The rewards of being a citizen scientist

Posted by Karri Ferron
on Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Kim Hawtin, top contributor to the citizen science initiative theSkyNet, tours the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Data Centre and Control Building at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory with CSIRO and Murchison Widefield Array staff. // photo courtesy of ICRAR
When Kim Hawtin of South Australia joined theSkyNet, a citizen science project headed by the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), he wasn’t doing it to win anything. He just wanted to participate in a project that helped process radio astronomy observations and simulated data sets by letting theSkyNet use his computer when he wasn’t busy on it. But as the top contributor to the initiative in its first year, Hawtin received a special thank you from ICRAR: a trip to the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory in Western Australia, home to two world-class radio telescopes and the future site of the low-frequency portion of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

“Without enthusiastic members like Mr. Hawtin, theSkyNet wouldn’t be nearly as successful,” says ICRAR Outreach and Education Manager Pete Wheeler. And that’s why the research center wanted to celebrate the contribution. In its first year, theSkyNet’s 8,000 members completed more than 1.6 billion processing jobs, more than an average supercomputer fully dedicated to the project could have achieved in the same amount of time.

“I didn’t get involved in theSkyNet for the rewards,” Hawtin told ICRAR, “But I have to admit this opportunity was amazing. … I’ve read a lot about the SKA and radio astronomy in the Murchison, but you can’t really understand the scale of it until you get there and see the telescopes in action. It’s mind-blowing how much they’re going to achieve.”

And you can still get involved with the project as it goes into its second year. To learn more about theSkyNet and how to join, visit www.theskynet.org.

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