Though the public launch of Stall Catchers on October 1, 2016 may seem like the beginning of the project to many catchers, for me it was also the end of a long road toward developing the concept and finding a suitable funding partner. This process began on February 11, 2014 when Chris Schaffer sent me an image of blood vessels in a mouse brain and I experienced a sudden flashback to 2006, when I was a volunteer participant in the stardust@home project. In this project, I used an online virtual microscope to help find particles of interstellar dust embedded in aerogel that had been captured by a NASA spacecraft that was flown through the tail of a comet. When I saw the blood vessel network and the nature of the analysis, I realized instantly this could be a perfect fit to the interface and methods of stardust@home. You can read more about the connection between stardust@home and Stall Catchers here.
As I can be an impatient person when it comes to making progress, the long road to launching Stall Catchers has been an important reflection for me as the Human Computation Institute has been proceeding down similar paths for new projects related to dementia research. These include Sickle Catchers in collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh, and a soon-to-be-announced project with the University of California (Davis and San Francisco), which has been funded by the National Institutes of Health. Thanks to all our learnings from Stall Catchers, however, these new projects should come to fruition more quickly, and we hope you’ll give them a try!
The overwhelming feeling for this Stall Catchers anniversary, however, is one of deep humility and gratitude. I cannot imagine better colleagues to work with at HCI - each is so different, special, and unique, and yet we are all bound by a sense of purpose: the betterment of humanity through collective intelligence and crowd-powered systems. This project and all its personal, community, and research successes and impacts is the product of human generosity - every catcher who has analyzed a blood vessel, everyone who believed in the project, BrightFocus Foundation and its generous donors who gave us wings, volunteers who donated their skills to its creation and improvement, journalists who shouted out and spread the word, bringing new thoughtful people into our community. Read more about “The People and Serendipity of the EyesOnALZ Project” here. And I hope you enjoy the anniversary photo journal created by one of our newest team members, Gretė Vaičaitytė (thank you, Gretė!).
I also feel a sense of loss. Casualties are not unexpected, of course, when a project tackles an unrelenting disease like Alzheimer’s, but they are no less painful. We recall so fondly Steve Johanson and Evelyn Smith. And we miss but are thankful to many “passing angels” who have helped us move forward in critical times and since moved on to help humanity in other ways.
What’s next for Stall Catchers? The momentum keeps building. There are now almost 40,000 registered catchers, and we introduced GAIA, the world’s first citizen science bot (stay tuned for a blog post about our upcoming event involving catcher-bots that will help us analyze the data even faster). Mike Lamont in the Schaffer-Nishimura Lab has automated the masking process and other lab members have helped improve preprocessing so we can have more data available sooner. Stall Catchers data analysis has enabled several research publications in top journals, which credit catchers as coauthors! Finally, HCI has some brand new “catcher” games in the works to address other aspects of Alzheimer’s and dementia research.
Hopefully you received our invitation to join the live 5-year anniversary hangout (webinar), where we will have a panel of folks who have intersected in different ways and at different times over the past five years. The hangout will be at 5pm U.S. Eastern Time on October 1, 2021. If you didn’t get an email - let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll fix that.
Oh, one more thing – And not to forget the special 24 hours TRIPLE points which you will all receive for every single annotation from Oct 1st, 00:00am UTC - 23:59pm.
My sincerest and deepest gratitude to all catchers, and all humans who have been part of Stall Catchers in all ways big and small. We’re in this together and we’ll fix it together :)