NASA Citizen Scientist
University of Belgrade, School of Electrical Engineering
Tamara studies machine learning engineering in college. She indulges an old love of astronomy by participating in citizen science projects, including one that led to the discovery of a brown dwarf star.
What motivated you to volunteer as a NASA citizen scientist? How did you learn about NASA citizen science? Have you had to be creative to secure adequate computer or internet access?
I’ve loved hearing and reading about space since a young age. I practically learned English from the 2001 BBC TV series “Space.”
Also, astronomy is a mandatory subject in high schools in Serbia, and I was lucky to have an amazing and committed teacher. He even inspired me to consider studying astronomy, but the difficulty of getting a breakthrough in the field professionally made me reconsider.
You can imagine how thrilled I was to accidentally come across an article on a Facebook page about science, explaining the Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 project. The idea of being able to engage in astronomy research myself – from the other side of the globe – was wonderful.
As for internet access, it is widely available here. The same goes for computer access since programming is now a mandatory subject in elementary school.
No one should pass up the opportunity to take part in research in areas of science that would normally not be readily available to us. Even giving a small contribution to expanding our understanding of the world is incredibly rewarding.
What are your favorite NASA citizen science projects to work on, and why?
Backyard Worlds: Planet 9, since it is the one that taught me about citizen science at NASA, and also the one where I made a successful discovery of a brown dwarf.
What do you do when you’re not doing science with NASA? Tell us about your job and your hobbies.
I am working on my master’s degree and about to start my career as a machine learning engineer. Currently, I am working on a project with the goal of estimating human emotions from physiological measurements using machine learning.
I also participate in amateur theater – I even starred in a movie once. I paint, take photos, and play the ukulele.
What have you discovered or learned as a NASA citizen scientist?
I’ve learned how the process of detecting celestial objects works: You find an object that seems interesting, check to see if it is already cataloged somewhere, and if not, report your discovery so more people can confirm it. Luckily, lots of visual examples and explanations are available, making it very simple to start scouring space images. Also, there is a forum where you can find answers to most questions, and people in the forum are always happy to help.
I also have learned what brown dwarfs look like on infrared images. When you look at images taken years apart as a flipbook, brown dwarfs appear as dipoles – first, one half is bright, then the other. Discovering brown dwarfs is important for expanding our knowledge of how stars and planets form.
It takes a lot of time and attention to detail to go over the huge number of images, but involving more people in the task gives a much higher chance of making important discoveries.
Most importantly, I have learned how great it feels to make even a small contribution to science!
Which peer-reviewed research publications have you contributed to through your citizen science work? What was your role in the research and writing process?
I contributed to the journal article “The First Brown Dwarf Discovered by the Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 Citizen Science Project,” published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
I was one of the people who spotted the object on the Backyard Worlds website and reported it as an object of interest. Finding out that it had not previously been cataloged in any of the databases was exciting, and even more exciting was hearing that it was, in fact, an important discovery!
What advice would you give to others who might want to volunteer with NASA citizen science?
We live in the wonderful age of the internet and have wide access to knowledge, so the fact that we chose a different career path – other than space and science – should not dishearten us from engaging in anything and everything that inspires us.
No one should pass up the opportunity to take part in research in areas of science that would normally not be readily available to us.
Even giving a small contribution to expanding our understanding of the world is incredibly rewarding.