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Ms Vickie Curtis

Research Student

The Open University Institute of Educational Technology


I am currently a full-time PhD student at the Institute of Educational Technology and am supervised by Dr Richard Holliman, Professor Eileen Scanlon and Dr Ann Jones.

The title of my thesis is 'Online citizen science projects: an exploration of motivation, contribution and participation' and I am preparing to submit in September 2014.

Before going back to full-time study, I worked in a number of different areas within the commercial sector including corporate communication, science communication (including media work), regulatory affairs and corporate social responsibility.

I have an academic background in biological anthropology, but have gradually moved into the area of 'science and society'.


MA (Hons) Biological Anthropology, St John's College, University of Cambridge, 1992

MPhil Human Nutrition, Oxford Brookes University, 1995

MSc Science and Society (with distinction), Open University, 2009

Research Interests

Science Communication

Science and Society

Open Science

online citizen science

distributed computing

Science-based comuter games

Astronomy outreach

public participation in science

Current Research Projects

Online citizen science projects: an exploration of motivation, contribution and participation

Citizen science projects enable non-specialist individuals to become directly involved in large-scale scientific projects and to address authentic research problems with professional scientists.  Advances in digital technology, particularly the rise of the internet and improvement in scientific instrumentation, data generation and storage (the 'data deluge') have lead to the development of citizen science projects that are conducted entirely online with particicpants analysing data provided by professional scientists.   There are over one hundred of these projects and tens of thousands of 'citizen scientists' currently participate.  However, there are aspects of participation that are poorly understood.  For example, who do these projects appeal to, why do people take part, and are there different ways that people can participate.  I am exploring some of these questions as part of my PhD research, as well as investigating how communities of citizen scientists inetract online, both with each other, and with the scientists who set up and manage these projects.

I have explored three online citizen science projects in detail.

  • Folding@home, a distributed computing project where participants contribute by downloading software that analyses packages of data with their personal computers or games consoles.  In this project, participants run simulations of protein folding.
  • Planet Hunters, one of the Zooniverse projects where participants help to look for evidence of exoplanets (planets outside of our solar system) within data collected as part of the NASA Kepler space mission.
  • Foldit, a 'scientific discovery game' where the mechanics of protein folding, which is a poorly understood process, has been re-packaged as an online computer game.






Book Chapter
Holliman, Richard and Curtis, Vickie (2015). Online media. In: Gunstone, Richard ed. Encyclopedia of Science Education. Springer Netherlands.
Conference Item
Curtis, Vickie (2012). Reassessing dialogue: reflections from an amateur astronomy event. In: PCST 2012 12th International Public Communication of Science and Technology Conference: Quality, Honesty and Beauty in Science and Technology Communication, 18-20 April 2012, Florence, Italy.
Journal Article
Curtis, Vickie (2014). Online citizen science games: opportunities for the biological sciences. Applied & Translational Genomics, 3(4), pp. 90–94.
Curtis, Vickie (2013). Evaluating the motivations and expectations of those attending a public astronomy event. Communicating Astronomy to the Public, 13 pp. 14–18.

Other Interests

I enjoy running, music, hiking, travel, general science.

last updated 03-Jul-2014