Do you enjoy stories about science and the discoveries made in the various fields? Do you ever wish you could be involved in an important scientific effort?
Most of us who have a keen interest in science don’t also have an occupation in those areas of interest that allows us to do the science. In my case, I chose a career in teaching about science in order to lay the foundations in my students an understanding of physics. I enjoyed watching students grow in their appreciation for physics. Most did not become physicists. Even fewer became physics teachers. Though, I am happy to say, some did. I hope all of my students were better equipped to understand the technical issues they face today.
I’ve done my share of actual science. Most of those projects were small and answered a question for me alone. The desire to contribute to a much larger project and body of knowledge has always been in me. Like thousands of others, I was part of the SETI@home project from Berkeley. Many citizen scientists joined the Folding@home project from Stanford. I encourage you to add your own favorite projects in the comments below. Include a link so others can investigate. One of my current favorite citizen science sites is Zooniverse.
What Does Zooniverse Involve?
Zooniverse, with 76 active projects, has hundreds of thousands of people involved worldwide as citizen scientists to date. It is home to the internet’s largest and most successful citizen science projects. Pick a project and start right in. There are simple tutorials to guide you. If you like what is offered, sign up for a free account. The same account will get you into all projects. Zooniverse and the suite of projects is produced, maintained and developed by the Citizen Science Alliance. The member institutions of the CSA work with academic and other partners to make projects that use the volunteers to help scientists and researchers cope with the large amounts of data that faces them.
The first project was Galaxy Zoo in 2007. The directors of the project were overwhelmed with the public’s response. Volunteers classified galaxies by appearance as spiral, elliptical, or irregular. This was not a job that computers could do automatically. The servers for the project could not keep up with demand from the volunteer activity. Obviously, they had a popular idea the public liked.
According to the project leaders…
Galaxy Zoo was important because not only was it incredibly popular, but it produced many unique scientific results, ranging from individual, serendipitous discoveries to those using classifications that depend on the input of everyone who’s visited the site. This commitment to producing real research – so that you know that we’re not wasting your time – is at the heart of everything we do.
Educational outreach is a prime focus for the Zooniverse projects. Not only is the site used by hundreds of thousands, that fact offers huge potential for exposure to kids of all ages.
The projects within the Zooniverse provide an excellent resource for inquiry-based learning within the classroom or for home-school groups. Parents and kids can have a great time together interacting in a fun and educational way while engaging in real science. Zooniverse projects can be a compelling facilitated experience in a museum environment or as a stand-alone kiosk. If you’re interested in all things education about Zooniverse, then this is the right place to start.
Involvement in a project is simple. Fill a simple form. Access is granted to each project. Tutorials guide you through the basics of what to do and why. You can read or post questions to blogs or be part of different groups.
Two Other Examples of Projects
The Kepler Mission has been successful in finding Earth sized planets orbiting other stars. Zooniverse has a project called Planet Hunters which uses Kepler data to search for signals of planets as they transit stars in the Kepler field. Their interface is shown below. Perhaps you can spot the signals in this screenshot. What an interesting way to be involved and contribute to these important discoveries.
Old Weather helps scientists transcribe ship logs of Arctic and worldwide weather records by US ships since the mid-1800s. The transcriptions help shape climate models and improve our knowledge of the past environment. Historical data helps us understand what the weather will do in the future if understand what the weather was doing in the past. A database will help to identify weather patterns and extremes. Climate models can be tested to compare Earth’s future weather against how the climate behaved in the past.
If you want to participate in science, this site offers ways in which to do just that. Check them out. Together, our large numbers of volunteers can help to advance knowledge, lead to new discoveries, and have some fun in the process.