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Zooniverse Designates This Month 'Citizen Science September'
© Image: Zooniverse.org
editorial

Zooniverse Designates This Month 'Citizen Science September'

In today’s hyper-connected world, anybody can contribute to cutting-edge scientific research. We recently told you how universities and organizations are using crowdsourcing and gamification to help identify and treat diseases – but crowdsourcing and ‘citizen science’ are not limited to just the healthcare field.

One of the early trailblazers in the citizen science field was Galaxy Zoo, a project started by Zooniverse. In order to keep raising awareness of its work, Zooniverse declared this month Citizen Science September. As part of the initiative, the organization is launching new projects and improving existing ones. So far, Zooniverse has revamped its original Galaxy Zoo project and introduced Seafloor Explorer, which asks users locate underwater creatures. The organization declares “even more areas of research [will be] brought into the Zooniverse fold" in its soon-to-be-released projects.

Zooniverse launched Galaxy Zoo in July 2007, asking its users to help classify galaxies archived by NASA’s Hubble Telescope. The project’s developers expected a small core of committed users to slowly but surely identify the galaxies in the images. It must have been quite a surprise, then, that within 24 hours of launching, Galaxy Zoo was accumulating 70,000 classifications per hour. In the first year, the platform helped crowdsource 50 million galaxy classifications.

Since the images may be blurry, and since galaxies come in many shapes and sizes, our brains are “better than even the most advanced computer” at categorizing them. The number of images, however, made categorizing galaxies a tedious task for a lone scientist, or even a group.

Given the project’s popularity, Zooniverse decided to apply the concept to other areas of science. Today, it features nine projects and three "laboratories," all asking for the crowd’s input on a range of topics. These range from studying explosions on the sun to helping researchers understand what whales are saying.

Citizen scientists are unlikely to make groundbreaking scientific discoveries on their own, but behind each invention and innovation is a hoard of data that needs to be compiled and sorted. Volunteers do not get individual credit for helping conduct research. But, at the very least, crowdsourced science allows all of us to feel like we’re making our world a more enlightened place – one starfish, whale song, or galaxy at a time.

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