ideas they came up with…

Program Name: Save the Condors

Featured Zooniverse Project: Condor Watch

Program Model: Demonstration

Description: This 10 minute floor demonstration was designed to bring awareness to the problem of lead poisoning within the critically endangered California condor population and publicize how members of the public can assist scientists in their continuing efforts to save this species. The demonstration starts off with a video placing the viewer in the shoes of a condor suffering the effects of lead poisoning. Next the facilitator shows a hands-on activity showing how lead spreads throughout the condor’s body when it ingests a lead bullet embedded within the carcass on which it was feeding. The demonstrations ends by introducing Condor Watch as means to help research scientists better understand how to detect early warning signs of lead poisoning.


Program Name: Inside a Cyclone

Featured Zooniverse Project: Radio Galaxy Zoo

Program Model: Planetarium Skyshow & Demonstration

Description: This group created a storyboard and script for a short skyshow. Unfortunately time did not allow for the development of a prototype that could be projected in one of the museum theatres. This program delved into the science behind tropical cyclones, also called hurricanes or typhoons. It introduced the mechanics of how these storms work, safety precautions that should be taken in the event of such a storm, and the drastic impacts these weather events can have on people and property. Cyclone Center was introduced as a way for people interested in meteorology to participate in the important research behind tropical cyclones.


Program Name: Are We Alone?

Featured Zooniverse Project: Planet Hunters

Program Model: Demonstration

Description: This 5-10 minute floor demonstration was designed to take place on a small stage on the museum floor. Using the Drake Equation, the facilitator engages audience members in a conversation about the possibility of alien life in our galaxy. The program ends with an invitation to actively participate in the search for habitable worlds through Zooniverse’s Planet Hunters project.


Program Name: The Mystery of the Universe: Black Holes

Featured Zooniverse Project: Radio Galaxy Zoo

Program Model: Structured Workshop



This 30 minute workshop was designed to introduce teens to perhaps the most asked about of space phenomena – black holes. Through a video, hand-on demonstrations, and a small group activity the facilitator guides program participants through. Radio Galaxy Zoo is presented as a way for teens to continue their exploration by helping scientists locate supermassive black holes.


We really enjoyed working with these bright and motivated young people!

New Zooniverse digital humanities job

Here at Zooniverse we’re starting some exciting new work in the humanities!

We’re pleased to announce our new collaboration with Tate Britain, a world-leading institute for art in the modern era, based in London.

Zooniverse and Tate are teaming up to tackle the difficult task of crowd-powered full-text manuscript transcription. This project follows on from the success of projects like Operation War Diary and Old Weather and will no doubt feed into other humanities projects in the future.

The new transcription interface will enable volunteers to read and transcribe the personal papers of modern British artists. Volunteers will encounter letters, notebooks and sketches that reveal artists’ everyday lives, creative practices and the processes by which great works of art were made.

We are seeking a talented front end developer with a passion for art and the humanities to work alongside our humanities specialist and the Zooniverse and Tate teams to deliver the project.

The closing date for applications is 12 noon on 25 July, 2014. For more information and to apply, see here: http://www.jobs.ac.uk/job/AJB887/citizen-science-front-end-developer/


PS: We are also looking for a new web developer to join our team at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. You can view the job description here.

The Zooniverse Teacher Ambassadors Workshop – A Recap

Two days ago the Zooniverse Teacher Ambassadors Workshop concluded. It’s been an exhilarating, challenging, exciting and utterly exhausting couple of days, but in that good and really satisfying way. Fifteen classroom teachers and five informal educators from around the United States (and one from Ireland!) gathered at the Adler Planetarium for what I like to call “Zooniverse Bootcamp”. 

Getting Organized:

Planning this two-day event took a lot of time and energy but fortunately Laura and I had plenty of help. This summer we’ve had the great fortune to be working with Julie Feldt. Julie is interning with Zooniverse as she’s finishing up her certificate in Museum Studies from the University of Michigan.  Jennifer Gupta, the Outreach Officer for the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation at The University of Portsmouth, also joined us for the workshop and the week leading up to it. Four pairs of hands are so much better than two!

Getting organized CSI style, by writing on the glass walls of our office at the Adler Planetarium.
Getting organized CSI style, by writing on the glass walls of our office at the Adler Planetarium.

Last week began with a scramble to make sure all of our ducks were in a row.  Internal and external catering arranged?  Check!  Workshop spaces booked at the Adler Planetarium? Check! Workshop participant hotel and flight Last week began with a scramble to make sure all of our ducks were in a row.  Internal and external catering arranged?  Check!  Workshop spaces booked at the Adler Planetarium? Check! Workshop participant hotel and flight reservations finalized? Check! Agenda having to be completely redone to fit everything in?  Double check! By Thursday morning we were ready to roll.

Day One Highlights

Laura kicked off the workshop by outlining the general landscape of citizen science and Zooniverse’s place within that landscape.

Citizen science is not a new idea, it’s been around for a long time.
Citizen science is not a new idea, it’s been around for a long time.

Arfon outlines how one project has grown to more than 15 in six short years.
Arfon outlines how one project has grown to more than fifteen in six short years.

Arfon Smith, Zooniverse Technical Lead and Director of Citizen Science at the Adler Planetarium, then overviewed the rise of a little project called Galaxy Zoo and the development of the Zooniverse as a collect of online citizen science projects from across a wide variety of scientific disciplines. 

Next using Snapshot Serengeti as an example, I led workshop participants through the process of creating a Zooniverse project from submitting a proposal to the the Citizen Science Alliance to collaborating with Zooniverse developers and designers to build the website.

Talk 3

Throughout the first day workshop participants heard from science teams from several Zooniverse projects.   Scott Stevens from Cyclone Center, William Keel from Galaxy Zoo, Chris Lintott from Planet Hunters, and Jessica Luo from an upcoming project about plankton all discussed the science behind their projects.

A slide from Scott Steven’s talk about Cyclone Center explaining limitations behind historic measurements of tropical cyclones and how Zooniverse volunteers can help.
A slide from Scott Steven’s talk about Cyclone Center explaining limitations behind historic measurements of tropical cyclones and how Zooniverse volunteers can help.


A sea drifter from Jessica Luo’s talk about a soon to be launched project about plankton.
A sea drifter from Jessica Luo’s talk about a soon to be launched project about plankton. 

In addition to learning about the history of the Zooniverse and hearing the stories behind a selection of projects, we also took the opportunity to introduce some of the new educational resources we’ve been busy developing.  Jen Gupta introduced ZooTeach and demoed a lesson from the upcoming Planet Hunters Educators Guide.  Laura led an interactive activity using the Galaxy Zoo Navigator.  This tool allows students the ability to classify galaxies as a group and then probe the data a bit further with some simple graphing tools.

A plot of the distribution of  absolute radius among classified by workshop participants using Galaxy Zoo Navigator.
A plot of the distribution of absolute radius among classified by workshop participants using Galaxy Zoo Navigator

Day 2 Highlights

After an evening of Mexican food we were ready to move into the final day of the workshop. Day two was a whirlwind of continuing discussion about tools to bring Zooniverse projects into the classroom and more behind the scenes looks at projects.  Julie Feldt, Zooniverse education intern, and Karen Masters, Galaxy Zoo project scientist ran a prototype program aimed at giving students a chance to interact with a Zooniverse scientist through structured activities and discussions through Google Hangouts.

Teachers create their own galaxy classification schemes during Julie and Karen’s Google Hangout.
Teachers create their own galaxy classification schemes during Julie and Karen’s Google Hangout.

Aprajita Verma from the Spacewarps (http://spacewarps.org/) science team gave a terrific talk all about how Zooniverse volunteers are searching for gravitational lenses.

Adler Planetarium educator Andi Nelson led teachers through an amazing session of constructing lesson ideas using Zooniverse projects that map to the recently finalized Next Generation Science Standards. 

One group’s plan to use Cell Slider (http://www.cellslider.net/) as the focus of lessons structured around the NGSS framework.
One group’s plan to use Cell Slider as the focus of lessons structured around the NGSS framework.

By the end of day two, workshop participants were brimming with ideas to share!  As homework, each person will create an educational lesson or resource aimed at using a Zooniverse project with students. We will post these in ZooTeach. The teachers will also each be writing a blog post, so you can hear directly from them about their experiences with citizen science.

Some Lessons Learned

Of course, we can’t help but share a few valuable lessons that we learned…

  • Science teams scattered around the globe make for some agenda setting nightmares.  But totally worth it! 
  • Don’t get cocky and let your guard down after a smooth day one.   
  • Think of technology like a small child, it acts-up or gets cranky at the most inopportune times
  • Coffee available all day, every day is always the way to go!
  • 8:30am-5:30pm – too long of a day.
  • Teachers are always early, be prepared!
  • Two days isn’t enough, a little longer is better.

We’d like to thanks everybody involved in the Zooniverse Teacher Ambassadors Workshop!  We were so lucky to spend two days with such talented and passionate educators. The science team members all gave stellar talks and we’re grateful to all who participated.  Also a special thanks to all of the staff at the Adler Planetarium that made this workshop possible. We’re hoping to do this again!