Citizen Science Takes Wings

Common people had always helped scientists with observations; now scientists are making it easier for them by setting up special citizen scientist projects.

You don’t need a PhD, or a full-time job in a research institute to become a citizen scientist — age and degrees are no bar, and the time you commit is entirely voluntary. School children, teachers, volunteers, amateur bird, frog, or snake-watchers, plant enthusiasts, amateur astronomers — anybody can become one. What’s needed is a healthy curiosity.

The recent discovery of a sparse cluster of galaxies, reported in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Society of Astronomy, is based on contributions from two citizen scientists. The cluster is named after Ivan Terentev and Tim Matorny, who found something out of sync when they were trying to match images of galaxies from radio and infra-red sources. That something odd turned out to be the C-shaped cluster of sparse galaxies! The Russian duo is part of a citizen science project called the Radio Galaxy Zoo that helps spot black holes — regions in space with such strong gravity that nothing, including light, can escape from them.

That project is itself a part of Zooniverse, the “largest online platform for collaborative volunteer research”. Other Zooniverse projects have similar whacky names: Popping Galaxies attempts to pick out dancing galaxies, Comet Hunters tracks comets in the solar system’s asteroid belt and  Galaxy Zoo looks out for the secrets of evolution of galaxies by classifying them.

Citizen scientists are helping the Australian Museum in Sydney understand  the city’s famed brilliantly-coloured cockatoos. And its ‘Digivol’ project, comprising volunteers from across the globe, delves into the museum collection to transcribe its data and make it accessible to everyone.

“There are so many interesting citizen science programmes, both global and national, and each of us can make a real difference through our participation,” says Suhail Quader, head of Citizen Science at the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) in Bangalore..

Check out the Internet. There’s heaps of information on citizen science projects.

Read my full report in The Telegraph, Kolkata

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