Crowdsourcing science: Can everyday citizens discover the secrets of the universe?

At TEDxCERN, a TEDx event held at CERN, the world’s largest particle physics laboratory, scientist Chris Lintott introduced us to a bold new idea: crowdsourcing scientific discoveries.

Through his work with Zooniverse and Galaxy Zoo, Lintott has turned everyday citizens into scientists for dozens of cutting-edge projects — from galaxy mapping to planet hunting. Watch him explain the projects and see how you can become a volunteer:

How to discover a planet from your sofa: Chris Lintott at TEDxCERN

Now, following Lintott’s lead, some of CERN’s particle physicists have launched an exciting new project that allows anyone with a computer to experiment with antimatter, the strange twin of the matter that makes up our universe.

Here’s how this works: Scientists with the AEgIS experiment at CERN are preparing to do some crazy particle smashing. To be exact, they will “shoot antihydrogen atoms at ordinary matter, causing both to annihilate and produce a host of other particles,” says NewScientist.

The new particles will travel through liquid, creating tracks you can actually see. Scientists hope these tracks will reveal new facts about antimatter and antiparticles, like whether antimatter is affected by gravity in a different way than regular matter — facts that would answer a question like, "Would an antimatter apple fall up?"

But, these particle tracks need to be traced, and that is where you come in. AEgIS has created short animations that allow users to see and trace particle tracks during a particle annihilation. By picking out possible particle tracks, the crowd can help physicists design programs to analyze this new data.

Crowdsourcing expert Lintott said in an interview with NewScientist, “This is the first place I know of where particle physicists have turned round and said ‘actually, we do need humans.’”

To learn more about antimatter, check out this animation made for TEDxCERN by CERN scientist Rolf Landau and TED-Ed, and for more on the AEgIS experiment’s crowdsourcing project, visit its information page.

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    OMG! So interesting! :O
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    TED’s making a fantastic effort again to bring knowlegde closer to people. I remember when I first met near-genius...
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