Lucy Fortson

Lucy Fortson

Lucy Fortson

Associate Head of the School of Physics and Astronomy, Professor, School of Physics and Astronomy


John T. Tate Hall
Room 285-14
116 Church Street Se
Minneapolis, MN 55455


Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics (MIfA)
Galaxy Zoo

Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles, 1991

B.A., Smith College, 1984

Professional Background

Dr. Fortson became a member of the School of Physics and Astronomy in 2010. Prior to her appointment to the faculty at the U, she was on the Astronomy Faculty at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, Illinois for thirteen years, most recently as the Vice President for Research. She was also a Senior Research Associate at the University of Chicago during this time. Dr. Fortson received her PhD in 1991 from UCLA in high energy physics for work she did at the CERN particle accelerator in Geneva, Switzerland probing the existence of high-mass cousins to the top quark. Returning to the United States, she began work at the University of Chicago on cosmic ray and gamma ray astrophysics with the Chicago Air Shower Array. As a post-doc, she led the CASA-BLANCA experiment studying the composition of very high energy galactic cosmic rays. She has been with the VERITAS collaboration since 2000.

A founding member of the Zooniverse project (, and current Board Chair for the Citizen Science Alliance, Dr. Fortson is also a leading expert in the field of “crowdsourcing science”. She has served on numerous national committees including the National Academy of Sciences Astronomy 2010 Decadel Survey, the Astrophysics Science Subcommittee and the Human Capital Committee of the NASA Advisory Council (NAC), the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate Advisory Committee (MPSAC) for the National Science Foundation and the Education and Public Outreach Review Committee for the National Optical Astronomy Observatory.

Research Interests

High Energy Astrophysics

My research interests are in experimental high-energy astrophysics. As a member of the Very Energetic Radiation Imaging Telescope Array System (VERITAS), I study gamma rays detected from active galactic nuclei. Gamma-ray astronomy probes the extreme physics of systems such as the black holes at the centers of active galaxies. These systems emit radiation throughout the electromagnetic spectrum and I work to combine the information obtained from telescopes operating at multiple wavelengths to decipher how the active galaxy powers the emission of gamma rays. I am also working on the next generation ground-based gamma ray array, Cherenkov Telescope Array (CTA) comprising ~50 telescopes in an array with the aim of greatly improving the angular resolution and sensitivity to high energy gamma ray emission.

Galaxy Zoo and Zooniverse Citizen Science Projects

I am also a co-founder of the Zooniverse and Chair of the Board of its parent organization, the Citizen Science Alliance. With over 2 million users worldwide contributing to a range of over 250 active online citizen science projects (from supernova detection to classification of cancer cells, hurricanes, and whale songs), the Zooniverse is a partner to knowledge discovery with large data sets while engaging the public in the process of research. I currently lead the Zooniverse team developing human-computation algorithms to maximize the utility of the citizen science method of data processing. As the director of the Zooniverse@UMN Initiative, I am working with departments across the University to enable researchers from a variety of disciplines to utilize the citizen science method for their research. For example, my team works with the Lion Center to help process the millions of images coming in from the camera traps set up across African National Parks in an effort to better support conservation of the wildlife in these areas. My team leads, has built or is strongly involved with several Zooniverse projects including: Galaxy Zoo, Muon Hunters, Supernova Hunters, Galaxy Nurseries, Galaxy Zoo: Clump Scout, Snapshot Serengeti, Camera Catalogue, Ancient Lives, Mapping Change, Decoding the Civil War, SCOTUS Notes, Measuring the ANZACs, Radio Galaxy Zoo, Galaxy Zoo: Mergers, Moon Zoo, Supernova Zoo.

I am also a research member of Galaxy Zoo, where over 250,000 members of the general public have provided a highly accurate classification of a million galaxies from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey as well as various other catalogs such as from the Hubble Space Telescope. I collaborate with Professor Scarlata and several University of Minnesota students where we have focused on producing the catalogs for Galaxy Zoo 2 and Galaxy Zoo: Hubble as well as exploiting these catalogs with science related to Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN), Bars and the evolution of galaxy morphology including the investigation of simulated galaxies, and studying so-called clumpy galaxies. We have also been working to push the development of human-computation algorithms to maximize the utility of the citizen science method of data processing in preparation for the onslaught of data from next-generation astronomical observatories.

Research Group
Very energetic Radiation Imaging Telescope Array System (VERITAS)
Cherenkov Telescope Array (CTA)
Chair of the Board, Citizen Science Alliance
Selected Publications
  1. Zooniverse: Fortson, L., et al., Galaxy Zoo: Morphological Classification and Citizen ScienceAdvances in Machine Learning and Data Mining for Astronomy, Chapman & Hall/CRC Data Mining and Knowledge Discovery Series [abstract]
  2. Gamma-ray Astronomy: Abeysekara, A. U., et al. (for the VERITAS collaboration), A Search for Brief Optical Flashes Associated with the SETI Target KIC 8462852Astrophysical Journal Letters, Volume 818, Issue 2, article id. L33, 6 pp. (2016)
  3. Gamma-ray Astronomy: Abeysekara, A. U., et al (VERITAS Collaboration), Gamma-Rays from the Quasar PKS 1441+25: Story of an EscapeAstrophysical Journal Letters, Volume 815, Issue 2, article id. L22, 7 pp. (2015)
  4. Gamma-ray Astronomy: Furniss, A. et al (for Fermi LAT, NuSTAR and VERITAS collaborations), First NuSTAR Observations of Mrk 501 within a Radio to TeV Multi-Instrument CampaignThe Astrophysical Journal, Volume 812, Issue 1, article id. 65, 22 pp. (2015)
  5. Zooniverse: Smethurst, R. J. et al (for Galaxy Zoo collaboration), Galaxy Zoo: evidence for diverse star formation histories through the green valleyMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Volume 450, Issue 1, p.435-453 (2015)
  6. Gamma-ray Astronomy: Aleksić, J., et al. (for the MAGIC and VERITAS collaborations), Unprecedented study of the broadband emission of Mrk 421 during flaring activity in March 2010Astronomy & Astrophysics Volume 578, id.A22, 26 pp (2015)
  7. Zooniverse: Willett, K. W., et al. (for the Galaxy Zoo collaboration), Galaxy Zoo: the dependence of the star formation-stellar mass relation on spiral disc morphologyMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Volume 449, Issue 1, p.820-827 (2015)
  8. Zooniverse: Galloway, M. A., et al. (for the Galaxy Zoo collaboration), Galaxy Zoo: the effect of bar-driven fuelling on the presence of an active galactic nucleus in disc galaxiesMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Volume 448, Issue 4, p.3442-3454 (2015)
  9. Gamma Ray Astronomy: B. Acharya et. al.(CTA Consortium), Introducing the CTA ConceptAstroparticle Physics, Volume 43, p. 3-18 (2013)
  10. Gamma Ray Astronomy: Arlen, T., et al.(VERITAS Collaboration), Rapid TeV gamma-ray flaring of BL LacertaeAstrophys. J., Vol. 762, Issue 2, (2013)
  11. Zooniverse: Christian, Carol; Lintott, Chris; Smith, Arfon; Fortson, Lucy; Bamford, Steven, Citizen Science: Contributions to Astronomy ResearchOrganizations, People and Strategies in Astronomy Vol. 1 [abstract]
  12. Gamma Ray Astronomy: Arlen, T., et. al., (VERITAS Collaboration)., Constraints on Cosmic Rays, Magnetic Fields, and Dark Matter from Gamma-Ray Observations of the Coma Cluster of Galaxies with VERITAS and FermiAstrophys. J., Vol. 757, Issue 2, (2012)
  13. Gamma Ray Astronomy: Acciari, V.A., et al. (VERITAS Collaboration), TeV and Multi-wavelength Observations of Mrk 421 in 2006-2008Astrophys. J., 738, 25 (2011). [abstract]
  14. Zooniverse: Smith, A.M., et al., Galaxy Zoo SupernovaeMNRAS, 412 (2011) pp. 1309.
  15. Zooniverse: K. Masters, et al., Galaxy Zoo: Bars In Disc GalaxiesMNRAS, 411 Issue 3 (2011) pp. 2026
  16. Gamma Ray Astronomy: Acciari, V.A., et al. (VERITAS Collaboration), The Discovery of Gamma-Ray Emission from the Blazar RGB J0710+591Astrophys. J., 715 L49-L55 (2010).
  17. Zooniverse: K. Schawinski et al., The Sudden Death of the Nearest QuasarThe Astrophysical Journal Letters, Volume 724, Issue 1, pp. L30-L33 (2010)
  18. Gamma Ray Astronomy: V. Acciari et. al., (VERITAS Collaboration), A Connection Between Star Formation Activity and Cosmic Rays in the Starburst Galaxy M82ature, Volume 462, pp. 770-772 (10 December 2009).
  19. Gamma Ray Astronomy: V. Acciari et. al., (VERITAS Collaboration), Simultaneous Multiwavelength Observations of Markarian 421 During Outburststrophys. J., Volume 703, Issue 1, pp. 169-178 (2009).

Advisees & Collaborators

  • Nico Adams, Graduate Student, Astronomy - Galaxy Zoo
  • Suhail Alnahari, Graduate Student, Computer Science - Zooniverse
  • Ann Isaacs, Graduate Student, Astronomy - VERITAS
  • Abinash Sinha, Graduate Student, Computer Science - Zooniverse
  • Patrick Wilcox, Postdoctoral Associate, VERITAS
  • Darryl Wright, Postdoctoral Associate, Zooniverse

  • Erik Ostlund, Zooniverse Web Developer

Former Researchers and Students

Former Postdocs:

  • Astrophysics:
    • Hugh Dickinson (now Open University, UK)
    • Jonathan Dumm (now Oskar Klein Fellow, Stockholm University)
    • Jeffrey Grube (now Faculty, Stevens Institute of Technology)
    • Niklas Karlsson (now financial industry, Sweden)
    • Tommy Nelson (now Research Faculty, University of Pittsburgh)
    • Cameron Rulten (now at University of Durham, UK)
    • Kyle Willett (now at Amazon)
  • Zooniverse:
    • Marco Perale (now Digital Humanities, Marie Curie Fellowship, Oxford University)
    • James Brusuelas (now Digital Humanities, Oxford University)

Former Graduate Students:

  • Melanie Galloway (Physics- Galaxy Zoo)
  • Karlen Shahinyan (Astronomy - VERITAS)
  • Julie Vievering (Physics - VERITAS)