“Recently, top experts celebrated an exciting breakthrough from an unexpected place.
On May 23, a consortium of the very best from NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Royal Astronomical Society posted the problem on the data-mining website Kaggle and Challenge.gov for all the world to weigh in. In less than a week, Martin O’Leary, a PhD student in glaciology, had crafted an algorithm that outperformed the state-of-the-art algorithms most commonly used in astronomy for mapping dark matter.
O’Leary applied techniques used in his field – glaciology - such as detecting edges in glacier fronts from satellite images. This might seem like an unlikely source of progress, but it is exactly why competitions like this one are so often successful: they encourage people who usually focus on problems unrelated to the question at hand to apply their problem-solving skills to analogous problems in other fields. So it is that the study of glaciers on Earth has now deepened our understanding of the cosmos.”