[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
François 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.
—François Grey for iSGTW