When Couch Potato is Not a Dirty Word

A while ago I posted about how I might feel if I wasn't working anymore. Well..  elementary forces conspire to create change and here I am... no longer able to work. It's rather odd, but I try not to think about it as much as possible and focus on the weirdly liberating aspects instead.  Now I have time to concentrate on science in all its glory... even though I am starting from the beginning.

So.. whadya do when you can't work?  You crowdsource!

For instance.... how about searching for a particles of interstellar dust captured on aerogel on a satellite?  Over 27,000 people are searching using a virtual microscope on slides at 50 microns magnification for the tracks left by particles that are too small themselves to be seen. It's been going since at least 2007 and they *think* they may have found ... wait for it....   two!

Or... from the very small to the giant.  What about classifying galaxies?  Looking at images of 100's of galaxies and describing their features - spirals, rings, bars, disturbed etc.

A little closer to home you can map solar storms with live data coming in every hour from a stereo camera that allows you to track the beginning and peak of the storm billowing out from the surface of the sun.  It estimates how soon it will reach and affect the earth.

Or you can help to classify thousands of stars using their observed absorption spectrum, which are unique almost like DNA. By comparing against other stars spectra and picking the closest match, the scientists can use that data to identify how hot or cold the star is, and if it is a supergiant, giant or dwarf (indicating the luminosity). The power of a prism and a telescope!

The most challenging one I've found to this point, is a protein folding game. The leap of difficulty from the tutorials to the science puzzles and beyond is so great that I haven't yet figured out how to do it. Right now I feel like I've shown up at a Theoretical Physics conference with an abacus and a protractor. I am hoping for a revelation ;)

There are many more projects out there. Running simulations of merging galaxies, analysing light curves of a star, and some that involve actual data collection in the field.  Making use of a large group of people to crunch your data makes a lot of sense. There is increasingly less money for science, and huge amounts of information to be processed. Computers are great at some things, and lousy at others. Our brains have evolved making us really good at certain things - looking for similarities between images, and making choices based on those similarities, so renting out my brain's idle time for such noble pursuits seems pretty freaking cool to me. I may not be employable at the moment... but I can at least contribute. That feels like a bit of ok, and I'll take it!



The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of Atheism