Tag Archive | aas

Galaxy Zoo: the poster

The reason that Chris and I were at the meeting last week was to present results from Galaxy Zoo. On Thursday, I gave a scientific poster session about the public outreach results from Galaxy Zoo – how thousands of people have helped us classify galaxies, and how we hope we have helped you understand the process of science. On Friday, Chris gave a talk about Galaxy Zoo’s science results.

Today, I’ll write about the public outreach poster, and on Thursday, Chris or I will write about the science talk. At this point, two questions might be occurring to you:

1) What the heck is a “poster”?

2) What do we mean by “public outreach”?

There are two main ways of presenting scientific results at meetings. One is to give a talk. At AAS, these talks are 10 minutes, including time for questions – and it goes by quickly! The other way is to present a “poster” at a scientific “poster session.” In a poster session, authors write about their research and tack it up on a bulletin board 4 feet (120 cm) square. They leave the poster up all day, and stand in front of it at designated times, answering questions. Thus, posters are a good way to present “work in progress,” and get feedback from colleagues.

Here is a copy of our poster (it’s the entire poster as a 5 MB JPG image):

Galaxy Zoo public outreach poster

[Note: there is a section on how we are planning a social science study of Galaxy Zoo volunteers. Some of you may be worried about being a part of this experiment. The short answer is, don’t worry. We will not use any classifications in the study unless you explicitly give us permission to include yours, and no classification will be identifiable as coming from a specific person. For a more detailed answer, read the poster or the Galaxy Zoo Meets Social Science topic in the forum. You’re welcome to ask questions as (anonymous) comments here or by private message in the forum to zookeeperJordan.]

Here are three photos of Chris and I standing in front of the Galaxy Zoo poster (I’m the one in the hat).

Chris and I proudly posing in front of the poster:

.Chris and I proudly pose in front of the poster

A long shot of the poster hall, with us in front of our poster. You can see several other posters as well:

A long shot of the poster hall, including people looking at several posters

Chris and I answer questions from an unidentified astronomer:

Answering a question

The content of the poster was about how Galaxy Zoo has supported public outreach in science. Public outreach means many things to many people – it’s everything from creating formal lesson plans for use in schools (what I do with SDSS data) to developing museum exhibits to giving public talks to writings blogs (like Chris’s) and podcasts.

What we are doing with Galaxy Zoo is a new and innovative way of working with the public. Our inspiration was Stardust@Home, where volunteers searched through aerogels to find interstellar dust grains. That took some training and careful examination; Galaxy Zoo requires only a quick glance to classify a galaxy as spiral or elliptical. We’ve also tried to use the forum and this blog to give you some insight into the day-to-day process by which scientists work – an insight that scientists often aren’t able to give because of schedule constraints.

We were just one of maybe 100 posters presented on Thursday, but we got excellent response from the people that stopped by. The astronomy community is excited about what all of us are doing here at Galaxy Zoo. On Thursday, we’ll let you know what we told them about the new science that we are discovering.


I just got a compliment on my chef hat from a Nobel Prize recipient.

UPDATE: By popular demand, here is the slightly embarrassing photo:


Down the pub with Alaskans*

It is a rule of scientific meetings that some of the most productive times are informal gatherings with your colleagues, who are also your friends. And like any gathering of friends, they often take place in the pub. Funding agencies won’t pay for the beers – we pick up that expense ourselves – but it’s worth it. Everyone is a bit more relaxed, and it’s easy to generate new ideas. One of my university professors tells a story of how he made an offhand suggestion to a friend of his in the pub after a long day of meeting – a suggestion that resulted in his friend winning the Nobel Prize.

Yesterday, I went to the Hilton hotel bar with Dr. Travis Rector of the University of Alaska Anchorage, along with some extremely bright colleagues from the University of Arizona and the Ohio Department of Education.

We discussed the state of science education in U.S. universities. Travis’s passion is getting all undergraduates taking astronomy courses to do some research – not just the science majors, but everyone. He came up with a brilliant analogy for the current state of affairs, and how we can improve it. The analogy was about baseball, so I will internationalize it.

The way we run a traditional science class is as if we were trying to teach students how to play soccer (football) by showing them videotapes of matches, without ever letting them play the game.

But it’s even worse than that! We tell them about the results of science as knowledge, which is like teaching about football by showing them highlight reels of spectacular goals, without showing them the careful match strategy – not to mention years of practice – that goes into creating those goals.

In science, it’s extremely rare that a result comes fully-formed from the mind of a single person, just as in soccer, it’s extremely rare that one person creates a goal all by themselves (sorry, England fans, that really is the archetypal example). How long do you think Maradona had to practice to do that? It took Johannes Kepler 10 years of poring over Tycho Brahe‘s data to figure out his laws of motion.

It’s our hope that exposing people to the day-to-day process of scientific research, through Galaxy Zoo and this blog, can help someone develop an appreciation for the day-to-day process by which science actually works.

*Actually, only one Alaskan, and he’s not originally from Alaska – he only works there. But having that title for a post was too good to pass up.

AAS Day 2, afternoon

Hi, all. I’m still at AAS. I haven’t been able to post as often as I would have liked because I’ve been tied up at the Sloan Digital Sky Survey exhibit booth (not literally). The SDSS is the source of all the images for Galaxy Zoo, so it’s an important part of what we’re all working on.

This morning, I finished my poster about Galaxy Zoo volunteers, which I’m giving tomorrow. Friday, Chris will be giving a talk about the science results, which have just gotten interesting again, in a way that is totally different from the way they were interesting before. More on that soon, from Kate.

Day 1 of the meeting is over, and Day 2 is underway. The highlight of Day 1’s programme was a speech by NASA Administrator Michael Griffin (not to be confused with American football player Michael Griffin). I wasn’t able to see it – these meetings are big enough, and there is always something going on, that not everyone gets to see everything – but Pamela, Fraser, and Phil did an excellent job reporting on the talk.

My day yesterday was pretty full. Like any big public meeting, AAS takes place in a convention center with a big open space for exhibits. A scientific meeting is similar in some ways to another such meeting, and different in some ways too. At a meeting like the Consumer Electronics Show (which is going on right now in Las Vegas), electronics manufacturers show off their latest consumer products in the exhibit hall. At AAS, there is also an exhibit hall, but what is being shown is astronomy results and equipment.

As I mentioned, I’m at the Sloan Digital Sky Survey exhibit booth. I’m in charge of it this meeting, so I should stay close – it’s good to have someone around at all times to answer questions from people that stop by. To my right is the booth for the Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-Wave Astronomy (CARMA), and to my right is the booth for the International Year of Astronomy 2009. That’s a good reflection of the meeting, actually – both research and public understanding of science are represented.

My job at the booth is to answer questions from astronomers and others who stop by. Of course, lots of my colleagues know I’m here, so they stop by too, and we chat about various projects we’re working on. I wear lots of different hats, one of which is quite literal. I’m doing demos of SkyServer, our data access site called Cooking with Sloan. I wear a chef’s hat for the demo – I hope to have a photo up on the blog soon.