Science Citizens Unite!

Citizen Science

 

There’s been a lot of buzz around “Citizen Science” lately, so it’s only fair to ask whether the hype is really justified or if it’s more of a gimmick or passing fad. Taking some time to look at the projects that have already harnessed the power of the masses to advance scientific research, however, it’s difficult not to get excited.

Citizen Science, as the name suggests, is where ordinary citizens volunteer their brainpower, time, and other resources such as spare computer power, to help with research projects. From asking people to count squirrels in their backyard to encouraging you to build your own laser harp, there literally is something out there to suit everyone’s abilities, resources, and disposition. Getting involved can mean something as simple as donating some spare computer time; ClimatePrediction.net, for example, aims to produce predictions of the Earth’s climate up to 2300 by asking users to download and run a model program when their computers are on but not being used to full capacity.

For those looking to get more involved, however, there is the opportunity to hunt for stellar clusters in the Andromeda Galaxy, identify and measure the orbits of Near Earth Objects , or help researchers at Berkeley in their Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence through the SETI@home project.

Closer to home you can view and classify pictures from the hundreds of camera traps set throughout the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, monitor the status of bat populations, measure the evolution of tropical storms, or help survey scallop numbers in the New York Bight by analysing undersea images captured by a robot submarine named Dora. Even the humanities need not feel neglected, as nearly 800,000 people signed up so far to help the Bodleian Libraries at the University of Oxford increase access to their music collections by transcribing information from digitized sheet music. Sites like Zooniverse aggregate the largest and most popular projects, and you only need to register once to participate in as many as you like.

But while a lot of these projects only require people to view, interpret and process images, some actually ask you to actively solve puzzles, effectively turning scientific questions into games.

Ribonucleic acid (RNA) is a substance used by our cells to translate genetic information from our DNA. Folding and shape-shifting allows RNA to control cells in a predictable way, and this has huge medical and biological implications that are still to be discovered. This is where EteRNA come in: It’s a game where you design RNAs, which are then scored according to how well they fold. The best examples are added to the first large-scale library of synthetic RNA designs in the world. Similarly, Phylo is a game where participants align DNA sequences by shifting puzzle pieces as a way of achieving Multiple Sequence Alignments. A sequence alignment is a way of arranging the sequences of DNA to identify regions of similarity. From such an alignment, biologists can trace the source of certain genetic diseases. Traditionally, alignment algorithms use computationally complex heuristics to align the sequences but this is prohibitively expensive; by taking data pre-aligned by a heuristic algorithm and abstracting it into manipulating patterns consisting of coloured shapes, the game harnesses the natural human ability to recognize patterns and solve visual problems efficiently.

This is something that research institutions and charities such as Cancer Research UK are keen to capitalize upon. They are teaming up with games designers and computer programmers from tech giants such as Amazon, Facebook and Google to find a way to gamify the search for DNA mutations which lead to cancer. The data needs to be analysed by eye, as computers cannot identify the subtle differences which give the clue as to what the genetic causes of cancers might be. They are aiming to have the project up and running this summer

So it might be that this democratization of science, opening it up to ordinary citizen participation from all over the world, could aid the discovery of a cure for cancer, uncover the secrets of the universe, and help us advance knowledge in all areas of human knowledge. What do you think about it? Have you been involved in such a project or considered crowdsourcing as a way to advance your research? Or have you participated in these or any other projects as a citizen scientist? We’d love to hear your experiences, so do leave a comment or join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook.

You Know What’s Cool? $3 million

Original Image from forbes.com

In science it is, anyway. As Eric S. Lander– one of the eleven winners of the first Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences – explains, this is a “staggering” amount of money for a scientist. Lander is a leader of the Human Genome Project, and in an interview quoted in the New York Times he told of how he planned on using the prize money to help pay for new approaches to teaching biology online.

The winners of what is now the world’s richest academic prize for medicine and biology – more than twice the amount of the Nobel Prize – work mostly in areas advancing cancer research, but Cornelia I. Bargmann’s work on nervous system and behaviour was also recognised, as was Dr. Shinya Yamanaka’s groundbreaking research on developing stem cells.

This follows from the establishment of the Fundamental Physics Prize – also worth $3 million – awarded to 9 scientists last July. It’s the brainchild of Russian Billionaire investor, entrepreneur and philanthropist Yuri Milner, who himself was a Physics student. Inaugural winners includedAlexei Kitaev,  Maxim Kontsevich, and Ashoke Sen.

Previous winners will help make decisions on future awards, and both prizes – as well as a $100,000 award to honour promising young researchers – will now be awarded annually to people who “think big, take risks and have made a significant impact on our lives.”

But while the physics prize was funded exclusively by Mr Milner, who personally chose the first batch of winners, for the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences he partnered with a select group of Internet tycoons. Apple chairman Arthur D. Levison helped in the selection process while Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google co-founder Sergey Brin and his wife Anne Wojcicki – founder of genetics company 23andMe were also involved and donated towards the $33 million prize fund.

Mark Zuckerberg told GigaOM that he believes society needs more hero scientist, researchers and engineers: “The things that we talk about in the media and the things the market rewards has a big influence on what the next generation of people growing up will choose to do and I think it’s really important that a lot of the smartest people go and choose to solve these problems and go into these lines of work.”

In a world obsessed with film, music and sports celebrities, the goal is to “move the needle” of public awareness and give scientists who have significantly contributed to the advancement of human knowledge a chance at the limelight. The foundation’s website will soon be accepting nominations for the next batch of prizes, and anyone can send one in. There are no limits as to age or how many people can share a prize. Also, people can win more than once. “If you’re Einsten,” said Mr Milner, “you will be getting three.”

Do you think that prizes such as the Life Sciences Breakthrough and the Fundamental Physics Prize have the potential to inspire more young people to pursue a scientific career? Is it fair to single out researchers for such large prizes or would it be more productive to fund their area of research directly rather than individuals? Does the fact that most winners are male and from the US represent a problem? What are your thoughts on the researchers who have been recognized so far and their contribution to science? Please let us know what you think by leaving a comment below or joining the conversation on Twitter or Facebook.

Research Gone Social: Leveraging the Web to Advance Scientific Discovery #smwresearch

Social Media Week

Think of all of the ways you connect with others and discover new information online. How many of those platforms do you use for research? How do you keep up with the speed and amount of research that’s being created, discovered, and disseminated? How can we apply the implications of today’s open and real-time research to advance scientific discovery?

As part of Social Media Week, Mendeley is hosting an event to address these questions together. Registration is free. Bring friends. Meet new friends.

Let’s get offline and talk about how you, your research, and the web intersect.

Join us at the Google NY headquarters (foursquare id: 15816790) on Tuesday, February 8th at 3-5pm for “Research Gone Social: Leveraging the Web to Advance Scientific Discovery”, a distributed global event featuring more than 7,500 attendees across 200 events.

Please RSVP here and include the #smwresearch #smw11 #smwnyc hashtag for posts, tweets, pictures, etc.

Speakers include:

Chris Wiggins, HackNY co-founder, Associate Professor of Applied Math at Columbia University
Gabriel Willow
, Urban ecologist, Science & Learning Specialist at theWildLab
Margaret Smith
, Librarian for Physical Sciences at New York University
Jan Reichelt
, Mendeley co-founder

One-on-One with Jessica Hammer, Game Researcher at Columbia University

Jessica Hammer, a Mellon Interdisciplinary Graduate Research Fellow at Columbia University, shares her candid thoughts about Mendeley. Thank you, Jessica, for taking the time to chat! You’ve helped us to kick off what may be a brand new series of Mendeley stories – as told by our users themselves.

Tell us about your research interests
Officially I study psychology, but games, stories, community, race, gender, learning, technology and creativity are all part of my larger research interests. My focus is on investigating how technology interventions influence the way that people think, feel and behave.  Right now, I’m working on how games can help people adopt new ways of thinking about race and gender.

Read More »

Mendeley at LeWeb '09

le web 09

You’ve got some spare time this Wednesday and Thursday? Then come to beautiful Paris, do some Christmas shopping, and meet us at LeWeb ’09**. Yes, great news: Mendeley is one of the 16 finalists** and we are demoing Mendeley on Wednesday (and if we make it into the final-final then also on Thursday).
What is LeWeb ’09? It’s one of the biggest (if not *the* biggest) start-up competition for Europe’s start-ups to present their products and technologies to some of the most influential players in the market, and even Royalty** will be there! The high-profile judges include venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and representatives from companies such as Sun and Microsoft.
Besides having the chance to present Mendeley and show what we are up to, it will be a great event to mingle with other companies and founders and share start-up experiences.
And who knows if we will be lucky enough again to follow up on our success of Plugg.eu’s “Start-up of Year 2009” and TechCrunch Europas “Best Social Innovation Which Benefits Society” awards? At least it will be a lot of fun!
Oh là là!

You’ve got some spare time this Wednesday and Thursday? Then come to beautiful Paris, do some Christmas shopping, and meet us at LeWeb ’09. Yes, great news: Mendeley is one of the 16 finalists and we are demoing Mendeley on Wednesday (and if we make it into the final-final then also on Thursday).

What is LeWeb ’09? It’s one of the biggest (if not the biggest) start-up competition for Europe’s start-ups to present their products and technologies to some of the most influential players in the market, including Royalty! The list of speakers is truly impressive, and the high-profile judges include entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and representatives from companies such as Sun and Microsoft.

Besides having the chance to present Mendeley and show what we are up to, it will be a great event to mingle with other companies and founders and share start-up experiences (and maybe get some free sandwiches).

And who knows, maybe we will be lucky enough to follow up on our success at Plugg.eu’s “Start-up of Year 2009” and TechCrunch Europas “Best Social Innovation Which Benefits Society” awards? At the very least, it will be a lot of fun! Oh là là!

Stanford vs Cambridge: The race is on!

I was doing some research to see which universities have the most Mendeley users, when I thought it might be fun to see how these universities have grown day by day, over the last three months. The chart below shows just that: the top 10 Mendeley universities, and the growth in user base in each of these from August 1st to November 1st.

Watch out Stanford! Cambridge is right behind you…

Top 10 Universities

Channel 4 reports on Mendeley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“It has been described as internet dating for inventors” – well, here at Mendeley we didn’t know that we were doing this kind of stuff, but in any case it’s fantastic news that yesterday Channel 4 News, one of UK’s leading news channels, reported about Mendeley! The six minute report names James Dyson, probably Britain’s most famous inventor, and Mendeley as exemplary innovators in UK’s recovering economy.
Besides showing Mendeley in our “tiny office in London” (oh well, start-up life…), Channel 4 News also interviewed Cameron Neylon in front of his mega-super-duper-luxurious four monitor set-up. Thanks Cameron for the nice quotes!
Here’s the write-up and below you will find the video.

“It has been described as internet dating for inventors” – well, here at Mendeley we didn’t know that we were doing this kind of stuff, but in any case it’s fantastic news that yesterday Benjamin Cohen from Channel 4 News, one of the UK’s leading news channels, reported on Mendeley! The three minute report names James Dyson, probably Britain’s most famous inventor, and Mendeley as exemplary innovators in the UK’s recovering economy.

Besides showing Mendeley in our “tiny office in London” (oh well, start-up life…), Channel 4 News also interviewed Dr. Cameron Neylon, Molecular Biologist at the Science and Technologies Facilities Council, and an Open Science advocate, in front of his mega-super-duper-luxurious four monitor set-up. Thanks Cameron for the nice quotes!

Here’s the write-up, the link to the video, and below you will find the video embedded.

http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f8/1184614595