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Advancing Microscopy Image Analysis with Citizen Science and Machine Learning

Award Imaging Scientist

Funding Cycle Cycle 2


Helen Spiers, PhD

The Francis Crick Institute (Electron Microscopy Science Technology Platform)


Helen Spiers is currently the Biomedical Research Lead of the world’s largest and most popular platform for online citizen science, The Zooniverse (Department of Astrophysics, University of Oxford) and Senior Laboratory Research Scientist within the Electron Microscopy Science Technology Platform (Francis Crick Institute). Across these institutes, Dr. Spiers works at the intersection of multiple domains, including biomedical research, software development, and public engagement, to develop novel online citizen science research projects in collaboration with multiple international research groups. In this role, Dr. Spiers has overseen the launch of over a dozen novel citizen science projects. These projects have sought to address many research questions, from improving the registration of brain MRIs to advancing the diagnosis of diabetic retinopathy. Although diverse in subject matter, these research projects are united by the common aim of applying collective intelligence to perform distributed analysis of large volumes of biomedical data.

Project Description

One of the greatest challenges in modern imaging is how to make sense of the vast quantities of data that are now routinely produced. Although some automated image analysis approaches exist, their breadth of application is limited. A major barrier is the scarcity of suitable training data, which remains limited because of the historic requirement of experts to manually analyze images. However, volunteers, via online citizen science, can help produce large volumes of high-quality data, which can be used to train highly accurate machine learning models for automatic image analysis. Dr. Spiers will provide training and support to biological researchers wishing to apply online citizen science to address specific image analysis challenges. She will develop and disseminate robust and generalizable workflows to facilitate the creation of online citizen science projects, and provide support at all stages of project development.