Archive for the ‘gaming’ Category
March may be ending, but March Madness is still in the air! Here are sixteen sweet projects in honor of the Sweet Sixteen:
Families, armchair scientists and lovers of nature are invited to join in a bit of mass science: track the cicadas that emerge once every 17 years across New Jersey, New York and the whole Northeast by building homemade sensors and reporting your observations.
Project MERCCURI is an investigation of how microbes found in buildings on Earth (in public buildings, stadiums, etc) compare to those on board the biggest building ever built in space – the International Space Station.
The Audubon Society needs citizen scientists to track, report on, and follow the spring hummingbird migration in real time. A free mobile app makes it easy to report sightings, share photos and learn more about these remarkable birds.
If you live in the area shown on the map, the Precipitation Identification Near the Ground project (PING) wants YOU to watch and report on precipitation type. PING is looking for young, old, and in-between volunteers to make observations—teachers, classes and families too!
Help researchers learn more about dogs (including your dog! by recording and sharing specific interactions with your dog. You’ll learn your dog’s cognitive style by playing fun, science-based games –- an experience that gives you the insight you need to make the most of your relationship with your best friend.
Where is your ice rink? Pin the location of your rink on a map, and then each winter record every day that you are able to skate on it. Scientists will gather up all the information from all the backyard rinks, and use it to track the changes in our climate.
Did you know you can print live cells from an inkjet printer? Come join the ongoing BioPrinter community project! Whether it’s hardware hacking. programming, Arduinos, microfluidics, synthetic biology, plant biology, cell culturing, tissue engineering – everyone has something to learn, or something to teach.
Marblar is unique and fun way to engage in citizen science and exchange ideas across disciplines. Marblar posts dormant technologies in need of creative, real-world applications and then asks you to come up with those applications.
Help collect hedgehog records from 1st February until 31st August 2013. Understanding patterns of hedgehog behaviour across the UK will enable scientists target the conservation strategy for this charming animal, which is currently in severe decline.
Help the Large Pelagics Research Center improve scientific understanding of large pelagic species by catching, measuring and releasing juvenile bluefin with conventional “spaghetti”-ID tags.
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Imagine something more mysterious than the trenches of the deep sea, more convoluted than the intricacies of the human genetic code, possibly even more infinite than the vastness of outer space. Meet the human brain.
Memories, mental disorders, language capability, motor skills, and so much more are encoded in this singular organ. Yet, neuroscientists don’t even know precisely how many different types of cells are in the brain. It is truly a modern mystery. (See all the currently unsolved questions in neuroscience.) There are numerous plausible theories about how the brain works, but solid evidence is sorely lacking.
“The brain is probably the most complex biological structure on the planet,” says Joy Hirsch, professor of functional neuroradiology, neuropsychology, and psychology at Columbia University. Hirsch’s research includes the development of brain mapping procedures for neurosurgical planning. “A complete understanding of the brain and its function is an ambitious goal that requires our best combined technologies, computational facilities, and neuroscientists.”
The Obama administration announced a decade-long scientific effort to examine the human brain and build a map of its activity, a project that seeks “to do for the brain what the Human Genome Project (begun in 1990) did for genetics.” This $3 million undertaking comes from the Brain Activity Map (BAM) project spearheaded by the Kavli Foundation. As science journalist John Rennie shares here, some in the neuroscience community harbor doubts about whether the time is right for a high-profile, inevitably politicized project like this one. Science takes time, and data analysis on this scale would certainly not happen overnight. Some say that the Human Genome Project left us realizing there is still so much more to learn. Will the Brain Activity Map and projects like it encounter the same challenges upon completion, whenever that may be?
The Challenges of Brain Mapping
The tricky part is that scientists have yet to find a way to record the activity of more than a small number of neurons simultaneously without invasive physical probes. New technology enables us to provide the right kinds of images to “map” the brain, but the volume of images that come through would be so overwhelming that it would take an insurmountable amount of time to process the data. Even today’s leading technology, from neuro-nanotech to optobiology to synthetic biology sensors, is limited when it comes to such a large undertaking.
Here’s where projects like EyeWire come in.
EyeWire is an online community of “citizen neuroscientists” who map the retinal connectome (neurons in the retina) by playing an online game. Because the feat of mapping the human brain solo (or even as a small team) would be infinitely large, EyeWire has made use of crowdsourcing strategies to collect data.
“Researchers have calculated that with today’s technology it would take one person 100,000 years to map one cubic millimeter of the brain without the aid of artificial intelligence,” says Amy Robinson, who works on the EyeWire team. (Just to give you a scale, an entire human brain is roughly 1,000,000 cubic millimeters.) “It takes a researcher at our lab…upwards of 50 hours to map an entire cell, depending on its size…and there are over 80 billion neurons in the brain.”
Rules of the Game
For EyeWire, over a time span of seven days, teams on Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, Google+, and a formidable-sounding Team X (veterans) competed in the games. Each day, the EyeWire team gives updates on the project’s progress via their blog. “Players” who participate in the game trace neurons based on images of the retina acquired at the Max Planck Institute of Medical Research in Heidelberg, Germany (see below). The data directly contribute to neuroscience research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
It’s competitive, accessible to the masses, and even–for lack of a better word–fun. No game would be complete without a prize, however, so EyeWire has that covered too. The team that maps the most 3D neuron volume in this time frame receives neuron naming rights.
The genius of this project is in the gamification of the scientific process. By tacking on a time limit, assigning teams, and offering a prize, EyeWire spurs competition in potential “players.” Not only are players contributing to scientific research in the long run, but they can also see their contributions directly in front of them in the game in more-or-less tangible form. The gaming aspect of this citizen science project is what sets it apart from many others like it. Projects like the Human Connectome and Blue Brain have similar objectives but very different plans for execution. “When gamified, crowdsourced science is more than expediting data collection and analysis–it helps communicate science with the world,” states Robinson.
The EyeWire team comprises of members hailing from notably impressive backgrounds–game design, software development, community outreach, artificial intelligence, data structures, in addition to neuroscience. This notable cross-disciplinary approach has resulted in a project that brings the best of these worlds to the citizen science constituency.
Benefits of Crowdsourcing
Robinson goes on to explain why crowdsourcing is an ideal strategy for the future of scientific research: “Labs can no longer continue to work in academic isolation. If we hope to expedite our progress, we need to find ways to invite the world to help make discoveries…Not to mention crowdsourcing brings citizens into the heart of the scientific process.”
If nascent neuro-mapping projects like EyeWire fare well in the long run, it could mean that crowdsourcing will play an even more significant role in larger scientific research projects. Joy Hirsch adds, “We need to think outside the box. Outsourcing part of the task to individuals who may not be card-carrying scientists, but [who are] capable and willing to do some parts of the project, could become a major component of the success of [projects like this].”
Amy Robinson humbly quotes Sebastian Seung, the creator and director of EyeWire: “To understand how our knowledge machine works is more than just meta–it’s epic.” The EyeWire Games are simply a precursor to larger crowdsourced scientific research projects to come. If the greater scientific community chooses to participate, the odds just may be in our favor.
Sebastian Seung’s TEDTalk:
Lily Bui is a senior contributor at SciStarter. Although she holds dual bachelors’ degrees in International Studies and Spanish from the University of California Irvine, Lily has long harbored a proclivity for the sciences. Lily has worked on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.; served a year in AmeriCorps in Montgomery County, Maryland; worked for a New York Times bestselling ghostwriter in California; and performed across the U.S. as a touring musician. She currently works in public media at WGBH Boston and the Public Radio Exchange (PRX). In her spare time, she thinks of cheesy science puns (mostly to entertain herself). Tweets @dangerbui.
Scientific research aims to answer questions, progress disciplinary knowledge, and ultimately better society by providing new applications of technology and ideas toward common problems. But, over time, the products of our countless research projects, while potentially still useful, go unutilized, and can be forgotten in the basements of University libraries or the dusty archives of journal collections.
This perhaps all too common problem is exactly the motivation behind an new exciting project called Marblar.
The premise: Marblar provides you with the overlooked technologies and ideas, and you – the citizen scientist – provide the applications. Non-traditional, yes, but it’s challenging, engaging, and a fun game where citizen scientists can compete with other across the globe.
I recently spoke with co-founder Dan Antonio Perez to find out his hopes for the project and what he thought of Marblar’s role in citizen science.
“Collaboration is the focus,” Dan said.
The Marblar team spends a lot of time identifying the most interesting technology that can inspire Marblars and generate the most useful applications. Current technologies include a a microchip that can harness the power of motion, ‘Super Foams’ made from emulsions, and a brand new desalination device.
Marblars are given three weeks to post their ideas, discuss with other players, and even collaborate with the inventors to arrive at a final solution. While there are some small cash rewards and other small prizes for top entries, the real reward, Dan says, is that users have a chance to participate in meaningful science and help create ideas with potential.
Through the amazingly easy-to-use Marblar interface, I was also able to speak with several of the top Marblars who have been involved in this process.
Dave, a Biochemistry Ph.D. student studying at The University of Oxford, claimed that the prizes were not important to him. Rather, he was excited to collaborate with people from diverse scientific backgrounds.
After years out of the lab, a top Marblar user, Maria, was excited to get back into the thrill of scientific discussion.
Juan Carlos, a University researcher, was most interested in the fact that in discussing ideas, he was able to get feedback from users outside of his discipline.
This type of broad, multi-discipline collaboration is what makes Marblar such a unique citizen science activity. There is really something for everyone who is interested in science. And they are only getting started. Dan sees Marblar as having great potential for engaging the public and offering a fun way for citizens to engage with some really great minds in science.
It’s science. I’ts a game. And it’s fun. Marblar has some lofty goals, but from my first impressions, they have already achieved quite a bit. I can’t wait to see what’s next.
Adolescents diagnosed with chronic illness have a lifelong responsibility to maintain and promote their health. Chronic illness can impact life in a variety of ways: pain, fatigue, inability to take part in physical abilities, and feelings of hopelessness. To help overcome these challenges, adolescents commonly look to counseling, social groups, and similar online activities.
What would you do to help an adolescent with chronic illness regain control of their health?
The folks at InnoCentive.com are looking for exciting new ways to use gaming technology to help adolescent patients with chronic disease. Their new challenge, Games for Health: Inspiring Adolescents to take Control of their Health, will payout 10,000 bucks, with at least one award being no smaller than $5,000 and no award being smaller than $1,000.
The goal is to obtain a gaming product that helps adolescents with chronic illness create and maintain their own health. The winning solution will create a feeling of community, provide measures of success, and impacts real life behaviors. A teenager should actually want to play this game, rather than associate with homework!
Could you come up with a new way to track submarines? Could you outsmart a submarine commander?
If you think you’re up to challenge, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) could use your help! DARPA is inviting citizens to get in the virtual driver seat of a new video game: the Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) Tactics Simulator.
The DARPA ACTUV project aims to develop the next generation of anti-submarine warfare software. But, first, researchers need to understand what approaches and methods are the most effective. You can provide that important data.
Just download the free software, and soon, you’ll be tracking enemy submarines and navigating among commercial submarine traffic. As you complete mission objectives, you will have the option to submit your tracking tactics to DARPA for analysis.
The game was written to simulate the evasion techniques used by actual submarines, challenging you to track them successfully. The best tactics will ultimately be incorporated into the software.
DARPA even let’s you see how you stack up against the competition. A discussion forum provides an opportunity for you to share your experiences and insights with other people who are playing the simulator.
Visit DARPA’s website to download the game and get all the details.