Citizen Science (mass noun): The collection and analysis of data relating to the natural world by members of the general public, typically as a part of a collaborative project with professional scientists. (Thank you Oxford English Dictionary).
Before you say “meh” and keep browsing the web, let me tell you how cool citizen science is becoming and how mobile game developers are getting involved.
Since the phrase was first conceived in the mid-90’s, the name has typically fallen into the category of amateur science hobbies, like astronomy, animal population observance (think birds, butterflies, and other critters), and natural phenomena. In the past few years, citizen science has expanded into the medical field, ranging in studies from the human genome to measuring microorganisms in our stomachs. It is in the medical field where mobile game developers (both companies and independent programmers) are getting involved in the gamification of collecting raw data and identifying patterns in pre-existing data.
One of the most recent citizen science games to be launched was Sea Hero Quest, a game created in partnership with the University College London, Alzheimer’s Research UK, and Glitchers, a small game developer based in London. The game is a runner game in which you navigate your boat through icy waters to achieve various tasks. The data the game is collecting is measuring your memory and how you solve simple problems. Your ability to remember tasks and remember points on a map helps researchers find connections in their data on dementia.
Mobile is not the only platform where scientific institutions and universities are leveraging citizen scientists. Computer games are another way researchers are using the power of the crowd, like the game Eterna which was featured in a Wall Street Journal article in the first week of May. Created at the Stanford School of Medicine, the game was designed to allow video gamers to build molecules, analyze molecule structures, and unlock patterns that will allow for the creation of a cheaper test for tuberculosis. The molecules that are created by top players in the game will be tested as a viable TB test option in the lab at Stanford.
I think that tapping into the power of the crowd is a viable research option that is here to stay, along with the gamification of data analysis and other processes. Maybe soon we’ll see more video gaming and mobile gaming companies getting involved.
That concludes my 5 minutes of geeking out. If you’re interested in other citizen science apps, there are a few more listed here.