Citizen Science – The Power is in Your Hands

Science you can all get involved in: become a scientist and help with research! This week I’m finishing my second year PhD results report (…no biggie…), finalising a conference presentation, and teaching in the Brilliant Club so I’ve decided you can become the scientists this week. It’s time to learn about citizen science.

Some projects are just too big for us scientists to conquer with limited funding in our relatively small research groups. Computer learning also cannot always help in larger tasks, as it cannot always differentiate between the things it has been tasked with (i.e. image recognition is still a bit too complicated). This is where citizen science comes to the rescue.

The definition of citizen science is the involvement of the public in scientific research – whether community-driven research or global investigations.” Research groups (even ones as big as Cancer Research UK) set up online resources where you can take part in “people-powered research“. Such setups allow the general public to help scientists achieve a goal and take part in real cutting-edge research across many scientific disciplines. The website ZOONIVERSE has a huge array of research projects that are currently open to public help. I could waste spend many hours on this website; it is addictive.zooniverse.png

Some of the most recent projects are: ForestEyes, which helps scientists track rain forest deforestation, ultimately aiding in conservation efforts. The main research has been running since 2012 (ForestWatchers) but they recently released this citizen science platform, hoping volunteers will aid in forest recognition where computers could not differentiate accurately. Another project, SNAPSHOT Debshan, is one of many wildlife based projects which asks volunteers to identify animals caught on millions of camera trap images from the Debshan ranch in Central Zimbabwe. This research will help to track how animal population is coping in a changing environment and what measures may need to be taken as a result. The last I will mention is PLANET HUNTERS. Recently, NASA launched the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) and it is now providing a huge amount of data which shows us planets outside our own Solar System, including planets that could possibly support life. The data is vast and they need YOU to help identify new, complex, exciting and unusual planetary systems in the Galaxy. These are just 3 of the MANY projects out there ready for your help; go to the Zooniverse project page to see them all.peoplepower

If you’re not convinced that you could aid in cutting edge scientific research, let’s look at a real example. 2014 was a big year for citizen science at Cancer Research UK. Researchers developed 5 games for the public and over half a million people from 182 countries played them, proving the public could accurately analyse certain types of cancer data. For example, Cell Slider. This was essentially a game of “spot the difference”, asking the public to identify breast cancer cells and gauge how brightly they were coloured by looking at images. Almost 100,000 people took part online, and when the data was averaged, the volunteers were almost as accurate as trained pathologists. These images were samples of breast cancers from previous studies, and the women had already been treated (so no one was at risk). This study did show however, the power of people. This study led to many others from Cancer Research UK, and I’m sure more in the future, so I’ll keep my eyes peeled for you all! More information about their citizen science work can be found HERE.

So whether you have a spare 15 mins or a day on the sofa with the flu, see what you can do to help scientific research. Will you aid in conservation, space exploration or cutting edge cancer research? The possibilities are endless. Let me know what you get up to across social media, I can’t wait!

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