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Let the Games Begin

The success of games like Foldit has shown researchers how useful it can be to put a problem in front of a wide group of gamers and science buffs to get help in solving it. Other researchers are now creating games for a variety of scientific fields to harness the same crowd-sourced power, says Popular Science's Rebecca Boyle. At Carnegie Mellon University, Adrien Treuille and his team have developed EteRNA, a game where players can create new RNAs for the researchers to synthesize in the lab for medical or biotechnology purposes, she says. Another game called MoonZoo allows would-be astronomers to look at NASA photos of the moon and flag rock formations for further exploration. And WhaleFM lets players listen to orca calls and match them up with similar whale calls. There are many others extending into several branches of scientific research, Boyle adds.

"If you think about it, you are able to increase the population of biochemists focusing on a specific problem by a factor of three or four," Foldit creator Zoran Popović tells Boyle. "If you could do a similar thing for all the problems that are facing humanity today, it would help not just science, but society at large, a huge amount." Popović is currently building a new game called Biologic, in which players will be asked to create synthetic molecules, Boyle says.