Raw data needs preparation to be useful for research. In some cases, what is needed is cleanup and normalization; in others, tagging or categorization of dataset elements. Depending on the domain and kind of data, computers can do much of the necessary work, but some tasks, due to fuzziness or complexity in the data, are currently beyond the bounds of computation. Much data prep requires human eyes, human minds, human judgment, and human labor, a daunting demand when the size of many modern scientific datasets is measured in terabytes.
The Zooniverse project, an international effort initially based at Oxford University and now housed primarily at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, offers a straightforward solution to this problem: divide the work into very granular tasks, gather a large crowd of science enthusiasts, and let them loose on the data. The result has been remarkably successful. Over the past few years the project has launched more than 20 citizen science research projects across meteorology, ecology, astrophysics, history, zoology, pathology, and geology and has attracted more than 1.5 million registered and anonymous users, including a core group of 15,000 dedicated volunteers who contribute at least monthly.
Funds from this grant support the next phase in Zooniverse’s evolution: enabling faster growth to meet the explosive demand for Zooniverse projects. The Zooniverse team plans to decentralize their governance model, expanding their online platform to allow community volunteers to take part in core management functions while still maintaining peer review and oversight by the research community to ensure that the project’s high scientific standards are met. The result will be a more self-sustaining and scalable model, which the Adler Planetarium is committed to maintain as a national leader in using citizen science to serve its research and educational missions.