Thanks to advances in technology, astronomers have become very good at collecting information about the Universe. However, methods of processing that information haven't always kept pace. As Chris Lintott, an English astrophysicist in the Department of Physics at the University of Oxford puts it, “If you want to understand how galaxies form and evolve, then you need to divide them by their shape and this is a task which is best done by humans rather than computers.”
Enter The Zooniverse, which the 32 year-old Chris Lintott runs, and which provides a robust and flexible platform for all sorts of research; “…so far we've covered everything from discovering planets to transcribing ancient papyri, and from monitoring animals in the Serengeti to exploring the deep oceans.”
The Zooniverse, is a large and ever-growing collection of citizen science projects that allow anyone to make an authentic contribution to research. The Zooniverse grew from the Galaxy Zoo project which still fuels most of my research, but now includes everything from discovering planets to transcribing papyri.
“When I arrived in Oxford in 2006.” Recalls Chris, we wanted to study a set of more than 1 million images - a task way beyond the patience of any student - and so we asked for help via Galaxy Zoo. The response was overwhelming - at one point we were doing 70,000 classifications an hour - and it showed that this kind of 'citizen science' can make a real contribution to research.
Chris and the folks at Zooniverse are excited by the idea of making cutting-edge science something people can do in their everyday lives and in their spare moments, “…rather than just something for those of us with a PhD.”
Chris sees lots of exciting opportunities ahead, building advanced tools which will allow interacting with live streams of data. While technologically challenging, this will allow volunteers to get involved in everything from disaster relief to monitoring solar storms, and a whole lot more....the whole Zooniverse, if you will.