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Where Scientists Fail, Gamers Succeed
For 15 years, scientists struggled to figure out the molecular structure of an enzyme of an AIDS-like virus found in rhesus monkeys. Deciphering the structure, they believed, could lead to an HIV/AIDS cure.
As they hit dead ends, a few began to think differently, crowdsource the issue and created a multiplayer game within Foldit, a science-based gaming engine.
Ten days later, non-scientist gamers discovered the key researchers had long been looking for.
Via MSNBC’s Cosmiclog:
The problem is that enzymes are far tougher to crack than your typical lock. There are millions of ways that the bonds between the atoms in the enzyme’s molecules could twist and turn. To design the right chemical key, you have to figure out the most efficient, llowest-energy configuration for the molecule — the one that Mother Nature herself came up with.
That’s where Foldit plays a role. The game is designed so that players can manipulate virtual molecular structures that look like multicolored, curled-up Tinkertoy sets. The virtual molecules follow the same chemical rules that are obeyed by real molecules. When someone playing the game comes up with a more elegant structure that reflects a lower energy state for the molecule, his or her score goes up. If the structure requires more energy to maintain, or if it doesn’t reflect real-life chemistry, then the score is lower.
Writes Firas Khatib, a biochemist at the University of Washington, and his colleagues in a paper published in Nature Structual & Molecular Biology (PDF):
Although much attention has recently been given to the potential of crowdsourcing and game playing, this is the first instance that we are aware of in which online gamers solved a longstanding scientific problem.
How many scientific problems could we potentially solve with games?
Wikipedia entry for The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis, which postulates that some human characteristics may have evolved due to quality time spent living in partially-aquatic environments.
Not the most scientifically sound hypothesis, but far and away one of the most fun to say out loud. “Aquatic Ape Hypothesis.” See?
After six years of hard work, scientists have finished building IceCube, a massive neutrino detector buried under 8000 ft. of ice at the South Pole:
Kudos to UW-Madison for their work on this project. Seems brutal Wisconsin winters were useful in preparing for conditions like this:
The construction season at the South Pole is just three months long during the Southern Hemisphere’s summer, which is opposite of ours.
The average summer temperature? Minus 18.
In a 1974 volume of the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, this remarkable bit of research was published on the self-treatment of “Writer’s Block”:
I’m not sure if you can read the tiny block of comments left by the reviewer, but it would appear that not only was the paper deemed scientifically sound using advanced technologies like lemon juice and x-rays, but it was also “a pleasure to examine.”
Ah, what it must have been like to be a sardonic scientific researcher in 1974! And seriously, this was actually published.
Thanks to Jesse for this great find.
Science + Art= Awesome video of a brightly colored deep-sea creature scavenging in a forest of polyps.
So, I have a huge love affair with aquariums. Today I had the excellent fortune of coming across Morphologic Studios, an aquarium-based scientific art studio. Their photography and video work is stunning, and makes me wish I could hop aboard the Nautilus and take a journey into the dark unknown!