Polymath and open science


The Internet has inspired scientists to collaborate in new ways, such as with citizen science (posted last week). Take a look at the author of this article published in the physics eprint repository, arXivPolymath is not actually a person, it is a project. It began on the blog of a mathematician (Tim Gowers) in 2009 when an open invitation was sent out for anyone to contribute to solving a math problem that remained unsolved – it was solved in 37 days.

Polymath is a success story from the open science movement, where scientists are encouraged to share their research as early as possible in the process and not wait for formal publication. There are individuals, like Michael Nielsen (watch his Open science now! TED Talk), trying to change the culture of science and speed up scientific discovery. Open science is similar to the open access movement that aims to have journal articles openly available to all. It includes things like open notebooks where researchers keep online notes with their methods and research results (even if they were unsuccessful).

How would you encourage collaboration and openness in scientific research?

Pledge for H2O

As humans, we all need water. The ecosystems of Earth need water too. Unfortunately, many rivers run dry from overuse. If you don’t want to see this happen, one of the things you can do is to save the water that you consume every day. Here are some tips. You can also take the pledge at Change the Course to help restore the Colorado River. Every pledge will return 1,000 gallons to this river.

If you are interested in learning more about freshwater and why it is so important to the world, I would recommend National Geographic’s Freshwater 101 to start your research.

Calling all citizen scientists


There is room for everyone in science and researchers are harnessing the enthusiasm of everyday people (not to mention their free time) to work on projects.

Galaxy Zoo is perhaps the most famous example of citizen science, with over 200,000 volunteers classifying galaxy images taken from a robotic telescope. Citizens have always played an important role in astronomy but now anyone can contribute without buying expensive equipment. We humans are needed to describe the images but the task is too large for a researcher or group of researchers to take on. Thus far over 150 million galaxies have been classified by volunteer astronomers (zooites) and a few have gone on to make really neat discoveries.

A more local example is Phylo, a citizen science project from McGill. A lot of these projects are actually games that people can play (yes, science can be fun!) and this one uses your pattern recognition skills to solve DNA puzzles in order to learn more about gene mutations and genetic disorders.

I urge you to find a citizen science project that interests you. Take a look at this list from Scientific American. There are a lot of weather or nature watching options (Snowtweets, RinkWatch, ZomBee Watch, SubseaObservers). There is even an Open Dinosaur Project.

Happy exploring!

GeoGratis for maps and geospatial data

Digital_map_of_the_world_in_hemispheres_by_thomas_kitchin_(1777)The new GeoGratis website is up and running and it looks fantastic. Are you asking yourself, what is GeoGratis? From their FAQ section: “The new GeoGratis is a portal provided by the Earth Science Sector (ESS) of Natural Resources Canada (NRCan). It combines the former GeoPub, Mirage and GeoGratis into a one-stop gateway to search, discover and access 1000’s of maps, map data, imagery and documents.” Sounds good, right? With a clean and functional search interface, search by geographic location, keyword or product type. Who are GeoGratis’s users? Again, from the FAQs: “The data will be useful whether you are a novice who needs a geographic map for a presentation, an expert who wants to overlay a vector layer of digital data on a classified multiband image, with a digital elevation model as a backdrop, or a student who needs the latest document about the geology of a specific region.”

If the data you are looking for cannot be found in GeoGratis, remember to visit the Maps & geospatial data section of the Library website for a comprehensive list of free and proprietary map and data products. As a McGill student, faculty member, or researcher, you can request licensed data using the online geospatial data request form. If you have questions about Geographic Information Systems and Remote Sensing or GIS software, visit McGill’s Geographic Information Centre (GIC).

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Stargazing in the winter

NightSkyI’m fortunate enough to be part of a friendly walking group.  We take evening walks in the winter to look at the stars.  We usually take our walks in one of Montreal’s beautiful nature parks, such as Parc-Nature de l’Île-de-la-Visitation, which is located on the north side of the island.  We are able to enjoy the night sky, while being surrounded by trees, water, and white snow all around.  The scene is spectacular.  The next time you are out on a winter night, look up and see if you can recognize Orion, The Hunter.

The BBC has some brief video clips on how to identify some interesting features of the winter night sky.  For more details, take a look at Patrick Moore’s book, The sky at night.

Image of Orion from H. Raab

Technology à la mode

techfashionWho doesn’t like their fashion with a bit of high-tech functionality? From the lab to the runways of some of the most glamorous fashion shows, wearable electronics and other futuristic fabrications are catching people’s attention. I can’t decide which I like the best from this CBC image gallery of high-tech fashions: the solar paneled bikini or the cat ears that move around in reaction to my brainwaves.

Image from www.designerbase.co