University of Minnesota


To the Zooniverse and Beyond: How Crowdsourcing Science is Solving Big Data Problems in Astronomy

Lucy Fortson
University of Minnesota

Thursday, April 30, 2015
Bell Museum Auditorium

Watch a recording of Prof Fortson's lecture here.


The Zooniverse is an online portal to help researchers solve many kinds of problems—like finding differences between types of galaxies, counting craters on the moon, learning about climate change from transcribing weather data in ships records from World War I, and hunting for planets outside our solar system that may even be like Earth. Each of these projects suffers from a similar problem: they require human visual processing of the data because there is too much complexity in the data for researchers to properly analyze by computers alone. So how can researchers make any progress with these problems? By turning to the general public and asking for their help. Zooniverse has over a million volunteers from around the world who find fun and engaging projects that at the same time enable research. And some of these "citizen scientists" have made discoveries of their own that have led to scientific publications.

Join Dr. Lucy Fortson, Associate Head and Associate Professor in the School of Physics and Astronomy, as she describes the wildly successful Galaxy Zoo project that led to the birth of the Zooniverse. She will focus on several of the discoveries made by citizen scientists and talk about how the Zooniverse team is building the technology to enable computers and humans to work in tandem, each doing what they are best at, to prepare for the 20 billion galaxies that will be imaged by the upcoming Large Synoptic Survey Telescope. Along the way, she will describe the issues that researchers now face with "Big Data," what crowdsourcing is and how it is revolutionizing how science is being done.

Fortson's lecture will be followed by a Q&A session, plus free viewing of Eyes on the Universe in the Bell Museum’s West Gallery.

About the Speaker

Dr. Lucy Fortson is Associate Head and Associate Professor of Physics in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Minnesota. A founding member of the Zooniverse project (, and current Board Chair for the Citizen Science Alliance, Dr. Fortson is a leading expert in the field of "crowdsourcing science." With projects such as Galaxy Zoo, the Zooniverse provides opportunities for volunteer citizens to contribute to discovery research by using their pattern matching skills to perform simple data analysis tasks and to become more deeply engaged in the science research through social networking and simple data processing tools.

Besides her work with the Zooniverse, Dr. Fortson is a member of the VERITAS and CTA very-high-energy gamma-ray astronomy collaborations; she and her team study Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN) using multi-wavelength observations to determine the source of gamma-ray emission from AGN and the evolution of the AGN host galaxies. Dr. Fortson was recently the Vice President for Research at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago where she held a joint research position at the University of Chicago.

Dr. Fortson graduated with a BA in Physics and Astronomy from Smith College, Massachusetts and received her Ph.D. from UCLA in High Energy Physics while working at CERN. She has served on numerous local and national committees including the National Academy of Sciences Astronomy 2010 Decadel Survey, the Astrophysics Science Subcommittee and the Human Capital Committee of the NASA Advisory Council (NAC), the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate Advisory Committee (MPSAC) for the National Science Foundation and the Education and Public Outreach Review Committee for the National Optical Astronomy Observatory.

Twin Cities Campus: