INSPIRE: Teaming Citizen Science with Machine Learning to Deepen LIGO's View of the Cosmos

This newly funded project (INSPIRE 15-47880) will develop a citizen science system to support the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational wave Observatory (aLIGO), the most complicated experiment ever undertaken in gravitational physics. Before the end of this decade it will open up the window of gravitational wave observations on the Universe. However, the high detector sensitivity needed for astrophysical discoveries makes aLIGO very susceptible to noncosmic artifacts and noise that must be identified and separated from cosmic signals. Teaching computers to identify and morphologically classify these artifacts in detector data is exceedingly difficult. Human eyesight is a proven tool for classification, but the aLIGO data streams from approximately 30,000 sensors and monitors easily overwhelm a single human. This research will address these problems by coupling human classification with a machine learning model that learns from the citizen scientists and also guides how information is provided to participants. A novel feature of this system will be its reliance on volunteers to discover new glitch classes, not just use existing ones. The project includes research on the human-centered computing aspects of this sociocomputational system, and thus can inspire future citizen science projects that do not merely exploit the labor of volunteers but engage them as partners in scientific discovery. Therefore, the project will have substantial educational benefits for the volunteers, who will gain a good understanding on how science works, and will be a part of the excitement of opening up a new window on the universe.

The project is joint with Vassiliki Kalogera (Northwestern University), Joshua Smith (Cal State Fullerton), Shane Larson (Northwestern University) and Laura Trouille (Adler Planetarium), with involvement at Syracuse by Kevin Crowston and Carsten Østerlund.