Zooniverse: 10 years of people-powered research

12 December 2019

The citizen science platform, Zooniverse, is 10 years old; it boasts a community of over 1.9 million volunteers and has supported 229 citizen science projects. Over the last decade volunteers on Zooniverse projects have performed a wide range of tasks, including classifying over 1.7 million galaxies, transcribing a quarter of a million pages of text, and they even watched 74,016 videos of nematode worms! Their amazing effort has led to the production of over 200 research publications.

The Zooniverse was launched on 12th December 2009 following the success of an initial 2-year project, Galaxy Zoo, that harnessed people power to classify a million galaxies. Initially featuring a small collection of astronomy projects, and one involving the transcription of old ship’s weather logs, it quickly started attracting projects from other disciplines. Zooniverse offers a unique resource for researchers, allowing them to engage volunteers worldwide who want to collaborate and help with their big data problems – like counting penguins in millions of pictures from Antarctica, or transcribing text written on ancient scrolls.

Zooniverse founder, University of Oxford astrophysicist and co-presenter of BBC’s The Sky at Night, Professor Chris Lintott, said: ‘Zooniverse was one of the first initiatives to realise the potential of people-powered research on such a large scale. Our volunteers want to play their part in today’s scientific discoveries and help to change the world they live in. Our platform allows them to contribute in a meaningful way to science and, importantly, it provides researchers with an invaluable resource.’

Chris Scott, who heads up the Solar Stormwatch project, said: ‘After the STEREO spacecraft were launched in 2006, I soon found myself with thousands of images of faint and fluffy solar storms. The Zooniverse came to the rescue by putting me in contact with tens of thousands of volunteers whose careful scrutiny of the data has enabled, and continues to enable, far more scientific advances than my small team could have ever have achieved on their own.’

Elisabeth Baeten, a Zooniverse volunteer and moderator, said: ‘If you would have told me 10 years ago that clicking on some galaxies would lead to me being a co-author on a couple of papers or doing interviews or getting to accept awards or even getting a mention in a Danish book on exoplanets, I would have laughed and shrugged it off as some fantasy. And while those things are really amazing, they are not the reason why I keep on classifying on completely different projects (most are space related, but there is also fighting Tuberculosis, or helping out with disaster relief - the list is really long). It's because I am doing something useful and it's fun at the same time (except for the disaster relief obviously) . Not to mention that I'm learning so much about the world around me. I just feel privileged to be part of the Zooniverse.’

How it works

Volunteers sign up to the platform and can choose which projects they want to get involved from disciplines as diverse as astrophysics, ecology, the humanities, and biomedical sciences. By answering simple questions about what they see in front of them – from images of faraway galaxies to historical records or videos of animals – volunteers are helping to contribute to our understanding of the world, our history, our Universe and more.

By getting multiple people to give an answer for each question the Zooniverse harnesses the wisdom of the crowd to ensure that the data is as accurate as that which would be produced by an individual expert. By utilising the effort of the crowd in this way they can produce in a matter of weeks results that would previously have taken years.

2 Millionth Volunteer Competition

In celebration of reaching this milestone the Zooniverse team is running a competition to reach 2 million registered volunteers. The 2 millionth volunteer who signs up and takes part in a project on the platform will be awarded a prize, and all other volunteers who take part in any Zooniverse project on the same day as the 2 millionth volunteer joins will be entered into a prize draw for a signed copy of Into the Zooniverse, the new book highlighting some of the best bits from Zooniverse projects in 2019.

To learn more about Zooniverse, and join the effort, visit https://www.zooniverse.org.

For more information, please contact Grant Miller on [email protected]

Notes to editors

About Zooniverse www.zooniverse.org
Zooniverse is led by the University of Oxford and Chicago’s Adler Planetarium in close collaboration with the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and other partners. Zooniverse’s platform for people-powered research has been made possible through funding which includes support from UKRI, National Science Foundation, NASA, Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Helmsley Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a Google Global Impact Award, Microsoft, and the European Union.