Gugliucci, Nicole -- CosmoQuest: Citizen Science with a Virtual Research Observatory


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Nicole Gugliucci

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

Edwardsville, IL 62025




The CosmoQuest virtual research center is working to create a community of people – members of the public - bent on advancing our understanding of the universe. Working with NASA's Dawn, LRO, MESSENGER, and STScI teams, this facility is developing citizen science projects that accomplish needed tasks for mission science teams. It also provides a rich educational context through online classes, virtual star parties, community collaboration areas, and the development of classroom curricula. At CosmoQuest, we seek to provide the public with an experience that parallels the experiences of scientists within research facilities, and in this way create a community of science within the public.

At CosmoQuest, scientific research takes the form of guiding members of the public through image annotation tasks. Using LRO, MESSENGER, and Dawn surface images, people work to map scientifically interesting geomorphological features, aiding mission scientists in mapping surface ages and identifying crater blanks, faults, and other features. Each of these projects is coordinated under a team of scientists who work to verify data quality and publish results.

The model of regular seminars is replicated using the Google Hangouts on Air; however, discussions are moderated, with a science communicator or educator facilitating the dialogue to make sure real time questions are conveyed and to ask additional questions to make sure information is clarified to the appropriate level for mainstream audiences as needed. In addition to seminars, blog and social media posts summarize relevant science papers and announcements, and link the public to open access resources.

CosmoQuest is also working to foster the next generation of scientists and scientifically literate citizens by creating standards-based classroom curricula to accompany its citizen science projects, allowing teachers to bring current NASA data, new NASA discoveries, and authentic science experiences directly to their students. CosmoQuest’s first educational unit, TerraLuna, lets students explore the processes involved in the formation of the earth’s and Moon’s surfaces, leading up to their participation in real lunar science as they map the Moon’s surface with MoonMappers. Designed for middle-school students and aligned to US and EU teaching models, TerraLuna guides students through lessons on cratering processes, surface age dating, differences in the surfaces as a function of the rocky body’s physical characteristics (e.g. surface gravity), and solar system evolution.

The CosmoQuest facility seeks to recruit a community of people who consistently work to learn and do science through long-term interactions within the site. After the first year year, we find that 57% of the citizen scientist analyzed more than 10 images, 30% of came to the site multiple times, and 32% have participated in more than one science project. The most efficient way to drive citizen science traffic has thus far been Twitter posts about citizen science. We also find that 34% of the people who visit the site in relation to Google Hangouts are transformed into registered community users. A major research effort has recently begun to understand what motivation factors affect initial engagement and mitigate prolonged engagement.