Huebner receives Innovation Award

Dr. Sarah Huebner of the School of Physics and Astronomy has received the Innovation Impact Case Award for her project “Citizen Science and Artificial Intelligence Combined to Conserve Earth’s Natural Resources.” This award from the Office of the Vice President of Research recognizes work that has had meaningful impacts outside of academia. Huebner is currently a post-doc with the Zooniverse Citizen Science Collaboration under the advisorship of Professor Lucy Fortson. 

Huebner’s project, Snapshot Safari, uses grids of wildlife cameras to monitor and study the diversity, distribution, and activity patterns of mammal communities in Africa. As one of the first and largest-scale initiatives of its kind, Snapshot Safari has produced innovative developments in ecology, citizen science, and machine learning.  

The millions of images captured annually help ecologists study the effects of human activities on wild systems and design effective conservation and restoration programs.  Online in the Zooniverse forum,  citizen scientists from around the world help identify wildlife species caught on camera in remarkable African ecosystems. This labeled data is used to create machine learning models that can help to identify images most likely to be of interest to scientists and process data more efficiently. Huebner’s work informs the combined use of humans and machine learning across domains that is core to the Zooniverse initiative at UMN.

Huebner will receive a $10,000 cash prize and will be honored at a celebratory luncheon. Her work has been supported by the National Science Foundation, Microsoft AI for Earth, and the Disney Conservation Fund, among others.