You, me and Science

Two recent articles have got my blood racing and the excitement has led to this post. Both relate to citizen science, a concept that involves the common man in science and making big science accessible to everyone.

And how does citizen science work?

One example is the Ardusat satellites (and such like) which are tiny satellites on which time can be hired by the high school student, the amateur astronomer, the layman virtually! These carry simple equipment like temperature sensors, Geiger counters, digital cameras and the like. For costs of $35-45 per day people can hire time (in blocks of a few days) on these to perform experiments in space, take photographs of Earth/celestial objects from space…and much more. These firms such as NanoSatisfi mostly raised money through crowd sourcing but have made it possible for everyone to work with a slice of space!

The second example is just as exciting because the possibilities are endless! The GalaxyZoo project launched in 2007 by Chris Lintott and Kevin Schawinski asked volunteers to classify galaxies as spiral or other shapes. By their estimation the data they had collected from the Sloan Digital Sky survey, about a million images of galaxies would take years to sort through. Machine algorithms are still not as efficient as humans at recognising shapes. They reckoned that they would get 50 odd volunteers and finish the work in a year and a half. Instead thousands of volunteers from all over the world trawled through the data in 3 weeks!

The amazing thing about this project is that it allows the average Joe and Jill to do big science, to connect with big projects and be part of the romance of Science even if they are not professional scientists. It cuts across age, race, culture, gender, profession… it brings people together in their love and wonder of the natural world.
So now the question is: can we design other studies and experiments using this concept of citizen science and solve big problems, not just in astronomy but in all disciplines (projects that take forward the zooniverse principle)? Imagine the power of harnessing the talent and effort of hundreds of thousands of people who enjoy the discipline (even if they are amateurs). This diversity in thought and experience enriches the work so much, while sparking interest and a common sense of purpose amongst so many people.

Countries like China, India, Brazil (and others) would do especially well to engage the millions of people who could contribute and may be this can even help bring down the costs of certain kinds of research!

This much I know: I am itching to create a project like this of my own!


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