Get to know a Cloudspotter, Andrea Schmidheiny Konic

Boarding Pass

Being fascinated with the cosmos from an early age but born in the 80s meant you had to read expensive books or borrow them from the library and look at the sky with a less than mediocre telescope. There was no internet, no Zooniverse, no easy access to a community with similar interests. But the overwhelming feeling when looking at the night sky persisted.

How times have changed for the better! Knowledge is easily accessible on the internet, the NASA and ESA websites are full of information, anyone can indulge in. A lot of data is openly accessible. And today, you can even participate in scientific projects that interest you without having studied the subject.

Cloudspotting on Mars is by far one of the most attractive projects on Zooniverse, because there is such a low entry threshold: the task is to mark the arc peaks in the images, which indicate the effective cloud height in the Martian atmosphere. Anyone interested in the scientific details and the progress of the project can get more in-depth information at any time on the project page or in one of the recorded webinars. With a good playlist in your ears, it is also an effective way to wind down a hectic day. (Yes, I have put together my own Cloudspotting on Mars playlist on Spotify…but it may not be everybody’s cup of tea…)

During the pandemic I was involved in an IT-Collaboration-Project facing unprecedented challenges for everyone. The project’s kickoff had taken place in March 2020, just as social distancing measures were beginning to be implemented. We had gathered in person, socially distanced, but masks were not yet a part of our everyday lives. We could only guess that Switzerland, like many other countries, would declare a lockdown shortly afterwards. Being accustomed to working on-site within the court system, the transition to remote work was unfamiliar territory. We wondered incredulously what people at home were actually doing with the huge amounts of toilet paper they had bought, while at the same time realizing that this cooperation project was on the one hand a great challenge and on the other hand an opportunity to introduce full online project management.

As we delved into the project, the absence of informal coffee breaks became a significant hurdle. These spontaneous exchanges used to be a valuable and sometimes even crucial source of information, insights, and connections. Aligning internal stakeholders and external providers presented a challenging task, with each party navigating their own obstacles.

Watching NASA launch and land Perseverance and Ingenuity was a game changer for me, and I made sure to use it as an example repeatedly: How come, NASA can land a rover on Mars and even launch a helicopter onsite and we are struggling with a fairly simple IT-project? Thanks to this newfound motivation, I was able to maintain focus, overcome numerous challenges, and ultimately significantly contribute to the successful completion of the project.

Curiosity Postcard Curiosity’s “Postcard” of “Marker Band Valley”. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

However, it was around that time when I landed on Zooniverse. It was mind-blowing, seeing research projects from so many subjects. I was hesitant to start one, as I first thought I would have to apply for it, to prove that I am worthy. Finding out that you can participate without any requirement, that you get supplied with all the necessary project information, that there are even free webinars, that there is no minimum performance required for classifying and being able to participate at anytime from anywhere in the world, felt like hitting a jackpot.

The fact that classifying helps train an AI is the icing on the cake. There is a lot of noise going around about AI, ChatGPT, etc. Yes, I am also worried about bias and how easily AI can fake information and make it look real. Nonetheless, there are uncountable use cases which will not eventually lead to an apocalypse.

On Zooniverse most of the classified data will subsequently be used to train an AI, which is expected to save a significant amount of time in image recognition. Using an AI model to classify future data, taking the drudgery out of the hands of humans, is one of the most useful applications of AI.

It was inspiring to join a community with similar interests from all over the world during a pandemic and be part of something bigger than any one of us. Wasn’t one of the lessons of the pandemic that each individual is not as important as society as a whole and that we can only achieve the big goals as a team?

It also puts daily annoyances in a unique perspective when you can deal with something bigger. Let us face it, I would rather have my head in Mars’ clouds than get angry about a business email. And even my kids needed little persuasion to take an interest, when I told them about the dry ice clouds on Mars. Now, if we can somehow get a hold on dry ice they love to sublimate Mars Clouds in a big pan. And even now that I am writing this text, I have a clear view of beautiful Mars just outside my window. So, a big hello to lonely MRO out there and an even bigger thank you to the Cloudspotting Team for the opportunity, for the webinars, the stickers, the friendly exchange, and most of all for the inspiration!

Best regards from the agglomeration of Zurich, Switzerland



This post was written by Andrea Schmidheiny Konic. She holds a Master’s degree in Law from the University of Zurich, as well as a Master’s degree in Advanced Studies in Communication Management and Leadership and has accumulated over 14 years of experience in the Zurich judiciary, serving in diverse interface roles with the legal system. The founding of her legal tech startup was inspired by the realization that while AI enables NASA to successfully land on Mars, many automatable and time-consuming tasks within the justice sector are still performed manually. Committed to driving change, she aims to leverage tailored AI applications to address this issue.

Meanwhile, the sight of the night sky continues to stir the same sense of fascination within her as it did during her childhood, accompanied by the exhilarating realization that there is an abundance of discoveries yet to be made, both on our planet and beyond. She is addicted to captivating podcasts featuring personalities and stories from life and thoroughly enjoys watching the World Science Festival YouTube Channel. Turning 42 this year, she is determined to read all five volumes of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy to her children this summer. She admits to still grappling with the perplexing matter of toilet paper management during the pandemic…

You can connect with Andrea via Twitter @AndreaSchmidic or on LinkedIn

Written on July 6, 2023