Thursday, September 2, 2010

CERN@school @ the Citizen Cyberscience Summit

Today at the Citizen Cyberscience Summit in London has been one of the most lively and entertaining events I’ve attended in ages. Under the banner of citizen cyberscience in all its guises, we’ve heard about human computers from David Grier, finding prime numbers from PrimeGrid, now running to hundreds of thousands of digits, and from the founder of BOINC and SETI@home, David Anderson.

The story of herbaria@home struck a particular chord as well for me – as a former museum curator in a previous life, the idea of using volunteers to help catalogue otherwise inaccessible botanical collections seems like an inspired idea. Instead of spending several weeks in a darkened museum cupboard cataloguing 200 pairs of 19th century spectacles, as I found myself doing a few years ago, today I could have asked a team of enthusiastic volunteers to give me a hand from the comfort of their own homes.

Among a host of enthusiastic presenters, a highlight for me was Becky Parker’s energetic presentation on building cosmic ray detector networks in schools. Through regular trips to CERN her class has had a unique insight into the world of particle physics and cosmic rays – a far cry from the experiments we did in school rolling little trucks down slopes attached to ticker tapes. Becky introduced us to the CERN@school initiative, which sends Medipix detector chips, as used in the Large Hadron Collider, into schools. A pilot group of schools in Kent are using these chips to gather data about secondary cosmic rays in the atmosphere, and Queen Mary University’s GridPP project is helping them to process the data. Hopefully this is a pilot that will take off into a whole host of schools, bring cyberscience to the citizens of tomorrow.

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