A Leafy Task

Published: May 31, 2019
I sat at my computer on a Wednesday afternoon continually clicking on pictures of plants. One after the other flew by without any end in sight. As the boredom set in after a couple of hours of doing this, I thought to myself, “Is identifying these leaves really going to help advance science?” Apparently, the answer is "yes", according to researchers involved in the citizen science project I was volunteering for. Their project, called Leaf Targeting, aims to help better understand plant life through large-scale identification of leaves on plants.
It might seem like a simple affair, but this is actually kind of a big deal. When scientists can identify the structure of plant phenotypes and how they grow under different conditions, they can also understand how to develop plants for different habitats, resistances, and their general health. This means farmers will be able to better provide food for the world down the line. To help with this effort, they need people, lots of people, to help identify and target the leaves on plants that have been photographed. Thousands of these photos are taken by image sensors every day. As you might expect, this is no small task.
The process I went through was pretty simple; load up the website, look at pictures of a specific plant, click on the locations of each leaf, tell the system how accurately I felt I did, and move on to the next one. I decided to do this for quite some time to help do my part, and after about four hours I was proud to say I had successfully identified my share of photographs. Any more and my fingers might have fallen off.
What did I get for all my hard work? Not much, unfortunately. But being able to say that I helped aid scientific research, even in just a small way, made me feel quite satisfied with the experience. It turns out , through citizen science projects such as this one, you don’t actually have to be a scientist to be a scientist. For more information on this citizen science undertaking, you can visit the zooniverse.org website for all the details.
College of Western Idaho student, Brad Gourdin, wrote this blog for a project in Christina Moore's Biology class.

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