Citizen Science Achievement Featured on CNN and other Major Media

This is an update to a previously-published journal entry here in DPRI AmSci Journal on the exciting discovery of a new galactic “something-er-other” seen for the very first time by none other than a school teacher from the Netherlands.

Hanny van Arkel has been getting quite a bit of attention lately (just check out her Google search!) with her interesting observation while reviewing and classifying images of galaxies on Galaxy Zoo. The Hubble Space Telescope is also scheduled to focus in on the odd object next year.

Read the following feature from CNN, which does a nice job presenting the growing contributions of citizen scientists.

Watch Out World, now, the serious amateur researcher is making some waves!

“Armchair astronomer discovers unique ‘cosmic ghost'” :: :: August 7, 2008 :: [ READ ]

“Teacher discovers ‘cosmic ghost'” :: University of Oxford Press Release :: August 6, 2008 :: [ READ ]

“Dutch Teacher Stumbles Upon A Space ‘Ghost'” :: NPR News Weekend Edition :: August 9, 2008 :: [ READ ]

Recent Butterfly Count Successful in D.C. Area

The citizen science volunteers of the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy of Purcellville, VA recently completed their annual butterfly count. Covering 7 1/2 miles, the program records the number of butterflies found as well as the variety of species.

A few of the more rare species found this year include the Giant Swallowtail, the American Snout, and the Juniper hairstreak. The full results will be submitted to the North American Butterfly Association, which then merges it with other groups’ results from across North America to produce broader butterfly species habitat and population trend maps.

Check out the NABA website for a listing of upcoming butterfly counts as well as “Butterflies I’ve Seen,” which is a great online database for submitting your own butterfly observations.

“Winging It for the Sake of Science” :: Washington Post :: August 7, 2008 :: [ READ ARTICLE ]

Read the full report directly from LWC’s website…

The Neural Connections of our Decisions

Much research into brain function looks at large-scale electrical behavior of the brain. For example, fMRI is a wonderful tool and can peer deep into our brain’s function while we are alert and making decisions that might be detected by the machine.

Although this sort of information and attempt at a broad understanding of brain activity is valuable, a pure understanding of how our complex minds truly work is still locked away at a lower level of structure. Not as low as the individual neuron itself, but at the level of the interconnectivity of enormous collections of neurons.

A single neuron is impressive, but is biologically rudimentary in function (and this is such an understatement!). A ball of 10^11 neurons is a biological mess. However, a vast, interconnected network of 10^11 neurons is really something, and it somehow produces something else truly special: our minds.

The following two articles provide a crucial reminder of the importance that a global view doesn’t quite get us to the deepest answers… and that the specific interactivity of the neuron networks themselves presents some interesting behaviors.

But, even this latter work (as you must read by following the links below) is entirely based on mathematical modeling, which is certainly an important method for creating hypothesis of how neuron networks might work in the real world. This theoretical computational approach also offers new inspirations to what to look for during actual experiments on living neural communication. It’s “just” a model, however, and not quite the real world. So, we’re still far from complete understanding.

As has already been said here on Neuron News before (and will be written about many more times because it is so critical!), the future of neurotechnology will rely on our deep understanding of the network behavior of neurons because it is the network — in particular, the structure of this network — that is the underlying physics of higher brain functioning.

To understand the network is to understand the brain. With this understanding, we will be able to develop the technology to externally connect into the brain.

“Decision Making in the Brain: Eavesdropping on Neurons” :: Scientific American :: August 5, 2008 :: [ READ ARTICLE ]

“When Neurons Fire Up: Study Sheds Light On Rhythms Of The Brain” :: ScienceDaily :: August 5, 2008 :: [ READ ARTICLE ]

“Nonperiodic Synchronization in Heterogeneous Networks of Spiking Neurons” :: The Journal of Neuroscience :: August 6, 2008, 28(32):7968-7978 :: [ READ ABSTRACT(full article text requires subscription)

Crowdsourcing and the Citizen Scientist

Rise up all ye amateur scientists and join the revolution that is just beginning! A little dramatic to be sure, but right before our very eyes is an evolving wave of collective, nearly self-organized, efforts in discovery for scientific principles, mapping in natural habitats, and even individual consumer behavior.

Crowdsourcing is the notion where a large, undefined group of individuals collectively contribute to the solution of an “open call.” This idea is beginning to be used by more organizations, from those who sell t-shirts to those who are searching for life in the cosmos.

The growing realization that the masses can be useful is only a boon to those who are interesting in doing real science, but are not directly implanted into the deep academic universe. There are many endeavors that require a great deal of data collection, often over vast geographical regions, where a small team of scientists–let alone a single researcher–could never reach the the individual capabilities required to complete the task at hand. Here is where the citizen scientist comes into play: an individual who has a sincere desire and interest to learn something new and contribute meaningful information to a larger scientific program is an asset to the professional scientist with unmeasured value.

These collective efforts will not only act to drive the individual success of some academic higher into the ranks of the University (although, it will certainly help!), but they will provide critical information for a broader understanding of our universe (locally and throughout the galaxy). And — possibly, more importantly — these personal efforts as an amateur researcher offer grand enjoyment and education for oneself and an entire family, if the kids are allowed to join in the discovery process (and they most certainly should be a part of the experience!)

The following video clip is only a plug to present the new book by Jeff Howe called “Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd Is Driving the Future of Business.” This author has not yet read the book–it’s released at the end of this month–but, it will certainly be on my short wish list for books to read by the end of the year. The video is clearly developed by a small production team and not a result of crowdsourcing efforts, but none-the-less, if does provide a great overview of the potentials and an interesting view into the future of crowdsourcing.

“The Rise of Crowdsourcing” by Jeff Howe :: WIRED Magazine :: Issue 14.06 – June 2006 :: [ READ ORIGINAL ARTICLE ]

U.S. Geological Survey to Report on Citizen Science

In an upcoming conference of the 93rd annual Ecological Society of America meeting, the USGS will be reporting on recent successes of research programs directly involving citizen scientists.

From bees, dust, and a 40-year historical overview of birding amateur science, the conference will be filled with fine examples of the productivity and effectiveness of citizen science efforts.

So, we have another positive report to the professional scientific community of how useful citizen science can be, and how we all can benefit from the personal enjoyment of amateur science while helping develop new knowledge for the greater scientific community.
“USGS Science at Ecological Society of America” :: USGS Release :: July 23, 2008 :: [ READ PRESS RELEASE ]

Latest Success in ALS Research is Fundamental for the Future of Neurotechnology

It might not be immediately obvious how research developments in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS — or, Lou Gehrig’s Disease) would be appropriate to follow here on Neuron News. However, this author has a personal family member currently dealing with the devastating disease, so we’ve been personally reviewing the progress in the field. And, with a little trivial forward thinking, there is an important connection with the advancement of neurotechnology.

Yesterday, a collaboration between Columbia and Harvard Universities announced in Science a fabulous new development that offers promise in the short-term discovery of drugs as well as longer term neuro-therapeutic technologies.

Credit: J. T. Dimos et al., Science Express

The key problem with ALS patients is that motor neurons–particularly those affecting function in breathing and swallowing–degenerate and die off for unknown reasons. So, the general idea of this research program is to develop a technique to take skins cells of a patient and convert them into stem cells, or the “universal cell” that can potentially turn itself into any other cell given just the right biochemical nudge. Now, with a vast supply of genetically appropriate stem cells that will agree with the personal biology of the patient, convert them into motor neurons and implant them into regions of the body to integrate into neural systems that have been severely degraded by the disease.

This is certainly an exciting development for nearing potential therapies for ALS, although real clinical progress is likely still many years away. If you know of anyone affected by ALS or are interested in supporting the research, please thoroughly read the articles referenced below and consider a donation to The ALS Association.

In addition, this research provides experimental evidence of a new technique developed just last Fall called induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. This is a very important fundamental technological advance that should guide the future of neurotechnologies.

Specifically, if neuroprosthetic devices are to be successfully integrated into the nervous system of a human being, it seems reasonable that the genetic make-up of the neurons living on the implanted device should compatible, if not identical, to the genetics of the host neurons. There might be unrealized neuro-communication factors that are influenced by genetic coding, and a fully successful device might need to be grown using neurons developed directly from the human host.

“Harvard-Columbia Team Creates Neurons from ALS Patient’s Skin Cells” :: CUMC News :: July 31, 2008 :: [ READ CUMC Press Release ]

“Stem Cell Breakthrough in ALS Research” :: ScienceNOW Daily News :: July 31, 2008 :: [ READ ]

“Stem cell technique is ‘significant advance'” :: :: August 1, 2008 :: [ READ ]


Last updated May 25, 2020