Monday, November 19, 2012

Crowdsourcing: Video Gamers Help Science

(Note: I just finished a midterm and my brain is tired, so this may not be very well-worded.)

I was out running errands with my Dad and brother, and we turned the radio on to find them describing the discovery of a new kind of galaxy. But we found the discovery less interesting than the way it was made - crowdsourcing.

Basically, you take a very complex problem, that would take a group of researchers ages to do. You break it down into manageable chunks, and turn it into a video game. Then you let people have fun doing your research for you!

It's probably one of the neatest ideas I've heard in a long time, and I'd like to tell you guys about it. You can have fun, help scientific progress and learn about science yourself, all at the same time! Plus, the researchers have a solution to the 'data deluge' - the problem of collecting more data than you have the manpower to analyze.

I'd been tossing around an idea for awhile - given how much energy many people put into video games, is there a way to channel that into something useful? Well, here it is.

So, if you want to try it out, here are some crowdsourced science games (in order of how much I enjoy playing them):

EteRNA - In this game, you create RNA sequences (RNA is like a simpler form of DNA). It's a puzzle game where you have to make the RNA fold into a certain shape by changing the base pairs. In addition, you often have minimum or maximum requirements for certain base pairs, such as not having too many C-G pairs (the strongest kind of bond) or having a minimum number of U-G pairs (the weakest bond). This is a web browser game, you don't have to download anything.

Fold It! - This game is for making proteins. Proteins are essentially long chains of amino acids, which fold up into complex shapes. In this game, you're given a protein and you have to fold it up, following the rules that real-life proteins follow. The more points you earn, the more realistic the protein you made is. This game requires you to download a game client which connects to the Internet.

Galaxy Zoo - This is the one that they found a new kind of galaxy in. It's an astronomy game, where you look at pictures of galaxies and classify them according to what type they are. This is a web browser game, you don't have to download anything.


Blogger Andrea Shettle, MSW said...

I first found Galaxy Zoo some years ago and even "played" it a little bit near the beginning.

The same people (or at least, people using the same emailing list) have also done crowd sourcing for other kinds of research as well. For example, there was one where they have people on line looking through very old hand written records of what weather is reported by ships sailing on the seas, in combination with what location they reported being at. (These records are scanned so people can look at the images on their screen and read them--something computers cannot do very accurately yet) The idea is to put together a record of what weather patterns were seen at sea 100 or 200 years ago before this kind of data could be collected (or analyzed) electronically. "Players" help with trying to decipher people's handwriting from however many decades/centuries ago and type these into the database. I think they have multiple people looking at the same document (to ensure that one person's mistake or misinterpretation doesn't introduce too many errors into their database). Similr to how they usually have multiple people looking at the same images of galaxies.

10:34 AM  
Blogger Lindsay said...


I knew about FoldIt, and have played it before; didn't know about eteRNA, though! Neato!

8:36 PM  

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