Citizen science projects

There’s been a fair bit of reporting the past few days on the game/citizen science project Foldit and how efficient it was at solving a computationally hard problem (namely, deciphering the crystal structure of an enzyme). I thought I’d take a bit of time and round up some of the citizen science projects I’ve heard about and give a brief summary of what they’re trying to do. Many of them will come from the Zooniverse project. Note that I hold citizen science projects distinct from distributive computing projects like Folding@Home or SETI@Home which don’t require active user involvement. Perhaps I’ll write about them some other time.

A citizen science project involves farming out analytical work to amateurs (in the sense that they are not being paid and it is not their primary occupation). It’s only really become possible in the present time when high-speed Internet connections are widespread so that the projects can be made in such a way to be highly visual and engaging. Anyway:

  • Foldit – Protein folding; users fold a virtual model and are scored based on how well-folded the resulting structure is.
  • Phylo – Nucleotide sequencing; users manipulate stylized genetic sequences and are scored based on optimization.
  • Galaxy Zoo (Hubble) – Classifying galaxies; newest iteration of the popular Galaxy Zoo project. Users identify galaxies based on certain characteristics like orientation of the arms.
  • Galaxy Zoo (Mergers) – Galactic mergers; users compare images of galactic mergers with simulations.
  • Galaxy Zoo (Supernovae) – Supernovae hunting; any likely targets are sent out for followup at associated observatories.
  • Planet Hunters – Exoplanet hunting; users analyze light curves of stars to look for the characteristics of a transiting exoplanet.
  • Ancient Lives – Transcribing papyri; users digitize the information contained in a vast trove of archaeological manuscripts.
  • Old Weather – Transcribing weather data; users digitize the information contained in WWI-era Royal Navy logbooks.
  • Moon Zoo – Studying the lunar surface; users map out and count lunar craters and boulders.
  • The Milky Way Project – Mapping out the galaxy; users draw bubbles where the early stages of star formation are likely.
  • Ice Hunters – Identifying Kuiper belt objects, asteroids, and variable stars; images are analyzed to identify icy objects in the outer solar system for possible observation with the New Horizons probe.
  • Solar Stormwatch – Studying the Sun; users track changes on the Sun’s surface to track possibly dangerous coronal mass ejections.

EDIT: As evidence for the utility of these projects, announced the other day was that users on the Planet Hunters project have discovered two exoplanet candidates that have withstood further verification.

This entry was posted in Science (general), Technology. Bookmark the permalink.