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Boredom by corona isolation? Become a scientist for a day (or longer).

Friday afternoon I closed my laptop and thought: “Finally, weekend”. But then I became aware of the reality in which we now live. Sports, shopping, a movie or seeing friends for a beer at the pub: these are not optional during the corona crisis. Fortunately, the sun is shining brightly in my backyard today, so I can at least indulge in much-needed vitamin D production.

Not only you and I are at home, science is also on hold (except for corona research). Scientists are also not allowed to leave their home nor to go to the laboratory. Fortunately, there are still piles of unanalyzed data and this crisis seems like the perfect opportunity to get cracking on the analysis. The nice thing is that you and I can help. I recently started doing research again myself by installing the ‘Zooniverse’ app on my phone. Everyone can feel like a scientist through this app and actually help in science.

Scientists place large amounts of data in the app and call on us to analyze it. This allows you to contribute to your favorite field, for example biology, art, astronomy or health. So far I have contributed to two different studies: Cedar Creek – Eyes on the Wild and Galaxy Zoo.

Cedar Creek conducts research on wildlife in North America and its impact on the environment. The app is actually a kind of scientific version of tinder. You will be shown a photo taken by camera traps in North America, after which you must indicate whether you see animals (except humans) on it. Do you see an animal? Then you swipe right. If not, left. Because the camera traps, I assume, respond to movement, you get to see a lot of photos with only grass and plants blowing back and forth in front of the camera. But in about one in nine photos, you will be rewarded with a beautiful deer, bison or even a wolf.

A photo of a bison I came across on Cedar Creek – Eyes on the Wild (Zooniverse).

While such biological studies fit perfectly with my biological background, Zooniverse also allows you to peek into other natural sciences. Personally, I have always been fascinated by space, the universe, and astronomy in general and with ‘Galaxy Zoo’ in the Zooniverse app, I went where no men had gone before and finally felt like an astronomer. The app lets you classify galaxies: are they smooth or do they contain spirals or rings? Do you see different systems merging?

In the next few days, I will take on a new challenge: a study where I am asked to estimate the ages of elephants in Africa. I honestly wonder if I am capable of that and if my participation is not completely ruining the research. Fortunately, the experts comfort me in the stud description: they have every photo judged by several people and take the average of the estimates. In addition, the assessments are later verified by an expert.

A photo of a deer I came across on Cedar Creek – Eyes on the Wild (Zooniverse).

I love contributing to scientific research again. So far, I have analyzed over a thousand photos of galaxies and nature reserves. And who knows… maybe I contributed to an important new discovery. And all that from my lounge chair in the sun behind my house.


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