I am sure many of you have read the story about a group of gamers who have broken a particularly difficult protein folding problem that has stumped scientists for the last 10 years. They did this through some social science in a group game space using a game program called Fold It.
The game works on both Mac, Unix and Windows machines and requires a small download. To get started, the game has 32 starter “puzzles” that help you learn how to manipulate the proteins and amino acids within the game space.
Players can initially manually manipulate the shapes, but as they complete puzzles they get tools to help them work through the problems. While having a very introductory understanding of the protein folding process and how different amino acids react, I was still very engaged throughout the game. The creators have presented the process in a way that is very familiar to any person who has played puzzle solving games. Learning is scaffolded, starting with small concepts that build to more complex ones so the players never feel overwhelmed just challenged.
Fold It is a wonderful example of taking steps back to when science was more accessible to everyone. When individuals were able to make contributions to its advancement. Give Fold It a try and you or your students may help advance the study of amino acids and proteins!