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Behind the Scenes of Foldit, Pioneering Science Gamification

Katie L. Burke

Proteins are involved in how our bodies develop and fight disease as well as how we behave and 2012-11SciObsBurkeFC.jpgClick to Enlarge Imagehow we sense the world around us. Genes are instructions for making proteins, each of which is made up of some combination of building-block molecules called amino acids. Proteins can be hundreds of amino acids long, so they are complex and difficult to study. Although protein sequencing to find out the order of the amino acids in a particular protein is pretty easy for a biochemist, it is not simple for a biochemist to figure out all the possible shapes those amino acids can fold into. Foldit is a popular online citizen-science game, in which players are scored on the structure of proteins that they’ve folded. In Foldit puzzles, for example, players are rewarded for solving clashes and voids, places where the protein is not consistent with known biochemical patterns.

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PODCASTS: From Balloons to Space Stations: Studying Cosmic Rays

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Cosmic rays have mysterious qualities about them that scientists continue to research in order to better understand their origins and composition. Dr. Eun-Suk Seo, a professor of physics at the University of Maryland, and her colleagues, fly enormous balloons as large as a football stadium and a volume of 40-million-cubic feet for extended periods over Antarctica to study particles coming from cosmic rays before they break up in the atmosphere.

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