Gorongosa WildCam – Which species cares more?

by Alex Burr

Gorongosa National Park is located in Mozambique, Africa. Before a civil war destroyed the natural terrain and pushed many of the native species out, Gorongosa was a beautiful wild place. Now locals in Mozambique and many people like us across the world are trying to preserve the area and research the native species there. WildCam Gorongosa is a set of images from motion-detecting cameras located in the park and data from those images  that help scientists do research on the species living there. From this online platform, we developed research questions that could be answered with that data.

We took these questions and as a team, decided that our single collective research question was to see if elephants or monkeys would stay in groups more as it was the most interesting and complex question our team thought we could research most effectively in this time span. We thought that elephants would tend to stay in groups and subsequently be photographed more in groups than monkeys would because elephants form deeper emotional bonds with each other than monkeys do with other monkeys (Defenders of Wildlife).

To gather evidence for our hypothesis, we went to WildCam Gorongosa and filtered out the irrelevant data to our project, such as what season it was or the distance to the nearest water source. Next we categorized the number of elephants and monkeys photographed into pictures of that species alone or in groups. From there we were able to get precise data on the total number of each species photographed alone and in groups, and therefore derive the percentage of elephants and monkeys photographed in groups. Overall, elephants were found in groups 45.4% of the time compared to monkeys being found in groups 39.3% of the time, therefore elephants were about 5% more likely to be found in groups than monkeys in Gorongosa National Park, according to our research.

To explain this trend, our group did more research on the behaviors of both monkeys and elephants native to Mozambique, Africa. We found that young monkeys stay with their mothers for a much shorter time than young elephants do: 3 weeks to 3 years, respectively. Additionally, we learned that besides deep emotional and familial bonds, elephants stay in packs to protect their calves who can be prey to lions and other large predators (Defenders of Wildlife). On the contrary, vervet monkeys have a strict hierarchy that dictates that males must leave the pack after childhood and become part of a new pack, seemingly to prove themselves as adults (African Wildlife Foundation). For these reasons, elephants are more likely to be found in groups than monkeys.

While the research our group did supports our findings, our data set was limited; we analyzed only two species. To further our research, we could see how elephant and monkey groups compare to the groups of other species living in Gorongosa. Additionally, we could compare elephant and monkey groups of Gorongosa to other wild places’ groups to get a larger data set for our original research question.

Although the data set may have been limited, I enjoyed working on this question. This research project has not only taught me more about Gorongosa National Park, it has also expanded my knowledge and interest in the behaviors of wild animals. Research like this being done by people across the world is helping revitalize this once war-torn national park, and furthering humankind’s understanding of species’ behavior as well. It is important to study places like Gorongosa National Park now, so that we can learn as much as possible about Earth’s wildlife before humanity destroys another beautiful place.


African Wildlife Foundation http://www.awf.org/wildlife-conservation/vervet-monkey

Defenders of Wildlife http://www.defenders.org/elephant/basic-facts


Understanding exoplanets (and possibly helping find a new habitable planet)!

by Medetkan Mamyrov

Have you ever wondered how scientists discover exoplanets around distant stars and determine their size, atmosphere, and other information? Well, Exoplanet Explorers project on Zooniverse website is the perfect place to understand how the discovery of exoplanets is done. Zooniverse is a platform that has many projects, completed and in progress, ranging many fields, from history to sciences— Exoplanet Explorers is one of them. I will explain what the project is about, the goal of the developers, and how it works.  

Essentially, Exoplanet Explorers is a project that uses K2, Kepler’s second mission, data and analyzes it through two light detection methods to discover exoplanets, specifically transition planets.  It tracks the brightness of the stars to detect if an exoplanet has passed between the host star and the K2 spacecraft from which a scatter plot is created for further analysis and detection.

The goal of the researchers and developers is to discover and understand the patterns of exoplanet occurrences, especially in different stellar environments. For example, they are trying to discover whether small planets like Mars are more common near the sun, or are small planets more common than larger planets like Jupiter. Also, they want to understand whether “short-period planets are more common than those on long orbits” (“Exoplanet Explorers”).

Now, I bet you want to understand how the platform works. As aforementioned, it uses two light detection methods, “transit method” and “radial velocity method.” The “transit method” is used for detecting the exoplanets as it analyzes the brightness of host stars by looking at the “folded light curve,” or one dip at phase 0.0 (“Exoplanet Explorers”). The dip indicates that some of the light that is emitted by the star is blocked by a transit exoplanet. This method is also used to determine the “mass, size, radius, density, atmospheric composition, and orbital alignment of exoplanets” (“Exoplanet Explorers”).

The other method, “radial velocity method,” is what scientists used to confirm the existence of many exoplanets out of the first 4000 discovered from the K2 data. This method observes how exoplanets make their stars “wobble,” which is indicated by the “spectrum of the star’s light” (“Exoplanet Explorers”).

If you chose to contribute to the research of this project, you will have to do few simple things.  Look at the two graphs on the left, the ones that need to be classified and analyzed, and compare them to a sample graph that is a certain transition planet. From the two graphs on the left: one of the graphs is an unedited graph of the data gathered, the other graph is computer model prediction which makes it easier to see the dips or the “folded light curves, which indicate that there is an exoplanet present” (“Exoplanet Explorers”). After analyzing the graphs, make a choice whether there is a “folded light curve” or not, this can be done by clicking “yes” or “no” buttons.

Overall, the “Exoplanet Explorers” project is a very interesting and simple project that you could contribute to and help researchers better understand stellar environments and more importantly the universe that is full of mysteries. Be a Citizen Scientist!


“Exoplanet Explorers.” Zooniverse. Web. 12 July 2017. <https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/ianc2/exoplanet-explorers/about/research&gt;.

LIGO helping scientists understand gravitational waves

by Trevor DeBord


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Image taken from Gravity Spy’s ‘about’ page

Gravity Spy is a crowdsourcing project which uses data taken from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO for short). LIGO was created in an attempt to detect evidence of Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity. It is an extremely sensitive piece of equipment which detects gravitational waves from all over the universe. In fact, the LIGO is so sensitive that, “LIGO needs to be able to know when the length of its 4-kilometer arms change by a distance 10,000 times smaller than the diameter of a proton”(Information taken from Gravity Spy’s about page). A large amount of data is taken from LIGO, and Gravity Spy helps to categorize that data.

LIGO detects gravitational anomalies by shooting a laser down a pair of four kilometer long cavities and measuring the duration it takes for the light to reach each end. If the beams of light reach the end at different times, then we know there was some kind of interference. This can be caused by either a gravitational wave or some kind of external interference in the environment around the facility, causing a signal to be created. This works because the speed of light is constant, so LIGO acts as an extremely accurate timer measuring the change in the light.



A simplified version of how LIGO works. Image by: Jason Grigsby (Wolfram Blog)

Despite the scientists’ best efforts to reduce the possibility of common sources of interference by having two detectors separated by thousands of miles, glitches still occur often in both detectors. The ability to classify and filter these glitches is incredibly important for the development of this research, as it would increase the amount of legitimate astrophysical signal detection. This is where the crowdsourcing aspect of the research comes in. Participants of Gravity Spy will help to categorize a massive amount of data from LIGO, which will serve as a database for machine-learning. This machine learning will use this database as a way to classify new glitches based off what participants in the program categorized each specific glitch as in the dataset.   

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A simplified version of how LIGO works Image by: Jason Grigsby (Wolfram Blog)


Overall I think the project is very interesting, and I will continue to do work on Zooniverse and Gravity Spy as time goes on. One of the things I specifically like about the project is the community behind it. There is an active forum where you can ask questions and post interesting things you found while working through it. I also like how there are occasional pop-ups which give you additional information about LIGO, giving you a better background.


Etch A Cell

by Justin Brown

The Zooniverse website is home to the Etch a Cell project. Zooniverse is a scientific platform where everyday citizens can help scientist do research without needing any scientific background at all. Etch a Cell is about the study of the nucleus, or center, of the cell in order to understand how it works. This is in an effort to study the changes in the structure of the nuclear envelope, the wall surrounding the nucleus, between healthy cells and diseased cell. Scientist need three dimensional models of the nuclear envelope in order to study them, and the Etch a Cell project allows for citizens to help create those models.


In this image the cell’s nucleus is “segmented”, with the annotation overlay toggling on and off for clarity (Etch a Cell)

Scientists can create the models using a process known as segmenting. An electron microscope is used to take pictures of multiple layers of the cell. These images are sent to the Zooniverse website where they can be viewed. The observer of these images can then draw a line where they think the nuclear envelope should be. After multiple citizens have viewed and recorded their analysis, the data is reviewed once more and the nuclear envelope is determined through consensus. This process repeats itself for the different layers of the cell until scientist can establish a full three dimensional view of the cell.


3D reconstruction of 2D segmented images of a nucleus (Etch a Cell)

Having a three dimensional look of the cell’s structure allows scientists to have an in depth analysis to study how the shape has changed and why. This research would take ages if the scientists were doing it alone. But thanks to those who participate in this scientific investigation and contribute some of their time and energy to help this study, scientists can work faster and develop computing software for this task.

The reason why this research is important is that it could help many people in the future. People with diseases, viruses, and cancer can truly benefit from this study. The end goal of the Etch a Cell project is to find treatments for people and to learn more about what happens to people with these illnesses on the cellular level. When a virus attacks a cell the nuclear envelope is broken down, exposing the nucleus and damaging the cell. This became known through research, but is only a small part of the importance of the nuclear envelope. The rest is yet to be determined, but the Etch a Cell project does greatly improve the quality and speed of the much needed cellular research.

Zooniverse. 2017, July 14.  Etch a Cell. Retrieved from https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/h-spiers/etch-a-cell/about/research


Evolution of Computers: With Your Help!

by Tahye Pitter

As humans evolve and become more sophisticated, they invent more advanced technology. Currently we are at the verge of creating more intelligent cameras, that are capable of recognizing certain animals and classifying them. Pretty cool huh? Zooniverse is a citizen science web portal for people powered research where hundreds of thousands of volunteers get to contribute to a certain research project. When I first found out about this website, I was thrilled. I’ve always wanted to contribute to a greater cause especially in the form of science. Me and my partner stumbled upon one of the projects called Zen of Dragons. Basically, A group of researchers are trying to develop this software called Odomatic where it automatically identifies dragonflies and damselflies from images.

From making this software, it can be incorporated into websites and apps designed to identify insects. However, these researchers need to train the computers to recognize these dragonflies by using lots of images. Obviously, these researchers can’t do it alone, so that’s where they depend on us, the public, to help identify these weird-like flying creatures.

After learning all about this, me and my partner were fascinated so we decided to give it a try. As soon as we joined the project, we were brought to a page where it had an image of an Odonate(s) and a cursor. Simply, all we had to do was create a box around the Odonate(s) and identify its head and abdomen. After that, we were brought to a different image of an Odonate(s) and repeated that same process.

zen of dragons.pngThe cool thing about this project is that you can do however many you want to! You can do one…two…ten…or even a thousand, either way, you’re still contributing to this greater cause. That feeling of helping, being useful, making a difference, is a feeling I won’t get tired of. Even if this specific project doesn’t particularly interest you, there are still plenty of more projects out there that you can contribute to on Zooniverse. There are tons of projects out there, ranging from history to arts to biology to medicine to nature, so I think you will definitely find a project that sparks a little bit of interest. Not only are you getting satisfaction out of this, but you are also impacting the world. That, I believe, is something to be proud of.

About Exoplanet Explorers

by Joseph Berry III

Zooniverse is a website in which many people can explore many different projects of many different subjects that others have created due to their interests in the subject. Exploring these projects and using them can increase your interest in certain subjects and even help out the creators’ research. The Zooniverse project I chose is called Exoplanet Explorers, where you can learn more about a process of finding other exoplanets orbiting discovered stars. This project has plenty of information and it will help increase your interest in exoplanets and the ways they are discovered.

The project finds and uses data based on the change in brightness of stars over time to determine whether or not a planet is orbiting the star. In the project, you can look at different pieces of data and graphs (known as lightcurves), and based on their content you choose whether or not that star seems like it could have a transiting planet. For example, if a lightcurve graph has multiple dips or too many points, then that graph can’t be used as solid proof that the star has an orbiting planet.

This team behind Exoplanet Explorers is trying to find exoplanets by measuring stars brightnesses overtime to gather more data about exoplanets, so they can find comparisons and contrasts from them (according to the project’s about section). If a lightcurve has one dip at “phase 0” and no more, then it’s fairly likely that the star the lightcurve is based on has a planet orbiting around it. The project is trying to find more lightcurves with this description, and this project lets you help with that, by showing you lightcurves for different stars, and letting you choose whether or not they seem similar to the description previously mentioned.

This project gives plenty of information as to what makes an accurate lightcurve and what doesn’t. The project explains how this method for finding exoplanets works, and the terms used in the method well. The project, while seeming to have little content at first glance, actually taught me plenty of new things about this subject, and made me more interested in exoplanets overall.

I think that this project is very well put together and well organized. In fact, it does so well that their volunteers have done over one million of classifications, and from these the team behind the project have discovered over 100 possible exoplanets! They have many volunteers classifying possible exoplanets every day, and they have a huge page in the about —> team section dedicated to thanking all of the volunteers, of which there are thousands of. They have plenty of content and information in this project, and I can tell that they put a lot of time and effort into this project. Exoplanet Explorers is a very useful project if you want to learn about a method of exoplanet hunting, or if you want to participate in helping the team find potential planets.

Hiding in Plain Sight

by Jack Morgan

The Zooniverse research project that I selected was Comet Hunters. Zooniverse is a website that researchers can use to crowdsource analysis of data when they have far too much data to get through on their own. Astronomers in this study were looking to for Comets in the Asteroid Belt. Very few, (four, to be exact), of these had been discovered prior to the study so these researchers were looking to find more of these types of comets, known as Main-Belt Comets, so they can study their nature and what makes them different to regular comets.

One of the reasons so few main-belt comets have been discovered is that the comet-like properties are very hard to detect and only recent, higher resolution cameras have been able to display these traits. Once Astronomers observed the comets, the started taking new photos of the asteroid belt as well as reviewing older photos of  the asteroid belt to search for the comets. Another reason that main-belt comets have been so hard to detect is because the sublimation of the ice that the comets are made of is what causes the comet’s tail, but impacts between normal asteroids in the Asteroid Belt can cause ejections of dust that look similar to the tail of a comet.

pasted image 0.pngThe above image shows a catastrophic asteroid disruption where an asteroid completely breaks apart, and as the individual pieces are are flung outward by centrifugal force, the dust from the event gives the fragments comet like tails.Image credit: Comet Hunters, NASA, ESA, D. Jewitt (UCLA), and A. Feild (STScI).


This means that even if an object in the Asteroid belt appears to have a tail, further study of the object will be needed to determine whether it is a main-belt comet or a disrupted asteroid.

By combining both new and old survey pictures, astronomers ended up with over twenty thousand images to classify. One person working forty hours a week would take over five months to classify every image. While this could be done, it wouldn’t be very practical and it’s likely that there would be mistakes/inaccuracies in the final results, so the astronomers set up a project on Zooniverse to enlist the help of the general public. Zooniverse is the world’s largest platform for people powered research, with the goal of the platform being to enable research to be conducted on a scale that would otherwise be impossible. Most of the data in the projects on Zooniverse is data that can’t be analyzed by computers, so the analysis is opened up to the public with the platform converting the flood of data in these projects into measurable results that the researchers can use to further the understanding of a particular subject.

The Comet Hunters project is still ongoing as of the time of writing, which means anyone reading this can participate. Every subject will have fifteen classification before it is considered to be completed, with the project having more than three hundred classifications so far. Once the project is complete, the objects that have been flagged as potential main-belt comets will receive a follow-up study to see if they continue to exhibit comet like properties. Until then, the researchers will wait as we, the public, continue to sift through the data and look out for more interesting objects, with the potential for any random person to discover something completely new.