About Citizizen Science

This blog is a summary of various news items and pointers on how scientific research is being transformed by new web 2.0 tools, web services and Service Oriented Architectures (SOA). Not only will this transform science through the development of cyber-infrastructure and eSceince but it will enable greater participation by students and the general public in the scientific process in the analysis of data and control of instruments

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Citizens are playing an increasing important role in cyber-science

[Great article in iSGTW about how the Internet and clouds are allowing citizens to play a more direct role in scientific discovery. I believe that we have only scratched the surface on the potential of citizens and students to be more active participants in science. I think this could also be a very “green” approach to science if all the thousands of PCs that are used in such work, were powered solely by small renewable resources using 400 HZ connectivity. For example it would be easy to configure a PC that to be powered by the electrical grid when a user was interacting with the machine – but in sleep mode the computer could be powered by 400 Hz power which could be delivered by roof top solar panel or micro wind mill over existing copper wire in the home. If there was no renewable power available the machine simply shut down and go off line, as there are thousands of other machines elsewhere in the world that could still the processing. This would enable the millions of computers around the world to provided distributing computing capability for all sorts of scientific experiments without increasing the carbon footprint of the machines. -- BSA


Opinion - Scientists, meet the citizens

Fran├žois Grey is the coordinator of the Citizen Cyberscience Center.

In a week’s time, an unusual meeting of minds will occur in London.
Billed as a Citizen Cyberscience Summit, it will bring together scientists from a range of distributed, volunteer computing and volunteer thinking projects, to mingle with some of the volunteers who participate in these online projects.

The upshot of the event, hosted by King’s College London on 2-3 September, should be a stimulating dialogue about how to make citizen cyberscience even more compelling for the public and even more useful to science.
The timing of the event could not
be better. August saw a bumper crop of major scientific results from online science projects involving public participation. An article in Naturedescribed progress made in protein folding using an online multiplayer game called Foldit. The game allows participants to pull, twist and shake a 3D rendering of a given protein in a variety of ways, just using a mouse and a simple web interface.

Players score according to how energetically stable the resulting protein structure is. Fascinatingly, the scientists discovered that the players spontaneously team up sometimes to try to find new strategies for folding the proteins. This exploration of strategy space, not just the molecular conformation space, puts the human solvers streets ahead of standard computer algorithms, which just plod along with same old strategy.

The Einstein@home screensaver. The Einstein@home project is analysing both gravitational wave detector data and radio astronomy data. Image courtesy Einstein@home

Wave of the future?
This sort of volunteer thinking may well be a wave of the future, but there is still lots of mileage in volunteer computing, which invites participants to simply run scientific software in the background on their PCs or laptop. There are already dozens of such projects online, and one of these, Einstein@home, made waves two weeks ago with a publication in the journal Sciencewhich described the first pulsars to be discovered through public participation.

Over 250,000 volunteers contributed to this research, providing supercomputing-level processing power of 0,25 Petaflops. Over 100 pulsar candidates were discovered, including a highly unusual specimen which is probably the fastest spinning pulsar of its kind, rotating on its axis 41 times a second.
Speakers from research groups behind both Einstein@home and FoldIt are scheduled to speak at the London Summit. And they are also going to listen to a number of the volunteers, and learn about their perspective on participating in such projects.
One celebrated volunteer who will be there, Hanny van Arkel, discovered a mysterious astronomical object in 2007. Since she is Dutch, she referred to it as a “Voorwerp” — Dutch for “object” — when drawing other participants’ attention to it. The name stuck, and as a result, Ms van Arken – —who is a school teacher and also plays guitar in a band — is forever immortalized in the night sky as Hanny’s Voorwerp.
The Summit will feature several such stories of discovery by amateurs, providing a reminder that thanks to the internet, citizens are playing an increasingly direct role in science.
—Fran├žois Grey for iSGTW

email: Bill.St.Arnaud@gmail.com
twitter: BillStArnaud
blog: http://billstarnaud.blogspot.com/
skype: Pocketpro

Monday, April 19, 2010

Dis-intermediation of the university via open courseware -- NYTimes: An Open Mind

Dis-intermediation of the university via open courseware -- NYTimes: An Open Mind
[Some excerpts from NYtimes – BSA]


Open courseware is a classic example of disruptive technology, which, loosely defined, is an innovation that comes along one day to change a product or service, often standing an industry on its head. Craigslist did this to newspapers by posting classified ads for free. And the music industry got blindsided when iTunes started unbundling songs from albums and selling them for 99 cents apiece.

Some imagine a situation in which the bulk of introductory course materials are online, as videos or interactive environments; students engage with the material when convenient and show up only for smaller seminars. “In an on-demand environment, they’re thinking,

Mr. Schonfeld sees still more potential in “unbundling” the four elements of educating: design of a course, delivery of that course, delivery of credit and delivery of a degree. “Traditionally, they’ve all lived in the same institutional setting.” Must all four continue to live together, or can one or more be outsourced?

Edupunks — the term for high-tech do-it-yourself educators who skirt traditional structures — are piloting wiki-type U’s that stitch together open course material from many institutions and combine it with student-to-student interaction. In September, Neeru Paharia, a doctoral student at Harvard Business School, and four others from the open education field started up Peer 2 Peer University, a tuition-free, nonprofit experiment financed with seed money from the Hewlett and Shuttleworth foundations.

Ms. Paharia doesn’t speak the same language as traditional educators: P2PU “runs” courses. It doesn’t “offer” them. There are currently 16 courses, in subjects as diverse as behavioral economics, music theory, cyberpunk literature and “managing election campaigns” (and all with a Creative Commons license that grants more freedom of use than a standard copyright). Several hundred people are taking classes, Ms. Paharia says.

P2PU’s mission isn’t to develop a model and stick with it. It is to “experiment and iterate,” says Ms. Paharia, the former executive director of Creative Commons. She likes to talk about signals, a concept borrowed from economics. “Having a degree is a signal,” she says. “It’s a signal to employers that you’ve passed a certain bar.” Here’s the radical part: Ms. Paharia doesn’t think degrees are necessary. P2PU is working to come up with alternative signals that indicate to potential employers that an individual is a good thinker and has the skills he or she claims to have — maybe a written report or an online portfolio.

David Wiley, associate professor of instructional psychology and technology at Brigham Young University, is an adviser to P2PU. For the past several years, he has been referring to “the disaggregation of higher education,” the breaking apart of university functions. Dr. Wiley says that models like P2PU address an important component missing from open courseware: human support. That is, when you have a question, whom can you ask? “No one gets all the way through a textbook without a dozen questions,” he says. “Who’s the T.A.? Where’s your study group?”

“If you go to M.I.T. OpenCourseWare, there’s no way to find out who else is studying the same material and ask them for help,” he says. At P2PU, a “course organizer” leads the discussion but “you are working together with others, so when you have a question you can ask any of your peers. The core idea of P2PU is putting people together around these open courses.”

A similar philosophy is employed by Shai Reshef, the founder of several Internet educational businesses. Mr. Reshef has used $1 million of his own money to start theUniversity of the People, which taps open courses that other universities have put online and relies on student interaction to guide learning; students even grade one another’s papers.

The focus is business administration and computer science, chosen because they hold promise for employment. He says he hopes to seek accreditation, and offer degrees.

Mr. Reshef’s plan is to “take anyone, anyone whatsoever,” as long as they can pass an English orientation course and a course in basic computer skills, and have a high school diploma or equivalent. The nonprofit venture has accepted, and enrolled, 380 of 3,000 applicants, and is trying to raise funds through microphilanthropy — “$80 will send one student to UoPeople for a term” — through social networking.

A decade has passed since M.I.T. decided to give much of its course materials to the public in an act of largesse. The M.I.T. OpenCourseWare Initiative helped usher in the “open educational resources” movement, with its ethos of sharing knowledge via free online educational offerings, including podcasts and videos of lectures, syllabuses and downloadable textbooks. The movement has also helped dislodge higher education from its brick-and-mortar moorings.

If the mission of the university is the creation of knowledge (via research) and the dissemination of knowledge (via teaching and publishing), then it stands to reason that giving that knowledge away fits neatly with that mission. And the branding benefits are clear.
The Open University, the distance-learning behemoth based in England, has vastly increased its visibility with open courses, which frequently show up in the Top 5 downloads on Apple’s iTunes U, a portal to institutions’ free courseware as well as marketing material. The Open University’s free offerings have been downloaded more than 16 million times, with 89 percent of those downloads outside the U.K., says Martin Bean, vice chancellor of the university. Some 6,000 students started out with a free online course before registering for a paid online course.

Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative is working with teams of faculty members, researchers on learning and software engineers to develop e-courses designed to improve the educational experience. So far there are 10 complete courses, including logic, statistics, chemistry, biology, economics and French, which cost about $250,000 each to build. Carnegie Mellon is working with community colleges to build four more courses, with the three-year goal of 25 percent more students passing when the class is bolstered by the online instruction.

The intended user is the beginning college student, whom Dr. Smith describes as “someone with limited prior knowledge in a college subject and with little or no experience in successfully directing his or her own learning.”

It works like this: Virtual simulations, labs and tutorials allow for continuous feedback that helps the student along. The student’s progress is tracked step by step, and that information is then used to make improvements to the course. Several studies have shown that students learn a full semester’s worth of material in half the time when the online coursework is added. More students stick with the class, too. “We now have the technology that enables us to go back to what we all know is the best educational experience: personalized, interactive engagement,” Dr. Smith says.

email: Bill.St.Arnaud@gmail.com
twitter: BillStArnaud
blog: http://billstarnaud.blogspot.com/
skype: Pocketpro

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Cool new Middleware from Twitter for distributed data


"Twitter last night offered up the code for Gizzard, an open-source framework for accessing distributed data quickly, which Twitter built to help the site deal with the millions of requests it gets from users needing access to their friends and their own tweets. It could become an important component of building out web-based businesses, much likeFacebook’s Cassandra project has swept through the ranks of webscale startups and even big companies.
Gizzard is a middleware networking service that sits between the front-end web site client and the database and attempts to divide and replicate data in storage in intelligent ways that allows it to be accessed quickly by the site. Gizzard’s function it to take the requests coming in through the fire hose and allocate the stream of requests across multiple databases without slowing things down. It’s also fault-tolerant, which means if one section of data is compromised, the service will try to route to other sections. From the Twitter blog post:"

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Human Computing - Distributed Thinking - new age of Citizen Science


By using the strengths of distributed computing technologies, both specialized researchers and citizens have the opportunity to participate in a new way of doing science.

We live in a time when nearly all information is available to nearly all people everywhere.

We are entering an age where all types of people can also contribute to many types of information. A school bus driver in rural Romania may be part of a biomedical research project. Or a banker in Los Angeles might moonlight as a collaborator in an astronomy project – classifying galaxies in her spare time.

This new movement in science, called “citizen science,” allows non-specialist volunteers to participate in global research. The projects are as diverse as backyard insect counts (the Firefly citizen science project), studies of how malaria develops and is transmitted (MalariaControl.net) or prime numbers searches (through PrimeGrid).

The marriage of distributed computing techniques with citizen science represents a potential revolution. It gives scientists access to more resources and makes “cybercitizens” participants in the research process. With a few mouse clicks and 20 minutes to spare a person can elect to aid scores of projects. They can aid as many or as few projects as they like, and their involvement does not damage the performance of their own computer.

Considering the average desktop is idle about 80% of the time, its spare computing cycles represent a large resource. After downloading the needed software, a computer’s spare analytical power is harvested to work on small pieces of a large problem that has been sent from the project’s server. Once completed, the results are sent back to the project. By sharing out large tasks to many computers a distributed “grid” of computers can reduce the time needed to solve complicated problems.

In the Galaxy Zoo project, everyday citizens can help astronomers do things such as catch exploding stars, or supernovae. Data for the site is provided by an automatic survey in California, at the world-famous Palomar Observatory. Image courtesy Galaxy Zoo Supernovae

Where to start

Many of these projects use the common software platform BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing). The BOINC webpages point to nearly 50 projects, coming many domains including climate change, astrophysics, earthquake monitoring, epidemiology and searches for extraterrestrial life. These count among them Rosetta@home, Climate prediction.net, Einstein@home, LHC@home, Chess960@home including the well-known SETI@home. BOINC’s volunteers, number about a third of a million people, donate an average of 4,540.83 TeraFLOPS in 24 hours.

Other portals leading to multiple applications include World Community Grid and EDGeS. World Community Grid, sponsored by IBM, with nearly half a million members, collects humanitarian and medical applications such as Nutritious Rice for the World and FightAIDS@home.

The EDGeS project, or Enabling Desktop Grids for e-Science, allows information to pass between desktop grids based on BOINC, and service grids (publicly funded grids of connected computing clusters) such as Enabling Grids for E-sciencE (EGEE.) This makes it possible both for volunteers to contribute to applications on service grids and for researchers to put their service grid applications on volunteer, desktop grid systems.

Human computing – distributed thinking

An intriguing sub-variety of volunteer projects call for “volunteer thinking.” These projects that share out tasks which require human intelligence for accurate processing.

Through Galaxy Zoo, volunteers classify images of the near quarter million galaxies that have been collected through the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. The human brain is able to recognize shape and type much more quickly and accurately than any computer. This work helps astronomers understand how galaxies form.

AfricaMap, a UNOSAT project (the United Nations Institute for Training and Research Operational Satellite Applications Program), will give volunteers satellite images of rural Africa, who will mark roads, bridges, human settlements, rivers, agriculture fields, barren fields and more. This will update old maps and create maps for areas where they did not exist before.

This project, and others like it, are being collected under the umbrella of the Citizen Cyberscience Centre, a partnership of the University of Geneva, the UN Institute for Training and Research and CERN, Europe’s center for physics research, to help regional authorities, humanitarian workers and scientists. Accurate maps will help aid workers reach needy areas and will track the progress of climate change.

Specialized researchers and volunteer citizens can now collaborate on some of the world’s most serious problems. The internet and the Web led to a revolution in the way we access and use information. These tools, coupled with distributing computing technologies, may be ushering in a research revolution as well.

—Danielle Vention, EGEE, is a former iSGTW editor

Monday, January 25, 2010

Tom Friedman on innovation and National Lab Day

From: Ed Lazowska 'Tom Friedman on innovation and National Lab

Tom Friedman has a wonderful op-ed in today's New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/24/opinion/24friedman.html

Then go to the National Lab Day website, and register!

"What the country needs most now is not more government stimulus, but more
stimulation. We need to get millions of American kids, not just the geniuses,
excited about innovation and entrepreneurship [...]

Introduced last November by a coalition of educators and science and engineering associations, Lab Day aims to inspire a wave of future innovators, by pairing veteran scientists and engineers with students in grades K-12 to inspire thousands of hands-on science projects around the country.

Any teacher in America, explains the entrepreneur Jack Hidary, the chairman of N.L.D., can go to the Web site NationalLabDay.org and enter the science project he or she is interested in teaching, or get an idea for one. N.L.D. will match teachers with volunteer scientists and engineers in their areas for mentoring.

“As soon as you have a match, the scientists and the students communicate directly or via Skype and collaborate on a project,” said Hidary. “We have a class in Chicago asking for civil engineers to teach them how to build a bridge. In Idaho, a class is asking for a scientist to help them build a working river delta inside their classroom.”

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