If you want to take your moon-map love to the next level, check out CosmoQuest’s MoonMappers citizen science project and help map the moon. CosmoQuest recently proved that amateur mappers can do just as good a job as the pros, from the comfort of their own homes. Everyone can science!
EyeWire: You Play a Game, Scientists Map Neurons
Everyone wins! You guys should really check out EyeWire, an online game that helps you map neurons without any knowledge of biology. It’s revolutionary neuroscience, harnessing the power of thousands of video gamers to do a job that supercomputers can barely do.
EyeWire is a citizen science game created by MIT’s Sebastian Seung and friends (shout out to Amy from the Seung group for showing me this game!). Seung, famous for his work on the connectome (and the book of the same name), studies how mapping the nervous system’s connections help us define its true function. Understanding how our nervous system works requires knowing more than how one neuron works, we have to understand how they connect to each other to create larger networks.
In EyeWire, you tour through pattern-filled cubes, clicking colored blobs to help the software map the arms of J cells (that’s one above), a type of neuron in the retina whose connections are very poorly understood. It’s seriously addictive, and you’ll be making a real difference in our understanding of the brain.
So why make a game? This kind of pattern recognition is very hard for computers to do. The human brain is amazingly adept at picking out patterns, far better than even our most powerful machines.
My only minor complaint is that its popularity is making gameplay a little slow this first week. The great I F*cking Love Science Facebook page helped crash their servers yesterday, which are now back up, but new players are only being allowed in a handful at a time. So follow EyeWire on Facebook to find out when you can sign up. You’ll be glad you did.
I’m sure that the hordes of It’s Okay To Be Smart and other Tumblr science readers can crash the servers better than any Facebook page can, right?
Zooniverse, the folks behind the Seafloor Explorer citizen science project (and a whole mess of other citizen science projects) are asking for your help in classifying bat recordings! Sounds like a chance to do some spooky science.
One in five mammals on Earth is a bat! And the ultrasonic calls they use for hunting, navigation and social interaction are as poorly understood as they are varied. When scientists head out into the field to record them, they end up with hundreds of hours of sound to sift through. The problem is that computers aren’t as good as people at picking out bat sounds from background and pesky insect chirps. That’s where you come in!
After a little lesson in bat echolocation, you’ll be ready to help refine the data, classifying sounds in order to aid the research and design a better automated system in the future. You can be the Bat-man or Bat-woman you’ve always wanted to be!
(photo by Barry Mansell)
The oldest piece of undeciphered text on Earth may be close to getting cracked, and maybe you’ll be able to help. It’s a script dating to the early Bronze Age from southwestern Iran, and has left scientists scratching their heads.
As a team in Oxford photographs them in excruciating detail using special instruments, they want to crowd-source the decoding process. That means soon you could help decipher the virtual images, if you’re so inclined. Be sure to check out more about the soon-to-be public project at BBC.
I bet it says something far less exciting than we hope, like “Eradu is a goat face”.
Crowdsourcing Marine Science With Seafloor Explorer
Do marine science from home, because scuba diving is hard!
From the folks that brought you GalaxyZoo, a crowdsourced, citizen science project to catalogue and annotate Hubble Space Telescope images, comes Seafloor Explorer.
Whether you’re an armchair marine biologist or not, Seafloor Explorer is a neat way to help identify and classify the marine species living off the Northeast Coast of the U.S. A robotic craft called HabCam has been swimming over huge swaths of the northern Atlantic shallows taking pictures of whatever is beneath it. That’s where you come in.
Using a simple interface, you look through some of the thousands of images, identify the kind of ground cover (sand, shells, gravel, etc.) and count and measure the living species you see. There’s a nice tutorial on their site to show you how it’s done. I’ve found many, many shells and a few fish so far (plus a boatload of sand).
Science is part everyone’s world, and everyone should be able to take part. It’s so awesome to see projects like this that let citizens like you and me participate. Take a deep breath and get to clicking!
Part of “Joe’s Answer Bag Week”
So this one isn’t exactly an “answer”, but I did want to suggest that you all go out and join GalaxyZoo! There’s tons of opportunities out there for citizens to take part in science … that all important buzzword we call “crowdsourcing”.
Calling all armchair scientists! Petridish.org is a new site that allows you to help fund a science project, then follow along with the project team as it progresses. As with the successful site Kickstarter, which funds arts-related projects, backers reap a multitude of project-related rewards that range from updates and photographs of research in progress, to stones from far-away countries, even the possibility of naming a new species.
Last month, computer gamers working from home redesigned an enzyme. Last year, a gene-testing company used its customers to find mutations that increase or decrease the risk of Parkinson’s disease. Astronomers are drawing amateurs into searching for galaxies and signs of extraterrestrial intelligence. The modern equivalent of the Victorian scientific vicar is an ordinary person who volunteers his or her time to solving a small piece of a big scientific puzzle.
Crowd-sourced science is not a recent invention. In the U.S., tens of thousands of people record the number and species of birds that they see during the Christmas season, a practice that dates back more than a century. What’s new is having amateurs contribute in highly technical areas.
And be sure to check out SciStarter, a new online hub for citizen science projects that you or anyone you know can join in on. Great for educators and students alike.
We know that whales communicate through the magic of song. Sometimes using frequencies that the human ear can not even detect, whales have been known to communicate over hundreds of miles. Some scientists have even claimed that their ability to teach specific songs to their pods and transfer those songs between groups constitutes a form of culture.
Despite what we do know about whale songs, most of them are still a mystery. Scientific American and Zooniverse are teaming up for a citizen science project, where you can help them classify whale songs.
Thousands of whale songs are collected each year from remote aquatic microphones, but researchers can’t depend on computers to match them up perfectly. On the whale.fm website, you can listen to whale calls and help match them to different sounds in the database. This will help classify the sounds by location and species.
Think of it! Studying cetaceans without even leaving your living room! Click here to participate in the Whale Song Project at whale.fm.
(via Observations, image of a humpack whale call spectrogram via Wikimedia)