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  • richardmitnick 10:53 am on August 6, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Citizen Science, , , , QUT University, The Great Barrier Reef   

    From COSMOS Magazine and QUT University: “Citizen scientists and the Great Barrier Reef” 

    Cosmos Magazine bloc

    From COSMOS Magazine

    and

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    QUT University

    06 August 2019

    QUT researchers are inviting you to help with vital work.

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    Researchers are seeking help to save one of the world’s great marine environments. Jeff Hunter/Getty Images

    If news bulletins explaining how climate change has devastated parts of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef leave you feeling impotent and depressed, maybe getting involved in one of several citizen science projects up there could help.

    Researchers from Brisbane-based university QUT run several programs that are turning everyone from secondary school kids to tourists into marine scientists.

    Statistician Erin Peterson, for example, designed the Virtual Reef Diver project to drive a new approach to monitoring and managing the Great Barrier Reef.

    Members of the public can log on to the website and work through the collection of photographs, classifying the images as they go.

    Less “virtual” divers and snorkellers can submit underwater images they have taken while out on the Reef for others to classify.

    This work is vital.

    “The main challenge that we were trying to address is that the Great Barrier Reef is huge,” says Peterson. “It costs a lot to monitor it all.”

    “But there are more than 65 different organisations out there collecting data on the reef – specifically images – all the time.

    “Plus we have all these citizens out snorkelling or scuba diving, and everybody has an underwater camera now.

    “And so the idea was, can we bring together these image-based data from all these different sources, and learn more about what’s going on to get an estimate of coral cover.”

    Once the data is in and classified, data scientists such as Peterson design statistical models to create a predictive map across the whole of the Great Barrier Reef. Thanks to ordinary lay people, the information is as up-to-date as possible.

    Meanwhile, reef researcher Brett Lewis, at QUT’s Science and Engineering Faculty, has his sights set not on the Great Barrier Reef but its smaller cousins in Moreton Bay, near Brisbane.

    His work focusses on reefs in inner Moreton Bay to see how they cope with climate stress, and what that can tell us about the larger ecosystem to the north.

    Apart from climate, the bay reefs face challenges from sediments spilling from the Brisbane River. This is where Lewis’s work holds relevance for studying the effects of dredging on the Great Barrier Reef.

    “One of the easiest things for us to do, and one of the most beneficial for the local area, is to understand how the corals are surviving sedimentation from the Brisbane River and this turbid environment,” he says. “And I have the techniques to be able to carry this out.”

    For much of his work, Lewis uses time-lapse videography and other visual media to capture, in detail, the changes in corals.

    When Iona College in the Brisbane bayside suburb of Wynnum reached out to see if he would help the students develop a marine science project, he said “yes” immediately.

    To start with, Lewis gave students in years 9, 10 and 11 a crash course in scientific observation. Then, after helping them set up aquariums with corals, he gave them a project: create time-lapse videos of how corals deal with different forms of sedimentation, coarse and fine.

    Not only did students get to run the experiments, they got to report on the results, learning to present at conferences.

    “I wanted them to see the impact that their research can have rather than me saying that their research is going to have impact,” says Lewis. “They can visualise it for themselves and see that, yeah, it’s important that we also communicate.”

    QUT’s Matthew Dunbabin and his team keep watch on the Great Barrier Reef – and other reefs around the world – using technology. He and his team last year launched RangerBot, an underwater drone that can monitor marine health and even take direct action – by identifying and destroying the devastating crown-of-thorns starfish.

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    RangerBot’s high-tech vision system allows it to “see” under water, a system that helped it win the 2016 Google Impact Challenge People’s Choice prize when it was still under development.

    Having “trained” the RangerBot to take on the crown-of-thorns, QUT researchers are teaching it new tricks. In April they took it to the Philippines to help in reseeding reefs destroyed by dynamite fishing.

    The project won Dunbabin and Southern Cross University’s Peter Harrison the Great Barrier Reef Foundation’s $300,000 Out of the Blue Box Reef Innovation Challenge.

    “We’re looking at a large-scale spreading of the coral spawn,” Dunbabin says.

    “At the moment it’s a manual task, but we attach different payloads that hold bags of concentrated coral spawn after they’ve [been] reared and fertilised.”

    Once that project has been assessed, Dunbabin will head back to the Great Barrier Reef for a similar project at the end of the year.

    And there’s room in RangerBot’s work for the citizen scientist, too.

    “We’ve set it up so that it can be used as a citizen science program,” he says. “We have a citizen science portal where we upload data that’s been collected and lay scientists can help identify crown-of-thorns starfish, helping to verify what the robot thought it saw.”

    They are also working on another project they call the “coral point count” to engage the public where they can upload their own data from their own observations in a similar way to the Virtual Reef project.

    “We’ve developed that with schools,” Dunbabin says. “We were lucky enough to get some money from the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Fund in Melbourne and the Dalio Foundation to engage high schools and other stakeholders.”

    “High schools where students studied marine science were asked to use the technology and give us feedback on what they liked and how we can make it a useful tool.

    “So they actually helped guide the development of the interface for the robot and got an understanding of the technology, and used it as part of that assessment,” he said.

    Professor Dunbabin says it is vital to keep people engaged so they don’t give up hope of keeping the reef vibrant.

    “I think everybody has a role that can help protect the Reef,” he says. “People can actually be part of the science, where they’re analysing the data that helps them contribute to the protection of the reef.”

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 8:49 am on July 11, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Citizen Science, Ruby Mendenhall, ,   

    From Science Node: Women in STEM-“The citizen scientists of hidden America” Ruby Mendenhall 

    Science Node bloc
    From Science Node

    03 July, 2019
    Alisa Alering

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    This health study in Chicago recruits subjects to also be the scientists.

    When you read the words ‘citizen scientist’, what do you picture? Maybe backyard astronomers helping to classify distant galaxies, or fifth graders recording soil temperatures to track climate change.

    But Ruby Mendenhall, assistant dean for diversity and democratization of health innovation at the Carle Illinois College of Medicine, has a different idea of what citizen science can do—and who can participate.

    Mendenhall used a 2017-2018 NCSA Faculty Fellowship to examine how exposure to nearby gun crimes impacts African-American mothers living in Englewood, Chicago. Home to about 30,000 people, Englewood has a reputation as one of the most violent neighborhoods in the city.

    Beyond the physical effects of stress, Mendenhall wanted to investigate the long-term consequences experienced by women living in communities like Englewood. For example, what happens to a parent when the sound of gunshots is common during the day—and especially at night?

    Here’s where the citizen science comes in. The women of Englewood aren’t just subjects in this research, they’re active participants.

    “We wanted to put more agency in their hands,” says Mendenhall. “We asked them, ‘What would you like to see solved? What’s an issue that you have? How can we study this?’”

    From subjects to scientists

    Mendenhall sees citizen science as a way to address health disparities and social inequality. Though many citizen science projects focus on topics like backyard biology, it’s an existing framework that can be applied to community-based participatory research in health and medicine.

    “These are citizen scientists who can take knowledge of their own lived experience and create new knowledge about Black women and families,” says Mendenhall. “We hope they can help us make medical advances around depression, PTSD, and how the body responds to stress.”

    Mendenhall wanted to put more agency in the hands of the women, transforming them from study subjects into participating scientists. The researchers asked what the women wanted to see solved, what issues they were concerned about, and how it might be studied.

    Mendenhall then teamed up with computer scientist Kiel Gilleade to design a mobile health study that documented the women’s experience via wearable biosensors, phone GPS, and diary-keeping.

    Given historical problems with mistrust of the medical community—and with good reason—Mendenhall was concerned that the participants wouldn’t agree to let researchers take samples of their blood (for a separate study) to see how stress affected the genes that regulate the immune system.

    But, somewhat to her surprise, the women agreed. One of the reasons the women gave for their willingness to participate was that they recognized the impact stress was having on their bodies.

    “They talked about having headaches, backaches, stomachaches, many things,” says Mendenhall. “They were interested in what was going on with their bodies, what was the connection.”

    Asking the right questions

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    Whose voice is not represented? Mendenhall presented her keynote address, Using Advanced Computing to Recover Black Women’s Lost History, at the PEARC18 conference in Pittsburgh, in July 2018.

    Mendenhall hasn’t always engaged with computation to further her research. She started her academic career in African-American studies and sociology. But when faculty from NCSA visited her department, Mendenhall became intrigued by the possibilities of big data.

    “I didn’t change the research I was interested in, I didn’t change my focus on Black women and their agency and their lived experiences on the margins of society,” says Mendenhall. “What I did was expand my toolkit and my ability to answer questions—and even to ask different questions.”

    Some of the questions she’s asking are: Whose voice may not be represented? Whose lived experience isn’t represented? If they were, how would what we see be different? Mendenhall believes that scholars of all types can benefit from putting more time and energy into asking questions like these.

    “I think it’s important to understand that big data is not neutral, it is not objective,” says Mendenhall. “Data is situated within a historical and political context.”

    Despite biases in existing collections of data, Mendenhall believes data can also be applied to help equalize the historical record.

    “I think big data has great potential if more voices are brought in,” says Mendenhall. “If everyone’s voice can be heard and seen and studied and digitized. And if Black women can also study it themselves and develop ideas about what that data is representing.”

    The study about Black women in Englewood followed only twelve women but the next step will be to expand the pool of citizen scientists to 600 or more.

    “Ideally, I’m thinking about 100,000 citizen scientists or all the women in Chicago. If they could all be citizen scientists—then what would we see?”

    Mendenhall is currently at work on a funding proposal to create a Communiversity Think-and-Do Tank where researchers and citizen scientists will work together to address grand challenges (e.g., gun violence, Black infant and maternal mortality, mental health, diverse histories in the digital archives, etc.) She hopes this will be one avenue to get her closer to her goal of 100,000 citizen scientists.

    See the full article here .


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    Science Node is an international weekly online publication that covers distributed computing and the research it enables.

    “We report on all aspects of distributed computing technology, such as grids and clouds. We also regularly feature articles on distributed computing-enabled research in a large variety of disciplines, including physics, biology, sociology, earth sciences, archaeology, medicine, disaster management, crime, and art. (Note that we do not cover stories that are purely about commercial technology.)

    In its current incarnation, Science Node is also an online destination where you can host a profile and blog, and find and disseminate announcements and information about events, deadlines, and jobs. In the near future it will also be a place where you can network with colleagues.

    You can read Science Node via our homepage, RSS, or email. For the complete iSGTW experience, sign up for an account or log in with OpenID and manage your email subscription from your account preferences. If you do not wish to access the website’s features, you can just subscribe to the weekly email.”

     
  • richardmitnick 9:07 am on May 7, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Academies Weigh In on Science and Trust, American Astronomical Society, , , Citizen Science, Group of Seven (G7) countries — Canada France Germany Italy Japan the United Kingdom and the United States   

    From American Astronomical Society: “Academies Weigh In on Science and Trust, Citizen Science” 


    From American Astronomical Society

    May 6, 2019
    Richard Tresch Fienberg

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    The national science academies of the Group of Seven (G7) countries — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States — have issued several joint statements to their respective governments, to inform discussions during the G7 summit to be held in August in France, as well as to inform ongoing policymaking.

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    In two of the statements, the academies call for strategies to maintain trust in science and to maximize the benefits of citizen science in the Internet era.

    Science and trust. The need for science and innovation to contribute to solving local and global issues requires societal trust in science. Although confidence in science remains high, there are serious and rapidly changing challenges, such as misinformation that is now easily spread on the Internet. Scientists should give a high priority to establishing a genuine dialogue with their fellow citizens, sharing scientific advances with them, and discussing potential negative impacts of science and technology. Maintaining trust in science will also require widespread science education to increase understanding of how research is conducted, as well as the promotion of honest, ethical, and responsible research. Read the full statement (PDF).

    Citizen science in the Internet era. The potential value of involving citizens in the conduct of science is high: It can improve public understanding of science and the scientific method, and it can advance knowledge and innovation in ways that were previously inaccessible to academic, government, or industrial research organizations. The statement recommends creating specific funding programs for citizen science; promoting the co-development of citizen science and laboratory-based research; and taking action to avoid or mitigate ethical lapses and security risks in citizen science. Read the full statement (PDF).

    The US National Academies are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. They operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln.

    See the full article here .

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    The American Astronomical Society (AAS) is the major organization of professional astronomers in North America. Our mission is to enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the universe.

     
  • richardmitnick 9:53 am on February 22, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Citizen Science, ,   

    From Science Blog from the SDSS: “APOGEE and Amateur Spectroscopy” 

    SDSS Science blog bloc

    Science Blog from the SDSS

    February 17, 2018
    David Whelan

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    Drew Chojnowski, APOGEE plate designer and lead of the emission-line stars science group, discusses SDSS and Be stars observed with the APOGEE instrument.

    This weekend, APOGEEans David Whelan and Drew Chojnowski attended the Sacramento Mountains Spectroscopy Workshop. The workshop’s goal? To get amateur astronomers interested in pursuing spectroscopy. With a mix of amateurs and professionals in the room, the expertise was readily available, and the excitement was palatable.

    On Friday, David Whelan lead a discussion on spectral classification of intermediate- and high-mass stars. This is a science effort that is essential to both APOGEE’s emission-line stars group and high-mass stars studies more generally. Perhaps some knowledgeable amateurs can begin to contribute?

    Then on Saturday, Drew introduced the group to observing with the Sloan Telescope. Below, he is shown with one of SDSS’s APOGEE plates.

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    Drew and an APOGEE plate – teaching people how the SDSS is done.

    These kinds of workshops break down the barrier between the amateur and the professional, and opens both groups to new possibilities. With special thanks to the organizers Ken Hudson and Joe Daglen, as well as François Cochard from Shelyak Instruments, we very much look forward to pursuing the science generated by this workshop.

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    Amateur astronomer Joe Daglen, center, tells workshop attendants about the equipment that he uses to teach undergraduate students about imaging and spectroscopy.

    See the full article here .

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    SDSS Telescope at Apache Point Observatory, near Sunspot NM, USA, Altitude 2,788 meters (9,147 ft)

    After nearly a decade of design and construction, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey saw first light on its giant mosaic camera in 1998 and entered routine operations in 2000. While the collaboration and scope of the SDSS have changed over the years, many of its key principles have stayed fixed: the use of highly efficient instruments and software to enable astronomical surveys of unprecedented scientific reach, a commitment to creating high quality public data sets, and investigations that draw on the full range of expertise in a large international collaboration. The generous support of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has been crucial in all phases of the SDSS, alongside support from the Participating Institutions and national funding agencies in the U.S. and other countries.

    The Sloan Digital Sky Survey has created the most detailed three-dimensional maps of the Universe ever made, with deep multi-color images of one third of the sky, and spectra for more than three million astronomical objects.

    In its first five years of operations, the SDSS carried out deep multi-color imaging over 8000 square degrees and measured spectra of more than 700,000 celestial objects. With an ever-growing collaboration, SDSS-II (2005-2008) completed the original survey goals of imaging half the northern sky and mapping the 3-dimensional clustering of one million galaxies and 100,000 quasars. SDSS-II carried out two additional surveys: the Supernova Survey, which discovered and monitored hundreds of supernovae to measure the expansion history of the universe, and the Sloan Extension for Galactic Understanding and Exploration (SEGUE), which extended SDSS imaging towards the plane of the Galaxy and mapped the motions and composition of more than a quarter million Milky Way stars.

    SDSS-III (2008-2014) undertook a major upgrade of the venerable SDSS spectrographs and added two powerful new instruments to execute an interweaved set of four surveys, mapping the clustering of galaxies and intergalactic gas in the distant universe (BOSS), the dynamics and chemical evolution of the Milky Way (SEGUE-2 and APOGEE), and the population of extra-solar giant planets (MARVELS).

    The latest generation of the SDSS (SDSS-IV, 2014-2020) is extending precision cosmological measurements to a critical early phase of cosmic history (eBOSS), expanding its revolutionary infrared spectroscopic survey of the Galaxy in the northern and southern hemispheres (APOGEE-2), and for the first time using the Sloan spectrographs to make spatially resolved maps of individual galaxies (MaNGA).

    This is the “Science blog” of the SDSS. Here you’ll find short descriptions of interesting scientific research and discoveries from the SDSS. We’ll also update on activities of the collaboration in public engagement and other arenas. We’d love to see your comments and questions about what you read here!

    You can explore more on the SDSS Website.

     
  • richardmitnick 11:26 am on December 21, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Citizen Science, , Thousands of citizen-scientists help researchers map kelp forests,   

    From UCLA Newsroom: “Thousands of citizen-scientists help researchers map kelp forests” 


    UCLA Newsroom

    December 20, 2017
    Alison Hewitt

    Website enables researchers from UCLA, other universities to track the effects of climate change on a critical ecosystem.

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    Scientists believe that kelp forests like this one off of California’s coast are being threatened by climate change.

    Kelp forests grow along coastlines worldwide, largely hidden from view. Like rainforests, they’re among the planet’s most important ecosystems: beautiful but fragile habitats for a wide array of plant and animal species.

    But scientists believe kelp forests are being threatened by climate change. Now, researchers from UCLA and seven other universities have an improved tool for tracking these shifting ecosystems, the largest of which is about 5 miles long.

    With new funding from NASA, the team recently relaunched Floating Forests, a website that enables volunteer citizen-scientists to scan hundreds of thousands of satellite images for places where the tops of kelp forests skim the ocean surface.

    The original site went online in 2014, and its more than 7,000 users had viewed roughly 700,000 satellite images as of early December 2017. The new version launched Dec. 13 with better image filters and enhanced color contrast, which will produce fewer photos that don’t have kelp in them, and will make the kelp forests easier to identify.

    “We hope to track global trends in the abundance of giant kelp forests and identify regions that have experienced significant declines in kelp,” said Kyle Cavanaugh, a professor of geography in the UCLA College and a member of the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. “Giant kelp forests are ecosystem engineers — they provide both food and habitat for incredibly diverse and productive near-shore ecosystems. They are also highly sensitive to changes in climatic and environmental conditions.”

    Mapping kelp forests has traditionally been a more solitary endeavor: Scuba divers would gather information about areas of the ocean that they could explore themselves. So the data was limited to tiny portions of the ocean, and the information divers gathered could only provide a snapshot of conditions on the day that they collected it — a problem because conditions in the forests can change rapidly.

    To gather a fuller picture of the forests, and to monitor them over long periods of time, Cavanaugh recognized he could draw from NASA’s Landsat program, which has taken satellite images of the entire Earth every 16 days since the 1970s. Landsat collects data in the visible and near-infrared wavelengths, which made it an ideal tool to track kelp forests: Because water absorbs a lot of near-infrared energy and plants reflect a lot of it, the kelp forest canopies stand out in the satellite images.

    But Cavanaugh also knew that it would take human eyes to analyze the images, so he and Jarrett Byrnes, a biology professor at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, obtained funding from a nonprofit called Zooniverse to build a website that would allow people from around the world to participate.

    Here’s how it works: If one of the citizen-scientists sees evidence of a kelp forest in a satellite image, that image is shown to 15 other users for verification and to carefully trace the outline of the canopy. On the other hand, if four different users view an image and don’t see any kelp, that image is discarded from the dataset.

    So far, Floating Forests users have helped map kelp forests along the entire coast of California from 1984 to 2011 — one user found a large, never-before-mapped patch of kelp on an underwater mountain called the Cortez Bank, about 100 miles off the coast of San Diego. Volunteers also helped map most of the coast of Tasmania, Australia, over the same period, providing evidence that climate change is causing problems in the kelp forests there.

    In addition to improvements in its image processing, the relaunched site makes it easier for Cavanaugh and his fellow scientists to add new regions to the platform. One of the newest additions is a collection of 5,000 images of the waters around the Falkland Islands, off the coast of South America. Byrnes said kelp forests are the foundation of the coastal ecosystem there.

    “It’s a breeding ground,” he said. “Local squid love to lay their eggs on kelp. It’s also a source of kelp rafts that can transport some species around the subantarctic oceans.”

    In the coming months, the researchers hope to study other, less-explored regions around the world, and they plan to add images to the website from the coasts of Baja California, northern Chile, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, the U.K. and Japan.

    See the full article here .

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    UC LA Campus

    For nearly 100 years, UCLA has been a pioneer, persevering through impossibility, turning the futile into the attainable.

    We doubt the critics, reject the status quo and see opportunity in dissatisfaction. Our campus, faculty and students are driven by optimism. It is not naïve; it is essential. And it has fueled every accomplishment, allowing us to redefine what’s possible, time after time.

    This can-do perspective has brought us 12 Nobel Prizes, 12 Rhodes Scholarships, more NCAA titles than any university and more Olympic medals than most nations. Our faculty and alumni helped create the Internet and pioneered reverse osmosis. And more than 100 companies have been created based on technology developed at UCLA.

     
  • richardmitnick 10:42 am on November 13, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: A Johns Hopkins biologist has deputized an army of "citizen scientists" to collect samples out in the field, Citizen Science, , , The cosmos is too vast and too crowded with the hundreds of billions or perhaps trillions of galaxies filled with stars and planets for there not to be life out there somewhere, We found some colonization and are working now to upload it all to the Rockiology website   

    From Hopkins: “Johns Hopkins researcher enlists citizen scientists to track down rocks harboring earthly ‘extraterrestrials'” 

    Johns Hopkins
    Johns Hopkins University

    Nov 9, 2017
    Arthur Hirsch

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    To collect and examine rocks that could house microbes, a Johns Hopkins biologist has deputized an army of “citizen scientists” to collect samples out in the field. Image credit: Darci J. Harland

    In a small New Mexico town called Truth or Consequences, a pair of homeschooled brothers are on the hunt for extraterrestrials.

    With their mom and a small group of other families, Caleb, 10, and Corban, 6, scour the scrubby desert ground at the base of nearby Turtle Back Mountain, searching for certain kinds of rocks that could be home to microorganisms so resilient and so tough that they might be able to survive outside their rock hosts and live on other planets or moons.

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    Corban Harland, 6, inspects a rock, looking for the telltale green haze that indicates the presence of microbes called extremophiles.
    Image credit: Darci J. Harland

    These citizen scientists were deputized by Johns Hopkins biologist Jocelyne DiRuggiero—who specializes in astrobiology, or the study of the origins, evolution, and distribution of life in the universe—through her crowdsourcing research project, Rockiology. DiRuggiero believes that rocks in deserts and other extreme locations around the world could be home to single-cell microbes that may shed light on whether life could exist outside of our planet.

    After all, suggests DiRuggiero, the cosmos is too vast and too crowded with the hundreds of billions or perhaps trillions of galaxies filled with stars and planets for there not to be life out there somewhere.

    But the hunt begins at home.

    To learn more about these microbes, named extremophiles for the extreme conditions in which they live, DiRuggiero needs to collect samples. To gather those samples, she needs help reaching the most dry, barren places on Earth: deserts, dry valleys in Antarctica, places that resemble other planets.

    “We can go to some places and collect rocks, but we can’t go everywhere,” said DiRuggiero, an associate research professor in the Department of Biology in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. “We try to be creative and conserve resources.”

    That’s where sleuths like Caleb, Corban, and their mom, Darci J. Harland, come in. While scouting for home-school projects, Harland came across the Rockiology website, which features instructions on what sort of rocks the researchers are seeking, what characteristics to look for, and how to send in photos of the rocks—and perhaps eventually the rocks themselves—along with information on where they were found.


    Video: David Schmelick and Deirdre Hammer

    “I’ve always enjoyed getting kids out into the field to collect data, not just talking about it,” said Harland, who is a former public school science and English teacher and university professor of education. “And what better way to do that than to collect data for an actual scientist who needs your help?”

    Locations that are potentially rich with extremophile-housing rocks are very dry, very salty, or both. The Atacama desert in Chile, for instance, with its expanses of desolate, reddish terrain—cracked in some spots, littered with stones in others, and broken with jagged cliffs and rock formations—could easily pass for Mars.

    DiRuggiero has conducted several rock-collecting expeditions there, discovering a number of Atacama sodium chloride rocks that have been “colonized,” as she likes to put it, by microbes. In the exposed innards of a cracked rock, the colonies give away their position in a faint green haze on the white surface. There the creatures find refuge from the more dry, sunny, and windy conditions in the desert.

    So far Harland, her sons, and other homeschool families have taken basic lessons in rocks, extremophiles, and DiRuggiero’s work, and they have embarked on sample-gathering expeditions to Turtle Back Mountain.

    “We found some colonization and are working now to upload it all to the Rockiology website,” Harland said in an email. “Being able to communicate with the scientist on this project has been very rewarding both for me and for the students. They were careful in their data collection, knowing it was ‘for real.'”

    Microbes that can live in a salt rock might help a scientist learn something about creatures living in, say, briny water. That could be significant for astrobiologists wondering about the prospect of liquid water on Mars, which could be a sign that the place could support life. If water exists there as a liquid it is likely to be very salty, perhaps toxic.

    The hunt goes on for more information about extremophiles, the search party now expanded to include anyone who signs on for citizen Rockiology.

    See the full article here .

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    Johns Hopkins Campus

    The Johns Hopkins University opened in 1876, with the inauguration of its first president, Daniel Coit Gilman. “What are we aiming at?” Gilman asked in his installation address. “The encouragement of research … and the advancement of individual scholars, who by their excellence will advance the sciences they pursue, and the society where they dwell.”

    The mission laid out by Gilman remains the university’s mission today, summed up in a simple but powerful restatement of Gilman’s own words: “Knowledge for the world.”

    What Gilman created was a research university, dedicated to advancing both students’ knowledge and the state of human knowledge through research and scholarship. Gilman believed that teaching and research are interdependent, that success in one depends on success in the other. A modern university, he believed, must do both well. The realization of Gilman’s philosophy at Johns Hopkins, and at other institutions that later attracted Johns Hopkins-trained scholars, revolutionized higher education in America, leading to the research university system as it exists today.

     
  • richardmitnick 10:43 am on July 23, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Brown dwarf WISEA J110125.95+540052.8, Citizen Science,   

    From Goddard: “NASA-funded Citizen Science Project Discovers New Brown Dwarf” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    July 17, 2017
    Raleigh McElvery
    raleigh.e.mcelvery@nasa.gov
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

    One night three months ago, Rosa Castro finished her dinner, opened her laptop, and uncovered a novel object that was neither planet nor star. Therapist by day and amateur astronomer by night, Castro joined the NASA-funded Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 citizen science project when it began in February — not knowing she would become one of four volunteers to help identify the project’s first brown dwarf, formally known as WISEA J110125.95+540052.8.

    1
    This illustration shows the average brown dwarf is much smaller than our sun and low mass stars and only slightly larger than the planet Jupiter. Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

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    The newly discovered brown dwarf WISEA J110125.95+540052.8 appears as a moving dot (indicated by the circle) in this animated flipbook from the Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 citizen science project. Credits: NASA/WISE.

    NASA/WISE Telescope

    After devoting hours to skimming online, publicly available “flipbooks” containing time-lapse images, she spotted a moving object unlike any other. The search process involves fixating on countless colorful dots, she explained. When an object is different, it simply stands out. Castro, who describes herself as extremely detail oriented, has contributed nearly 100 classifications to this specific project.

    A paper about the new brown dwarf was published on May 24 in The Astrophysical Journal Letters. Four citizen scientists are co-authors of the paper, including Castro. Since then, Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 has identified roughly 117 additional brown dwarf candidates.

    The collaboration was inspired by the recently proposed ninth planet, possibly orbiting at the fringes of our solar system beyond Pluto.

    “We realized we could do a much better job identifying Planet Nine if we opened the search to the public,” said lead researcher Marc Kuchner, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Along the way, we’re hoping to find thousands of interesting brown dwarfs.”

    It’s been roughly two decades since researchers first discovered brown dwarfs, and the scientific community opened its eyes to this new class of objects between stars and planets. Although they are as common as stars and form in much the same way, brown dwarfs lack the mass necessary to sustain nuclear fusion reactions. They therefore do not have the energy to maintain their luminosity, so they slowly cool over the course of their lifetimes. Their low temperatures also render them intrinsically dim.

    For years, Kuchner has been fascinated by infrared images of the entire sky captured by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), launched in 2009. The space telescope is specially designed to observe cold objects emitting light at long wavelengths — objects like brown dwarfs. With its initial mission complete, WISE was deactivated in 2011. It was then reactivated in 2013 as NEOWISE, a new mission funded by the NEO Observations Program with a different goal: to search for potentially hazardous near-Earth objects (NEOs).

    Previously, Kuchner had focused on stationary objects seen by WISE. But the Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 project shows the WISE and NEOWISE data in a way custom-tailored for finding fast-moving objects. His team layers many images of the same location to create a single, comprehensive snapshot. These are then combined with several similarly “co-added” pictures to form flipbooks that show motion over time.

    Anyone with internet access can scour these flipbooks and click on anomalies. If they would like to call the science team’s attention to an object they found, they can submit a report to the researchers or share their insights on a public forum. Kuchner and his colleagues then follow up the best candidates using ground-based telescopes to glean more information.

    According to Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 citizen scientist Dan Caselden, participants are free to dig as deep into the results as they choose. A security researcher by trade, Caselden developed a series of tools allowing fellow participants to streamline their searches and visualize their results, as well as aggregate various user statistics. He also helped identify several of the additional brown dwarf candidates while the first discovery was being confirmed.

    Kuchner and his co-author, Adam Schneider of Arizona State University, Tempe, agree WISEA J110125.95+540052.8 is an exciting discovery for several reasons. “What’s special about this object — besides the way it was discovered — is that it’s unusually faint,” Schneider said. “That means our citizen scientists are probing much deeper than anyone has before.”

    While computers efficiently sift through deluges of data, they can also get lost in details that human eyes and brains easily disregard as irrelevant.

    However, mining this information is extremely arduous for a single scientist or even a small group of researchers. That’s precisely why collaborating with an enthusiastic public is so effective — many eyes catch details that one pair alone could miss.

    While Kuchner is delighted by this early discovery, his ultimate goal for Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 is to find the smallest and coldest brown dwarfs, called Y dwarfs. Some of these Y dwarfs many even be lurking closer to us than Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to the sun.

    ESO Red Dots Campaign

    Their low temperatures make Y dwarfs extremely dim, according to Adam Burgasser at the University of California San Diego. “They’re so faint that it takes quite a bit of work to pull them from the images, that’s where Kuchner’s project will help immensely,” he said. “Anytime you get a diverse set of people looking at the data, they’ll bring unique perspectives that can lead to unexpected discoveries.”

    Kuchner anticipates the Backyard Worlds effort will continue for several more years — allowing more volunteers like Caselden and Castro to contribute.

    As Castro put it: “I am not a professional. I’m just an amateur astronomer appreciating the night sky. If I see something odd, I’ll admire and enjoy it.”

    Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 is a collaboration between NASA, UC Berkeley, the American Museum of Natural History in New York, Arizona State University, the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore and Zooniverse, a collaboration of scientists, software developers and educators who collectively develop and manage citizen science projects on the internet.

    NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, manages the NEOWISE mission for NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office within the Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, Utah, built the science instrument. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colorado, built the spacecraft. Science operations and data processing take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

    For more information about Backyard Worlds: Planet 9, visit:

    http://backyardworlds.org

    For more information about NASA’s WISE mission, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/wise

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is home to the nation’s largest organization of combined scientists, engineers and technologists that build spacecraft, instruments and new technology to study the Earth, the sun, our solar system, and the universe.

    Named for American rocketry pioneer Dr. Robert H. Goddard, the center was established in 1959 as NASA’s first space flight complex. Goddard and its several facilities are critical in carrying out NASA’s missions of space exploration and scientific discovery.


    NASA/Goddard Campus

     
  • richardmitnick 8:21 am on July 14, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Citizen Science, , JunoCam, , The Great Red Spot   

    From JPL-Caltech: “NASA’s Juno Spacecraft Spots Jupiter’s Great Red Spot” Great Citizen Science 

    NASA JPL Banner

    JPL-Caltech

    July 12, 2017
    DC Agle
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-393-9011 / 818-354-6278
    agle@jpl.nasa.gov

    Dwayne Brown
    NASA Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-1726
    dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov

    Laurie Cantillo
    NASA Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-1077
    laura.l.cantillo@nasa.gov

    NASA/Juno

    1
    This enhanced-color image of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot was created by citizen scientist Jason Major using data from the JunoCam imager on NASA’s Juno spacecraft. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Jason Major

    2
    This enhanced-color image of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot was created by citizen scientist Kevin Gill using data from the JunoCam imager on NASA’s Juno spacecraft. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin Gill

    3
    This enhanced-color image of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot was created by citizen scientist Gerald Eichstädt using data from the JunoCam imager on NASA’s Juno spacecraft. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstadt

    Images of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot reveal a tangle of dark, veinous clouds weaving their way through a massive crimson oval. The JunoCam imager aboard NASA’s Juno mission snapped pics of the most iconic feature of the solar system’s largest planetary inhabitant during its Monday (July 10) flyby.

    1
    JunoCam. Malin Space Science Systems, Inc. (MSSS), has delivered the camera it has developed for NASA’s 2011 Juno mission to Jupiter. This camera, called Junocam, is designed to take hundreds of color images of the giant planet, some at resolutions never before seen, as the spacecraft orbits Jupiter, coming within 5000 km of the gas giant’s cloudtops

    The images of the Great Red Spot were downlinked from the spacecraft’s memory on Tuesday and placed on the mission’s JunoCam website Wednesday morning.

    “For hundreds of years scientists have been observing, wondering and theorizing about Jupiter’s Great Red Spot,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “Now we have the best pictures ever of this iconic storm. It will take us some time to analyze all the data from not only JunoCam, but Juno’s eight science instruments, to shed some new light on the past, present and future of the Great Red Spot.”

    As planned by the Juno team, citizen scientists took the raw images of the flyby from the JunoCam site and processed them, providing a higher level of detail than available in their raw form. The citizen-scientist images, as well as the raw images they used for image processing, can be found at:

    https://www.missionjuno.swri.edu/junocam/processing

    “I have been following the Juno mission since it launched,” said Jason Major, a JunoCam citizen scientist and a graphic designer from Warwick, Rhode Island. “It is always exciting to see these new raw images of Jupiter as they arrive. But it is even more thrilling to take the raw images and turn them into something that people can appreciate. That is what I live for.”

    Measuring in at 10,159 miles (16,350 kilometers) in width (as of April 3, 2017) Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is 1.3 times as wide as Earth. The storm has been monitored since 1830 and has possibly existed for more than 350 years. In modern times, the Great Red Spot has appeared to be shrinking.

    All of Juno’s science instruments and the spacecraft’s JunoCam were operating during the flyby, collecting data that are now being returned to Earth. Juno’s next close flyby of Jupiter will occur on Sept. 1.

    Juno reached perijove (the point at which an orbit comes closest to Jupiter’s center) on July 10 at 6:55 p.m. PDT (9:55 p.m. EDT). At the time of perijove, Juno was about 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) above the planet’s cloud tops. Eleven minutes and 33 seconds later, Juno had covered another 24,713 miles (39,771 kilometers), and was passing directly above the coiling, crimson cloud tops of the Great Red Spot. The spacecraft passed about 5,600 miles (9,000 kilometers) above the clouds of this iconic feature.

    Juno launched on Aug. 5, 2011, from Cape Canaveral, Florida. During its mission of exploration, Juno soars low over the planet’s cloud tops — as close as about 2,100 miles (3,400 kilometers). During these flybys, Juno is probing beneath the obscuring cloud cover of Jupiter and studying its auroras to learn more about the planet’s origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere.

    Early science results from NASA’s Juno mission portray the largest planet in our solar system as a turbulent world, with an intriguingly complex interior structure, energetic polar aurora, and huge polar cyclones.

    “These highly-anticipated images of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot are the ‘perfect storm’ of art and science. With data from Voyager, Galileo, New Horizons, Hubble and now Juno, we have a better understanding of the composition and evolution of this iconic feature,” said Jim Green, NASA’s director of planetary science. “We are pleased to share the beauty and excitement of space science with everyone.”

    JPL manages the Juno mission for the principal investigator, Scott Bolton, of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. The Juno mission is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the Science Mission Directorate. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the spacecraft. JPL is a division of Caltech in Pasadena. More information on the Juno mission is available at:

    https://www.nasa.gov/juno

    http://missionjuno.org

    The public can follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter at:

    https://www.facebook.com/NASAJuno

    More information on the Great Red Spot can be found at:

    https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/jupiter-s-great-red-spot-a-swirling-mystery

    https://www.nasa.gov/feature/jupiter-s-great-red-spot-likely-a-massive-heat-source

    More information on Jupiter can be found at:

    https://www.nasa.gov/jupiter

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    NASA JPL Campus

    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge [1], on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

    Caltech Logo

    NASA image

     
  • richardmitnick 11:12 am on May 28, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Citizen Science, , ,   

    From ANU: “ANU invites everyone to join the search for exploding stars” 

    ANU Australian National University Bloc

    Australian National University

    Will Wright
    +61 2 6125 7979
    media@anu.edu.au

    ANU is inviting everyone with an interest in astronomy to join a search that the University is leading for exploding stars called supernovae.

    1

    At left, the recently taken image featuring a newly appeared dot of light; in the middle, the old reference image taken a few years ago; at right, the difference between the two images revealing the new supernova.
    Credit: ANU

    3
    Citizen scientists combed through data from ANU Siding Spring Observatory to identify a Type Ia supernova, like the one depicted in this artist’s impression, that exploded hundreds of millions of years before dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Credit: ESA

    Astrophysicists use supernovae, which are explosions as bright as 100 million billion billion billion lightning bolts, as light sources to measure the Universe and acceleration of its growth.

    Co-lead researcher ANU astrophysicist Dr Brad Tucker said scientists can measure the distance of a supernova from Earth by calculating how much the light from the exploding star fades.

    “Using exploding stars as markers all across the Universe, we can measure how the Universe is growing and what it’s doing,” said Dr Tucker from the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics.

    “We can then use that information to better understand dark energy, the cause of the Universe’s acceleration.”

    The ANU project will allow citizen scientists to use a web portal on Zooniverse.org to search images taken by the SkyMapper telescope at the ANU Siding Spring Observatory for the SkyMapper Transient Survey.


    ANU Skymapper telescope, a fully automated 1.35 m (4.4 ft) wide-angle optical telescope, at Siding Spring Observatory , near Coonabarabran, New South Wales, Australia

    Siding Spring Observatory near Coonabarabran, New South Wales, Australia

    Dr Tucker said finding supernovae involved citizen volunteers scanning the SkyMapper images online to look for differences and marking up those differences for the researchers to follow up.

    “With the power of the people, we can check these images in minutes and get another telescope to follow up,” he said.

    Dr Tucker said citizen science was an emerging and increasingly important field that bridged the gap between scientific research and public engagement.

    “Thousands of passionate people can achieve things that would take scientists working alone years to do,” he said.

    Co-lead researcher Dr Anais Möller said SkyMapper is taking thousands of new images of the southern sky every month for the supernova search project.

    “The first people who identify an object that turns out to be a supernova will be publicly recognised as co-discoverers,” said Dr Möller from the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics.

    “SkyMapper is the only telescope that is doing a comprehensive survey of the southern sky looking for supernovae and other interesting transient events at these distances.

    “We are examining an area 10,000 times larger than the full moon every week. As well as finding Type Ia supernovae, which we use to measure how the Universe is expanding, we will also find other types of supernovae that change in brightness with time – ranging from a couple of weeks to months.

    “If we discover supernovae early we have a good chance of understanding them, as well as having better measurements for the expansion of the Universe.”

    SkyMapper is a 1.3-metre telescope that is creating a full record of the southern sky for astronomers.

    People can to participate in the ANU citizen science project at http://www.zooniverse.org/projects/skymap/supernova-sighting to join the search for exploding stars.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

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    ANU Campus

    ANU is a world-leading university in Australia’s capital city, Canberra. Our location points to our unique history, ties to the Australian Government and special standing as a resource for the Australian people.

    Our focus on research as an asset, and an approach to education, ensures our graduates are in demand the world-over for their abilities to understand, and apply vision and creativity to addressing complex contemporary challenges.

     
  • richardmitnick 4:14 pm on May 24, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Citizen Science, ,   

    From The Atlantic via SETI@home: “A Brief History of SETI@Home” 

    SETI@home
    SETI@home

    The Atlantic

    1
    Frank Drake, (Left) president of the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) reviews data from radiotelescopes used to scan the universe for intelligent life.

    How astronomers deputized early internet users to help find alien civilizations.

    The year was 1999, and the people were going online. AOL, Compuserve, mp3.com, and AltaVista loaded bit by bit after dial-up chirps, on screens across the world. Watching the internet extend its reach, a small group of scientists thought a more extensive digital leap was in order, one that encompassed the galaxy itself. And so it was that before the new millennium dawned, researchers at the University of California released a citizen-science program called SETI@Home.

    The idea went like this: When internet-farers abandoned their computers long enough that a screen saver popped up, that saver wouldn’t be WordArt bouncing around, 3-D neon-metallic pipes installing themselves inch by inch, or a self-satisfied flying Windows logo. No. Their screens would be saved by displays of data analysis, showing which and how much data from elsewhere their CPUs were churning through during down-time. The data would come from observations of distant stars, conducted by astronomers searching for evidence of an extraterrestrial intelligence. Each participating computer would dig through SETI data for suspicious signals, possibly containing a “Hello, World” or two from aliens. Anyone with 28 kbps could be the person to discover another civilization.

    When the researchers launched SETI@Home, in May of ’99, they thought maybe 1,000 people might sign up. That number—and the bleaker view from outsiders, who said perhaps no one would join the crew—informed a poor decision: to set up a single desktop to farm out the data and take back the analysis.

    But the problem was, people really liked the idea of letting their computers find aliens while they did nothing except not touch the mouse. And for SETI@Home’s launch, a million people signed up. Of course, the lone data-serving desktop staggered. SETI@Home fell down as soon as it started walking. Luckily, now-defunct Sun Microsystems donated computers to help the program get back on its feet. In the years since, more than 4 million people have tried SETI@Home. Together, they make up a collective computing power that exceeds 2008’s premier supercomputer.

    But they have yet to find any aliens.

    SETI is a middle-aged science, with 57 years under its sagging belt. It began in 1960, when an astronomer named Frank Drake used an 85-foot radio telescope in Green Bank, West Virginia, to scan two Sun-like stars for signs of intelligent life—radio emissions the systems couldn’t produce on their own, like the thin-frequency broadcasts of our radio stations, or blips that repeated in a purposeful-looking way.

    Green Bank today



    GBO radio telescope, Green Bank, West Virginia, USA

    Since then, scientists and engineers have used radio and optical telescopes to search much more of the sky—for those “narrowband” broadcasts, for fast pings, for long drones, for patterns distinguishing themselves from the chaotic background static and natural signals from stars and supernovae.

    But the hardest part about SETI is that scientists don’t know where ET may live, or how ET’s civilization might choose to communicate. And so they have to look for a rainbow of possible missives from other solar systems, all of which move and spin at their own special-snowflake speeds through the universe. There’s only one way to do that, says Dan Werthimer, the chief SETI scientist at Berkeley and a co-founder of SETI@Home: “We need a lot of computing power.”

    In the 1970s, when Werthimer’s Berkeley colleagues launched a SETI project called SERENDIP, they sucked power from all the computers in their building, then the neighboring building. In a way, it was a SETI@Home prototype. In the decades that followed, they turned to supercomputers. And then, they came for your CPUs.

    The idea for SETI@Home originated at a cocktail party in Seattle, when computer scientist David Gedye asked a friend what it might take to excite the public about science. Could computers somehow do something similar to what the Apollo program had done? Gedye dreamed up the idea of “volunteer computing,” in which people gave up their hard drives for the greater good when those drives were idle, much like people give up their idle cars, for periods of time, to Turo (if Turo didn’t make money and also served the greater good). What might people volunteer to help with? His mind wandered to The X-Files, UFOs, hit headlines fronting the National Enquirer. People were so interested in all that. “It’s a slightly misguided interest, but still,” says David Anderson, Gedye’s graduate-school advisor at Berkeley. Interest is interest is interest, misguided or guided perfectly.

    But Gedye wasn’t a SETI guy—he was a computer guy—so he didn’t know if or how a citizen-computing project would work. He got in touch with astronomer Woody Sullivan, who worked at the University of Washington in Seattle. Sullivan turned him over to Werthimer. And Gedye looped in Anderson. They had a quorum, of sorts.

    Anderson, who worked in industry at the time, dedicated evenings to writing software that could take data from the Arecibo radio telescope, mother-bird it into digestible bits, send it to your desktop, command it to hunt for aliens, and then send the results back to the Berkeley home base. No small task.

    They raised some money—notably, $50,000 from the Planetary Society and $10,000 from a Paul Allen-backed company. But most of the work-hours, like the computer-hours they were soliciting, were volunteer labor. Out of necessity, they did hire a few people with operating-system expertise, to deal with the wonky screensaver behavior of both Windows and Macintosh. “It’s difficult trying to develop a program that’s intended to run on every computer in the world,” says Anderson.

    __________________________________________________________________
    Today, you can use BOINC to serve up your computer’s free time to develop malaria drugs, cancer drugs, HIV drugs.

    __________________________________________________________________

    And yet, by May 17, 1999, they were up, and soon after, they were running. And those million people in this world were looking for not-people on other worlds.

    One morning, early in the new millennium, the team came into the office and surveyed the record of what those million had done so far. In the previous 24 hours, the volunteers had done what would have taken a single desktop one thousand years to do. “Suppose you’re a scientist, and you have some idea, and it’s going to take 1,000 years,” says Anderson. “You’re going to discard it. But we did it.”

    After being noses-down to their keyboards since the start, it was their first feeling of triumph. “It was really a battle for survival,” says Anderson. “We didn’t really have time to look up and realize what an amazing thing we were doing.”

    Then, when they looked up again, at the SETI@Home forums, they saw something else: “It was probably less than a year after we started that we started getting notices about the weddings of people who met through SETI@Home,” says Eric Korpela, a SETI@Home project scientist and astronomer at Berkeley.

    The SETI astronomers began to collect more and different types of data, from the likes of the Arecibo radio telescope. Operating systems evolved. There were new signal types to search for, like pulses so rapid they would have seemed like notes held at pianissimo to previous processors. With all that change, they needed to update the software frequently. But they couldn’t put out a new version every few months and expect people to download it.

    Anderson wanted to create a self-updating infrastructure that would solve that problem—and be flexible enough that other, non-SETI projects could bring their work onboard and benefit from distributed computing. And so BOINC—Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing—was born.

    Today, you can use BOINC to serve up your computer’s free time to develop malaria drugs, cancer drugs, HIV drugs. You can fold proteins or help predict the climate. You can search for gravitational waves or run simulations of the heart’s electrical activity, or any of 30 projects. And you can now run BOINC on GPUs—graphical processing units, brought to you by gamers—and on Android smartphones Nearly half a million people use the infrastructure now, making the système totale a 19 petaflop supercomputer, the third-largest megacalculator on the planet.

    Home computers have gotten about 100 times faster since 1999, thank God, and on the data distribution side, Berkeley has gotten about 10 times faster. They’re adding BOINC as a bandwidth-increasing option to the Texas Advanced Computing Center and nanoHUB, and also letting people sign up for volunteer computing, tell the system what they think are the most important scientific goals, and then have their computers be automatically matched to projects as those projects need time. It’s like OkCupid dating, for scientific research. BOINC, and SETI@Home can do more work than ever.

    The thing is, though, they’ve already done a lot of work—so much work they can’t keep up with themselves. Sitting in a database are 7 billion possible alien signals that citizen scientists and their idle computers have already uncovered.

    Most of these are probably human-made interference: short-circuiting electric fences, airport radar, XM satellite radio, or a microwave opened a second too soon. Others are likely random noise that added up to a masquerade of significance. As Anderson says, “Random noise has the property that whatever you’re looking for, it eventually occurs. If you generate random letters. You eventually get the complete works of Shakespeare.” Or the emissions are just miscategorized natural signals.

    Anderson has been working on a program called Nebula that will trawl that billions-and-billions-strong database, reject the interference, and upvote the best candidates that might—just might—be actual alien signals. Four thousand computers at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Germany help him narrow down the digital location of that holiest of grails. Once something alien in appearance pops up—say from around the star Vega—the software automatically searches the rest of the data. It finds all the other times, in the 18 years of SETI@Home history, that Arecibo or the recently added telescopes from a $100 milion initiative called Breakthrough Listen have looked at Vega. Was the signal there then too? “We’re kind of hoping that the aliens are sending a constant beacon,” says Korpela, “and that every time a telescope passes over a point in the sky, we see it.”

    If no old data exists—or if the old data is particularly promising—the researchers request new telescope time and ask SETI colleagues to verify the signal with their own telescopes, to see if they can intercept that beacon, that siren, that unequivocal statement of what SETI scientists and SETI@Home participants hope is true: That we are not alone.

    So far, that’s a no-go. “We’ve never had a candidate so exciting that we call the director and say, ‘Throw everybody off the telescope,’” says Werthimer. “We’ve never had anything that resembles ET.”

    And partly for that reason, the SETI@Homers are now working on detecting “wideband” signals—ones that come at a spread spectrum of frequencies, like the beam-downs from DIRECTV. Humans (and by extension, extraterrestrials) can embed more information more efficiently in these spread-spectrum emissions. If the goal is to disseminate information, rather than just graffiti “We’re here!” on the fabric of spacetime, wideband is the way to go. And SETI scientists’ thinking goes like this: We’ve been looking mostly for purposeful, obvious transmissions, ones wrapped neatly for us. But we haven’t found any—which might mean they just aren’t there. Extraterrestrial communications might be aimed at members of their own civilizations, in which case they’re more likely to go the DIRECTV route, and we’re likely to find only the “leakage” of those communication lines.

    “If there really are these advanced civilizations, it’d be trivial to contact us,” says Werthimer. “They’d be landing on the White House—well, maybe not this White House. But they’d be shining a laser in Frank Drake’s eyes. I don’t see why they would make it so difficult that we would have to do all this hard stuff.”

    And so humans, and our sleeping computers, may have to eavesdrop on messages not addressed to us—the ones the aliens send to their own (for lack of a better word) people, and then insert ourselves into the chatter. “I don’t mean to interrupt,” we might someday say, “but I couldn’t help overhearing…” And because of SETI@Home and BOINC, it might be your laptop that gets that awkward conversation started.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    The science of SETI@home
    SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) is a scientific area whose goal is to detect intelligent life outside Earth. One approach, known as radio SETI, uses radio telescopes to listen for narrow-bandwidth radio signals from space. Such signals are not known to occur naturally, so a detection would provide evidence of extraterrestrial technology.

    Radio telescope signals consist primarily of noise (from celestial sources and the receiver’s electronics) and man-made signals such as TV stations, radar, and satellites. Modern radio SETI projects analyze the data digitally. More computing power enables searches to cover greater frequency ranges with more sensitivity. Radio SETI, therefore, has an insatiable appetite for computing power.

    Previous radio SETI projects have used special-purpose supercomputers, located at the telescope, to do the bulk of the data analysis. In 1995, David Gedye proposed doing radio SETI using a virtual supercomputer composed of large numbers of Internet-connected computers, and he organized the SETI@home project to explore this idea. SETI@home was originally launched in May 1999.

    SETI@home is not a part of the SETI Institute

    The SETI@home screensaver image
    SETI@home screensaver

    To participate in this project, download and install the BOINC software on which it runs. Then attach to the project. While you are at BOINC, look at some of the other projects which you might find of interest.

    MAJOR PROJECTS RUNNING ON BOINC SOFTWARE

    SETI@home The search for extraterrestrial intelligence. “SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) is a scientific area whose goal is to detect intelligent life outside Earth. One approach, known as radio SETI, uses radio telescopes to listen for narrow-bandwidth radio signals from space. Such signals are not known to occur naturally, so a detection would provide evidence of extraterrestrial technology.

    Radio telescope signals consist primarily of noise (from celestial sources and the receiver’s electronics) and man-made signals such as TV stations, radar, and satellites. Modern radio SETI projects analyze the data digitally. More computing power enables searches to cover greater frequency ranges with more sensitivity. Radio SETI, therefore, has an insatiable appetite for computing power.

    Previous radio SETI projects have used special-purpose supercomputers, located at the telescope, to do the bulk of the data analysis. In 1995, David Gedye proposed doing radio SETI using a virtual supercomputer composed of large numbers of Internet-connected computers, and he organized the SETI@home project to explore this idea. SETI@home was originally launched in May 1999.”


    SETI@home is the birthplace of BOINC software. Originally, it only ran in a screensaver when the computer on which it was installed was doing no other work. With the powerand memory available today, BOINC can run 24/7 without in any way interfering with other ongoing work.

    seti
    The famous SET@home screen saver, a beauteous thing to behold.

    einstein@home The search for pulsars. “Einstein@Home uses your computer’s idle time to search for weak astrophysical signals from spinning neutron stars (also called pulsars) using data from the LIGO gravitational-wave detectors, the Arecibo radio telescope, and the Fermi gamma-ray satellite. Einstein@Home volunteers have already discovered more than a dozen new neutron stars, and we hope to find many more in the future. Our long-term goal is to make the first direct detections of gravitational-wave emission from spinning neutron stars. Gravitational waves were predicted by Albert Einstein almost a century ago, but have never been directly detected. Such observations would open up a new window on the universe, and usher in a new era in astronomy.”

    MilkyWay@Home Milkyway@Home uses the BOINC platform to harness volunteered computing resources, creating a highly accurate three dimensional model of the Milky Way galaxy using data gathered by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. This project enables research in both astroinformatics and computer science.”

    Leiden Classical “Join in and help to build a Desktop Computer Grid dedicated to general Classical Dynamics for any scientist or science student!”

    World Community Grid (WCG) World Community Grid is a special case at BOINC. WCG is part of the social initiative of IBM Corporation and the Smarter Planet. WCG has under its umbrella currently eleven disparate projects at globally wide ranging institutions and universities. Most projects relate to biological and medical subject matter. There are also projects for Clean Water and Clean Renewable Energy. WCG projects are treated respectively and respectably on their own at this blog. Watch for news.

    Rosetta@home “Rosetta@home needs your help to determine the 3-dimensional shapes of proteins in research that may ultimately lead to finding cures for some major human diseases. By running the Rosetta program on your computer while you don’t need it you will help us speed up and extend our research in ways we couldn’t possibly attempt without your help. You will also be helping our efforts at designing new proteins to fight diseases such as HIV, Malaria, Cancer, and Alzheimer’s….”

    GPUGrid.net “GPUGRID.net is a distributed computing infrastructure devoted to biomedical research. Thanks to the contribution of volunteers, GPUGRID scientists can perform molecular simulations to understand the function of proteins in health and disease.” GPUGrid is a special case in that all processor work done by the volunteers is GPU processing. There is no CPU processing, which is the more common processing. Other projects (Einstein, SETI, Milky Way) also feature GPU processing, but they offer CPU processing for those not able to do work on GPU’s.

    gif

    These projects are just the oldest and most prominent projects. There are many others from which you can choose.

    There are currently some 300,000 users with about 480,000 computers working on BOINC projects That is in a world of over one billion computers. We sure could use your help.

    My BOINC

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