Gamers are Solving Science’s Greatest Puzzles

“Gameification” is all the rage these days. Whether it’s a web site offering achievements for how often you visit or exercise programs that allow you to compete against friends on leaderboards, making everyday activities into games is all the rage. We’ve already featured some great games and programs that can you can use to help make our world a better place like Free Rice. DARPA has outsourced its submarine warfare program with ACTUV Tactics. We can also use games to aid us in unraveling the mysteries of the universe.

Posed with the problems of having too much data to sift through and computers lacking the ability to think ‘outside the box’, crowdsourcing science to gamers is a no brainer. Gamers have been shown to excel at pattern recognition in a sea of data. It’s like a world wide neural network powered by Mountain Dew.

Planet Hunters is a collaboration between Yale University and the Zooniverse. Using lightcurves from NASA's Kepler mission, players are challenged to the ultimate Seek-and-Find: Discover new worlds. Potentially, 34 new planets have been found already.

Welcome to Planet Hunters from The Zooniverse on Vimeo.

Foldit makes protein folding into an online puzzle game. Players collaborate with teammates while competing with other players to obtain the highest-scoring (lowest-energy) models. The ultimate goal is to understand exactly how an enzyme of an AIDS type virus is put together. Conventional science has been working on this problem for over 10 years. Gamers were able to create an accurate model in only 3 weeks.

Sometimes you don’t even need a traditional game. The thrill of competing on an online leaderboard is enough for many gamers. Seti@home and Folding@home allows you to donate your computers extra CPU cycles to a create a distributed computing system dedicated to analyzing their data. Its like a botnet for science.

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