Head deep into the heart of the Adler Planetarium, beyond the exhibits and theaters, there, you’ll find the Department of Citizen Science, working hard to get never-before-seen data in front of as many eyes as possible, and helping people around the world take part in real science research.
The Department of Citizen Science is made up of software developers, designers, educators, and scientists who work together to build the Zooniverse, a collection of online citizen science projects. Zooniverse projects let volunteers explore deep into the star forming regions of dust and gas in our own Milky Way Galaxy; they take volunteers down to the ocean floor to search for scallops and sea stars along the eastern seaboard; they transport you to Tanzania on an adventure through the plains of the Serengeti, observing African animals in their natural habitats. And this all happens right from the museum floor.
The folks that visit the Adler are some of the most engaged and interested in science research and discovery, but many have never been given the chance to participate in authentic science research before. By bringing citizen science projects directly to our visitors, we’re able to show just how accessible science truly is. “Science” isn’t some guy in a lab coat, surrounded by beakers of chemicals. Science is dynamic and ever-changing, and the end goals are often unknown. Scientists are often working out the field, collecting, observing, and analyzing and, quite often, these professionals can really use our help. Humans have an amazing ability to see patterns, recognize shapes, and group and categorize in a way that computers are still not powerful enough to do. By bringing together lots of people, all with these fantastic analytic abilities, we can collectively contribute to speeding up research, leading to new discoveries at a quicker pace.
Zooniverse volunteers have already discovered new types of galaxies through Galaxy Zoo, identified new species of sea worms in Seafloor Explorer, and have even found the first-ever planet in a 4-star system (PH1) through Planet Hunters. These are all discoveries that were made by non-professional citizen scientists and were actually missed by the professionals. It’s awesome to think that casually participating in citizen science projects can lead to such immensely important discoveries, but when eager volunteers begin to observe, talk with one another, and discuss what they’re seeing, the results are truly awe inspiring. It’s really exciting to be able to have that community of explorers not only online, but within our own museum as well.
Learn more about our Citizen Science at the Adler.
Written by David Miller, Zooniverse Visual Designer at the Adler Planetarium.