The spirits of blogposts past and future

Hello, Internet! Thanks to those of you who joined for this year’s Best Sexy [Thing That Is Inherently Not Sexy] Halloween Costume Contest! I hope you’ll stick around. Here is a quick guide to who I am, what has happened so far on this blog, and what is coming soon!

I am the coordinator of Education and Outreach activities at the Institute for Data-Intensive Engineering and Science (IDIES) at Johns Hopkins University. Our group is doing some amazing work at the intersection of computational science and nearly every field of science, and my job is to share it with the world.

Part of our research: the Sloan Digital Sky Survey’s
map of the Universe (not actual size)

My job includes working with the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), which is now in its 21st year of making a map of the Universe. I coordinate the project press coverage, develop educational activities, and maintain the project’s web site at

My real passion is in citizen science, an approach to both research and education in which volunteers who are not professional scientists participate along with professionals to conduct a research project. This approach is not new, of course, but an exciting new development has been creating citizen science opportunities online for volunteers all over the world. I am a founding member of the Galaxy Zoo project, in which volunteers classify galaxies by shape – and which has so far led to more than 60 peer-reviewed publications.

The Zooniverse logo - the word "Zooniverse" with an elliptical galaxy for the second O, with tagline "Real Science Online"

Galaxy Zoo has expanded into, an online citizen science portal that supports more than 100 citizen science projects in field ranging from astronomy to medicine to archaeology. My particular interest has been in the impact of citizen science on volunteers – why do they participate, and what is the impact on their understanding of science? I have written papers on these questions of motivation and learning in citizen science.

I haven’t only written one post so far about my professional life, but that will be changing soon, as I have some posts planned about the studies I linked above. The blog has been primarily about all the things that I think make the universe so fascinating, such as:

How we know there is water on Mars – a map of the Martian south pole, and the path of the Mars Express orbiter that found it
  • Sharing quick experiments in data science: I passionately believe that anyone can do science using tools they already use or are freely available online. And so I enjoy demonstrating this, for example by calculating the number of people alive today who have seen a Major League Baseball perfect game, or finding times when Russians pretended to be Americans on Twitter.
  • Fascinating oddities of geography: Asking the seemingly-obvious question “what’s north of South Dakota,” and getting an unexpected answer.
South: South Dakota
North: Montana?!?!
  • Stories from the people of our world: I’m fascinated by stories of people who are not what they seem, like Old Hollywood’s most famous American Indian actor who wasn’t actually American Indian – and other stories from the past and present that can be tragic or stupid or funny.
The famous “crying Indian” environmental PSA of the 1970s
Not pictured: Indians
  • Guest posts from my amazing friends: One of the greatest benefits of being alive is having awesome friends willing to share their knowledge about, say, presidential executive orders or the 2020 Democratic primaries. If you’d like to write a guest post, email me at or reach out on your favorite social media platform.

Once again, I welcome you, new reader, and I encourage to look back at what I’ve said using the links above or the full index below (which I’m still in the process of writing).

So what’s next?

As mentioned, I’m planning a few posts about various aspects of my work life. And I’ll continue sharing stories that fascinate me about the world, answering questions like these:

  • Why is math, which is a game we play in our heads, so incredibly useful in describing the real world?
  • What happens when a country builds a scientific research base in literally the stupidest place in the world for a scientific research base?
  • If you survive the world’s most insane plane crash, how might you feel about flying?

And many more.

Thanks for reading!

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