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Icon for: Brian Koepnick

BRIAN KOEPNICK

University of Washington, Center for Game Science

Foldit

NSF Awards: 1629879, 1652537

2017 (see original presentation & discussion)

Grades 9-12, Undergraduate, Graduate, Adult learners, Informal / multi-age

Foldit is a game designed to tackle the problem of protein folding. Proteins are small “machines” within our bodies that handle practically all functions of living organisms. By knowing more about the 3D structure of proteins (or how they “fold”), we can better understand their function, and we can also get a better idea of how to combat diseases, create vaccines, and even find novel biofuels. Since its release, Foldit has gained over 460,000 players from all walks of life. In fact, the best Foldit players have little to no prior exposure to biochemistry. Most famous for their 2011 breakthrough on an HIV-like virus, we plan to show how Foldit has continued to contribute to valuable research to the present day.

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Original Discussion from the 2017 STEM for All Video Showcase
  • Icon for: Claire Quimby

    Claire Quimby

    Facilitator
    May 15, 2017 | 07:15 p.m.

    Hi Brian - this is a super interesting approach to citizen science and "gamification" of research. I think I heard in your video that people have been playing Foldit since 2010? How has the game changed over the years? Have you had to make adjustments in response to the way players use the game? I'm also curious about people's patterns in gameplay. For example, do people tend to play it a few times, and quit, or do you have a lot of dedicated users who have been playing for a long time?

  • Icon for: Brian Koepnick

    Brian Koepnick

    Lead Presenter
    May 18, 2017 | 12:11 a.m.

    Great questions! Foldit was actually launched in 2008, and has changed considerably in the interval. A lot of those changes have been motivated by feedback from Foldit players; but we are also continually updating Foldit to make it a better research tool, applicable to a broader range of biological puzzles. Even after nine years, we are still exploring the types of research problems to which Foldit players can contribute most effectively.

    I think a lot of Foldit newcomers are quickly discouraged by the complexity of protein puzzles (folding proteins is hard!), and rarely finish the introductory puzzles. However, those that stick with it go on to compete in our weekly science puzzles, at which point it seems a user is more likely to stay. We have an incredible community of diligent and dedicated Foldit players, many of whom are just as much invested in the project as we are. A number of our most active users have been playing every week for several years!

     
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    Claire Quimby
  • Icon for: Heidi Carlone

    Heidi Carlone

    Facilitator
    May 15, 2017 | 09:48 p.m.

    I’m intrigued about the fact that Foldit players actually contributed to science in significant ways. How does that work? Are these just “regular” citizens who are intrigued by protein folding? What is the profile of your regular foldit players? What kinds of demographics represent the "typical" foldit player? (interests, gender, race, age) Do you have that information?

  • Icon for: Brian Koepnick

    Brian Koepnick

    Lead Presenter
    May 18, 2017 | 12:32 a.m.

    Every week, we release new Foldit “puzzles” that are relevant to current problems in structural biology. Many problems related to protein folding are somewhat open-ended, or else implicate a vast number of possible solutions—these problems are difficult to solve by traditional computational approaches. Foldit puzzles frame these problem such that Foldit players can apply intuition and creativity to complement our computations. Occasionally Foldit players beat our supercomputers outright.

    We haven’t conducted a full demographic survey in some time, so unfortunately I can’t describe the “typical” Foldit player. However, I can tell you anecdotally that we have Foldit players from around the world, from scientific and non-scientific backgrounds alike.

     
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    Heidi Carlone
  • Icon for: Sarah Garlick

    Sarah Garlick

    Facilitator
    May 16, 2017 | 12:58 p.m.

    Hi Brian, thank you for sharing the Foldit project. And great questions, Claire and Heidi! I was also wondering, given the incredible success of this project, if the designers are working to apply the approach to other topics or fields. 

  • Icon for: Brian Koepnick

    Brian Koepnick

    Lead Presenter
    May 18, 2017 | 12:52 a.m.

    That’s a good question! It seems to me that protein folding problems are particularly suited to this kind of gamification, in which players can make such direct and substantial contributions to current research—then again, I’m a protein researcher, so this is only the field with which I’m most familiar. However, structural biology is a rich field, and there are many different types of problems within the field that we would like to tackle with Foldit. This work is very much ongoing!

    You might also check out the videos for Nanocrafter and Mozak, both of which are fascinating applications of gamification conceived within the UW Center for Game Science.

     
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    Sarah Garlick
  • May 17, 2017 | 09:35 p.m.

    Hi Brian,

    Some of our sections of our very 1st chemistry course (Introduction to Chemical Structure and Properties) actual use Foldit for extra credit problems.  Problem is we don't have enough time to pursue it with more depth in the first class.  Is there a variant of Foldit that can upload a PDB file and then mutate a side chain and predict changes in local and global structure? 

     
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    Sarah Garlick
  • Icon for: Brian Koepnick

    Brian Koepnick

    Lead Presenter
    May 18, 2017 | 12:59 a.m.

    I’m glad to hear that Foldit is being used in the classroom! There is indeed a non-game version of Foldit that you might find useful. It’s available through the UW Comotion website, and there is information about obtaining it at this link:
    http://fold.it/standalone

     
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    Sarah Garlick
  • Icon for: Claire Quimby

    Claire Quimby

    Facilitator
    May 18, 2017 | 10:20 p.m.

    Thanks for answering all our questions! I've got another one - Do players know about the research they're helping to advance? For example, when you release the weekly puzzle, is it presented as an abstract problem or is there some text for players that explains the scientific question behind the puzzle?

  • Small default profile

    M Raja

    Parent
    May 19, 2017 | 10:44 a.m.

    Is there a plan to make a mobile version?  I recommended to numerous students and they all said they play everything on their phones or tablets.  I talked to the parents and the computer is pretty much out for this new generation.  

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