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Citizen Science: Big Data, Collaboration and Outsourcing Science

Citizen science is an umbrella term for any project, piece of research or small science related action performed by an individual or a group that do not usually specialise in science. This can involve something as simple as children taking part in a science project or a person using an app to identify cancer cells through an interactive game.

Citizen science encourages the public to engage and become interested in science and participants can range from those who have never taken part in anything scientific before to those that consider themselves to be amateur scientists.

There are many official projects out there that are sponsored / set up by well known organisations but as mentioned above, technically even children participating in classroom projects are conducting citizen science if the results are recorded or available publicly. Sending the data to a scientist or organisation would also make this a citizen science project.

A quick Google search will bring up countless projects / organisations / interfaces that are related to or whose sole purpose is to promote and encourage public participation in science. The Zooniverse is probably the best known resource with 50 ongoing projects at the time of writing. With Zooniverse you can also create your own projects that others can participate in.

Not only do this crowd sourced participation assist a great deal due to the numbers of people involved but it allows individuals to feel that they are contributing to something bigger.

Citizen science projects are now in the many thousands and cover a wide range of topics (nature, health, conservation, zoology, biology, astronomy, geology etc) with millions of people taking part. It can be conducted at a computer desk or by going out in to the fresh air and performing wildlife counts etc.

Some citizen science projects have made a massive impact. Notable citizen science breakthroughs:

  • Jupiter’s Great Red Spot was published in an image prepared by a citizen scientist who used public data from NASA’s JunoCam to create the picture. Nasa released Roman Tkachenko’s picture which used raw images from Juno after a flyby past Jupiter in Dec 2016.1 
  • A giant cluster of galaxies was discovered by citizen scientists while participating in The Evolutionary Map of the Universe project using The Radio Galaxy Zoo (RGZ). It was announced in May 2016 that two citizen scientists (Ivan Terentev and Tim Matorny) had discovered a wide angle tail galaxy that is very large. This was discovered by cross referencing radio sources from The Evolutionary Map of The Universe telescope using the RGZ interface. The host cluster of this galaxy was named after the citizen scientists. This cluster is billions of light years away and is host to 40 + galaxies.2
  • In February 2016, a smartphone app was launched that effectively creates a network of global eathquake detectors. The app is helping to record tremors in unexpected areas and is providing useful and real time data to residents and the scientific community.3
  • In February 2016, citizen scientists published a paper in a scientific journal for the first time. The paper was co authored by three citizen scientists and related to what they had learnt whilst playing an online game. EteRNA, a game that involves changing the structure of RNA (living cell component) by folding it into different shapes is not only said to be fun but is also teaching players real science. The data gained through playing could provide real world treatments for health conditions in the future.4
  • Citizen Science has gone one step further with Bento Lab. Bento Lab is a portable laboratory which was launched via Kickstarter. This lab makes science accessible to the masses. Specifically Bento Lab is a DNA analysis laboratory whereby you can extract the DNA from a biological sample and perform genetic analysis. This affordable laboratory kit includes everything you need including a centrifuge, PCR Thermocycler, Gel Electrophoresis and Transilluminator. Suitable for a beginner and small enough to fit in a laptop bag, Bento Lab is really pushing the boundaries of Citizen Science.5 

Could you make the next big scientific discovery from the comfort of your own home? Or does getting out in nature and helping record how well the wildlife is doing in your area appeal more? Do you want to become part of something bigger or like the idea of collaborating for the greater good? Whatever type of citizen science you want to engage in and whatever motivates you to take part, there are a world of projects at your fingertips so it’s never been easier to get involved.

References

1. https://www.yahoo.com/news/juno-snaps-image-jupiter-great-055326491.html

2. http://theconversation.com/how-citizen-scientists-discovered-a-giant-cluster-of-galaxies-59373

3. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-38349755

4. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2016/02/17/an-addictive-online-puzzle-game-is-turning-its-players-into-published-citizen-scientists/?utm_term=.cc4a9d7ebbec

5. https://www.bento.bio/

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