Regular citizens in advanced research


Alisha Bhatia, Staff Writer

We are only as good as the data we collect. In our age, some of the most promising pathways to scientific progress is through big data collection – extracting as much information from the world around us and analyzing it for trends and patterns. Analyzing massive amounts of data is exactly how we do everything from predicting the weather to controlling traffic.

While we have supercomputers and satellites to collect this data, it can become incredibly expensive, limiting the strides we make in research and discovery. The key is not to stop using data though, it’s to get it from another source: everyday people like us.

Citizen science is the collection of data by members of the public in collaboration with professional scientists. It employs the help of volunteers and allows them to make meaningful contributions to science without the prerequisite of a formal education. Even better, it breaks through the cost barrier to discovery. However, the work that these volunteers do isn’t hours spent mixing test tubes in a lab: it involves games, and puzzles.

One great example of newly developed citizen science is in the app Foldit: a game where people can design proteins to help understand how proteins can bind to a protein similar to the coronavirus and prevent infection. The best part is it’s not a complicated or confusing game. It’s exactly like a puzzle. We can do more than wear masks or distance ourselves: we can work together to help end this virus now, and we can bridge the gap between the general public and research.