Archive for September, 2011

Crowd-sourcing to gamers for scientific discovery

22 September, 2011 3 comments

A screenshot of the online Foldit game that allows players to compete against each other to figure out molecular folding patterns of proteins. (Image from the University of Washington)

Whoever said playing games is a waste of time? University of Washington researchers have harnessed the power, skill, and determination of the wide world of gamers to solve the conformation of a retrovirus enzyme that foiled scientists for over a decade. It took gamers playing Foldit, an online protein-folding game, three weeks to create a structure that was close enough to the real thing for the scientists at the University of Washington to solve the problem. Thank goodness that human intuition still can beat computer automation!

An eternal conundrum for teachers: How to teach students more… by teaching less?

14 September, 2011 1 comment

Image from

Most students in my Biomimetics/Bioinspiration course are already probably getting tired of hearing me say, “Integration is of the future!! We must learn to communicate across disciplines so that we can collaborate across disciplines. How else do we expect to be innovative if we stay in our own, isolated bubbles?!!?!!?” Considering we are only in our third week of class, this is all a little scary.

I am finally feeling a little vindicated, as someone else out there just might be thinking a little like me. Or, at the very least, he is seeing a broken educational system and is trying to address its problems. Paul Backett,  Ziba’s Industrial Design Director, started a six-part series on one of my fave websites, Core77, discussing design education and how it should and can be revamped or renovated to reflect the tools and challenges of modern technology. He is seeing design students being taught concepts rather than skillsets, and using (consciously or not) technology to be lazy in their craft. Sounding familiar, fellow scientists?

Paul’s MO appears to be to teach design students through full-immersion activities so that they learn through experience rather than by reading textbooks and practicing visualization skills through copy catting an object (see Part 1). In the sciences, there are a few examples of this (e.g., see the CiBER program at UC Berkeley and Stanford’s Design Program, just for starters), but not nearly enough, considering the urgency of the situation.

In the meantime, I am looking forward to following Paul’s posts and gleaning some more wisdom from his thoughts…

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