The internet is leading to the democratization of science, a Lawrence Technological University professor and researcher said at the university’s fourth annual Research Day.
“The way science is being done today is moving rapidly toward virtualization,” said Lior Shamir, associate professor of mathematics and computer science at LTU. “The main message in this for
institutions like Lawrence Tech is that everyone has the same chance to make scientific discoveries. A high school kid has the same resources as the prestigious research scientist.”
In his keynote address for the Research Day President’s Colloquium, Shamir noted that his unique strategy on computer analysis of data gathered by others had drawn worldwide attention
from the popular and scientific press – for instance, a study showing that a computer can classify paintings just as well as an art critic from visual clues in the work. Another study analyzed Beatles songs, with a computer placing the ‘60s supergroup’s albums in the correct chronological order just by identifying characteristics in the music. Another computer analysis of aging research found a large set of aging markers share a common milepost in life: age 55.
More recently, Shamir and some of his students are using computers to analyze and classify millions of galaxies whose pictures are being taken every night by the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), which he called “the next big thing in science.” The 8.4-meter autonomous telescope is simultaneously the world’s biggest digital camera and the world’s biggest robot, and it’s creating the world’s largest database, acquiring 30 terabytes (trillion bytes) of data per night.
Shamir, and his colleagues and students, have used high-powered computers to sift through this mountain of data to create new knowledge of “peculiar galaxy pairs” and the classification and morphology of galaxies. “It’s too much to inspect manually, so we used a computer,” he said.
And since the data is public, anyone with a computer and the inclination can do similar research, creating the potential for a new breed of citizen-scientists.
In fact, Shamir and his team have developed the “Ganalyzer,” or galaxy analyzer, that is making discoveries like finding spiral characteristics in elliptical galaxies, finding a bias in the universe toward galaxies that spin clockwise rather than counterclockwise, and finding differences in the color and pattern of galaxies that spin clockwise vs. counterclockwise.
Shamir has received multiple grants from the National Science Foundation and the American Astronomical Society for his work.
Research Day also featured the display of a record 55 research projects by graduate and undergraduate students, working with faculty on topics ranging from psychology to architecture to business management to engineering.
Lawrence Tech’s academic leadership acknowledged the increasing importance of research at the university.
“Since its inception, LTU has engaged in applied research that has resulted in transformative innovation,” LTU President Virinder Moudgil said. “Many presentations demonstrate outstanding efforts and results of undergraduate research, a defining strategy of LTU.”
He said the work of Shamir “has attracted a worldwide audience and brought added prestige to LTU. “
And Hsaio-Ping Moore, dean of LTU’s College of Arts and Sciences and professor of biology, noted that Lawrence Tech is growing as a research institution. “I used to classify universities as research or teaching, and I used to regard Lawrence Tech as primarily a teaching institution,” she said. “But now Lawrence Tech is moving toward being a hybrid of the two. And that’s the way it should be – research informing teaching, and teaching informing research.”
LTU also announced that its next Research Day will be held Friday, April 7, 2017.