People-powered research engaging the public and leading to real discoveries

Nearly 1.4 million citizen scientists from over 100 countries are collaborating online with researchers in fields ranging from astronomy to zoology, thanks to researchers at the University of Oxford.

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Online collaboration platform Zooniverse was developed from astrophysics research and now supports nearly 40 projects. From the exploration of WW1 soldiers’ diaries to searching for unknown exotic particles in the Large Hadron Collider data, the projects turn volunteers’ efforts into measurable results.

The volunteers help professional researchers analyse information more quickly and accurately, advancing the ability of computers to do the same tasks, speeding up results and saving time and resources. This people powered research has led to some remarkable discoveries.

These include the discovery of a quasar-scale light echo, the first planet in a four star system and a sophisticated measurement of the dust distribution in the Earth’s orbit.

In collaboration with Cancer Research UK, a Zooniverse project led to the development of new software that helped to crowd source analysis of tumour samples, reducing analysis time from 18 months to just three months. Oxford University’s platform has led to increased public understanding of science and research methods.

In a survey of users, 88% agreed that Zooniverse had increased their understanding of how modern scientific research is carried out. Teachers are also using the platform in the classroom to engage the next generation of scientists.

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