Monday, December 10, 2012

Science is no game… or is it?
Kellian Adams from Green Door Labs shares three games that contribute to scientific research.

I admit it: I was not a science nerd when I was a kid. I was an artsy nerd and in fact, I was a little scared of Math and Science. But we live in a different world now where science is accessible to artsy kids in ways that I never imagined.

Now, as a game designer, art and science collide in my world every day and I’m amazed by how scientific research actually makes for GREAT (and beautiful) games. The exciting thing about science games is that they can be used to gather and interpret real data for scientific research so there’s this sense of playing with a purpose. There have been new supernovas named, new proteins discovered and new epidemiological patterns uncovered all thanks to people’s hard work through gameplay.

So as you check out the games below have fun playing but also consider your serious work as a true, contributing, game-playing scientist. Who knows, you may discover something groundbreaking!

Help cure cancer, AIDS and Alzheimers with FOLD IT:

Foldit is “collecting data to find out if humans' pattern-recognition and puzzle-solving abilities make them more efficient than existing computer programs at pattern-folding tasks.” The project suspects that humans playing games may in fact be more efficient than computers in some cases. (We shall see…)

In the game, players solve real-world puzzles by taking large strands of proteins and folding  them into the most compact possible configuration so that they can be recognized and categorized. Each move affects the protein molecules in the strand in a different way, making it something like a game of “molecular chess”.

Playing Foldit, people have discovered the structure of a protein belonging to the Mason-Pfizer monkey virus (M-PMV), a close relative of HIV that causes AIDS in monkeys.

Map the human brain with EYEWIRE:

If an electron microscope took a picture of only 1 mm of a human brain, tracing the neural connections there “would take one person working around the clock 100,000 years. Aided by a computer, it would require 1,000 years of work” says physicist Sebastian Sung, inventor of Eyewire.

But what if hundreds of thousands of people all pitched in? Under Sung’s lead MIT’s neuroscience department has built Eyewire, a game that presents people with black-and-white neural images and lets them color and correct the computer’s image. The results may help scientists at MIT and the Max Planck Institute of Science understand how neurons affect diseases like schitzophrenia and epilepsy. Eyewire uses points, progress bars and checks on your neural mapping to make the game simple and pretty addictive.

Identify species and map migration patterns with Project Noah.

This game is especially cool because it’s mobile and involves going outdoors and looking for plants and animals.

Download the Project Noah app to capture photos of plants and animals and tag them according to your location. Identify what other people have seen and talk with other users about whether or not you think the categorization is correct.

Missions include tracking global urban biodiversity, counting and identifying species in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and the “Great Pollinator Project of NYC”. Project Noah’s research has been used by National Geographic and the National Park Service.

Looking for more ways to play your research? Check out, which has a number of games for research on everything from space exploration to whale song translation. For more citizen science games to play on your mobile phone, try here:  

*Green Door Labs  is a Cambridge-based game company that helps educators make learning more engaging. You can learn more and see what they’re playing at or follow them at @greendoorlabs

What is a Germ?

A guest post by the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology‘s public outreach coordinator, Geoff Hunt:  

Germs are everywhere. In the bathroom. On the subway. All over the kitchen. But what exactly is a germ? How does it make you sick? Is it alive? What does it look like?  

Comb through the scientific literature, and you will find thousands of papers that can answer these questions. But those different answers are confusing to the general public.  

That’s why ASBMB, in conjunction with the Cambridge Science Festival, is sponsoring the “What is a Germ?” challenge.  We’re looking for the most creative, insightful entries that can answer the simple question: What is a germ?  

Here’s a chance for scientists to take their technical knowledge and boil it down to a simple, straightforward explanation, free of jargon, complications and caveats. Scientists can use any format for their responses but should be aware that they will have to impress a panel of tough judges — elementary and middle school students chosen from the Boston area.  

Submit your entry today to! For more information, go to Finalists will get to present their entries during the Cambridge Science Festival’s “Curiosity Challenge” Awards on Sunday, April 21.

Originally posted on Wild Types: A blog for ASBMB Today by Rajendrani Mukhopadhyay