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2017 Advent Calendar of Fascinating Websites – Day 14 – Zooniverse


Floating forests and a little bit of plumage, what do they have in common? They are both Citizen Science projects on Zooniverse.  I love the concept of citizen science but for those who are new to it; what is it, where did it come from and how can you help?

Citizen science involves thousands of people around the world helping to find/analyse data for research projects – instead of crowdfunding they are crowdanalysing – people power harnessed to help further academic research. You don’t have to have a background in science or the humanities to get involved, just a little time, for citizen science online an interest in looking at photographs or texts, and a lot of patience.

Zooniverse https://www.zooniverse.org/

How did Zooniverse begin? In 2007, astrophysics researchers at Oxford had millions of images of galaxies that they needed to analyse to help with their research into star formation – but not the resources to sort and classify the images themselves. They came up with Galaxy Zoo, an online project which used enthusiastic volunteers to help do the analysis for them. During the first year volunteers produced 50 million classifications. Of course when other academic research projects found out about the success of Galaxy Zoo, they wanted to harness people-powered research for themselves and Zooniverse was born.

Zooniverse is the largest platform for volunteer-powered research in the world. Up to a million people can be involved with perhaps 50 projects at a time. Whether annotating World War 1 diaries or studying ancient papyri to identifying plankton or planets in other solar systems, there is something of interest for everyone. In Penguinwatch, volunteers marked penguins, eggs and chicks in their nesting sites, researchers were then able to analyse the breeding success data and look at the the effect of commercial fishing on penguin colonies. It is hoped that fishing policies will be influenced by this information.
I’ve been involved with the astronomy projects (such as the search for Planet 9), ancient papyri and Penguinwatch. It’s great to help out, sometimes for only half-an-hour at a time, and to see what comes of your work (even if you end up with a long run of empty rocks as happened to me in PenguinWatch; this is where the need for patience comes in!).

So Floating Forests? That is a project looking at satellite images and circling where you see kelp forests in remote ocean locations round the world. Project Plumage? That is a project identifying plumage patches and measuring the spectacular diversity of bird colouration.

Or you could transcribe documents from the parochial archive in Rome…or classify vibration in Caribbean steelpans…find jaguars in the jungles of Panama…spot snow… or, linked to our Blue Planet post on Day 10, you could help train an algorithm to detect plastics and marine litter on the beaches! The diversity of projects is fantastic… and right now PenguinWatch is back!

Head to the Zooniverse Projects  page, pick your subject and become part of the people-powered research revolution!


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