Category Archives: Chemistry

in training, learning, news and teaching

USA Science and Engineering Festival!

At the USA Science and Engineering Expo, we had a great time introducing our “free Video Game” to 4000 people. While kids of all ages ran into our booth to see for themselves whether Immune Attack was any good or not, parents were happy to hear that our video game is about white blood cells fighting bacteria. The main character isn’t a military character, it’s a Microbot. It’s main weapon is a ray gun that activates proteins.

The crowd at the USA Science and Engineering expo was curious and eager to hear about real science! Some high school kids wanted to talk about careers in science. FAS is a science policy think tank, so we had plenty to talk about! Additionally, video game production requires many different types of scientific, mathematical and engineering related skills. Someone needs to design the game and designing means testing to find out whether the game is fun. Testing means experimental design! Which audience finds your game fun? And what is your control game? Then someone will program the game. Someone else is an expert at drawing three-dimensional objects using software like Maya, Studio Max, or Cinema4D. Then still another artist uses other software to create all of the backgrounds. Then another artist uses more technology to create the characters. And if you are making a realistic video game, then someone serves as a subject matter expert and makes sure the historical context is correct, or that the science in the Microbot is accurate… I could go on and on. See below for links to art and biological science in particular:

I enjoyed meeting all of you. Please support technology in our schools! Why? Because you can’t see viruses, you can’t see bacteria. You can’t see proteins. But you can see them in a video game! Imagine learning soccer, but never being shown the field. Previously, we did not have ways to see bacteria and proteins, but now we do! And the new data is being used by many people in the Medical Illustration Field to create videos and diagrams that explain the molecular science that affects our everyday lives.

Here are some examples of great medical illustration resources:

The Association of Medical Illustrators

The book: The Machinery of Life

The Biomedical Communications department at the University of Texas Southwestern.

Immune Attack in the press.

Cell Article on Video games 2010

Amy Maxmen wrote an article about Immune Attack for Cell!  Maxmen keeps you up to date about the push from the President and First Lady to make sure we are using video games and all learning technology to their fullest potential.   And then Maxmen summaries what scientists think of video game about science and then what DATA there is suggesting that they work!

The data that is quoted in this article will be published this fall semester.  We are in the final round of evaluations this semester.

Cellcraft puts you in the driver seat of a cell

So, how do cells avoid viruses? If you wonder, try playing the game CellCraft.  It is a terrific game for middle school students or anyone.   Check it out, give the Cellcraft team some props on their forum, and then tell me what you like about the game.

cellcraftgame.com

www.kongregate.com Play Cellcraft here!

Immune Attack address more molecular detail, but we are trying to do essentially the same thing: teach people how cells actually operate at the molecular level.  The world of the Cell is frankly a fascinating huge place and it should be explored in as many ways as possible, games, stories, videos, it is a rich place for storytelling with many many points of conflict… between cells and viruses, human cells and bacteria, DNA vs damaging radicals…There are endless stories to tell!

Congratulations to the Cell Craft Team!  And thank you!

Where to find Science Games

Here is the list of science games that we are continuously updating for you.

 

Flash Games played over the web:

MedMyst (about hunting down infectious diseases)

CSI:The Experience (just like the show, only you need to use your own brain!)

N-Squad You take on the role of a forensic scientist, solving crimes and investigating mysterious deaths.

Cellcraft is a real time strategy game in which you play the role of a cell trying to defeat a virus before they defeat you.  An excellent intro to cell biology for middle school.

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Downloads for PC and Mac:

The Curse of Brownbeard is Middle School game about pirates who need someone to figure out why they are getting sick… The Curse of Brownbeard.  Teaches experimental design.  How cool is that??

Metablast! at Metablast.org is still in development, but it promises to be a fantastic journey into a plant cell…  in a microbot (which is our favorite way to travel) and will present proteins in their accurate form…..  Very exciting!  Their Educator’s community if very nice, too.  http://www.metablast.org/community

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Available through My Game IQ (free download manager program that is PC only).

Immune Attack  (We are in the top 8 games on My Game IQ right now!  (4/01/2011).  Free PC download.

Surge harnessing the power of video games to help students build a strong intuitive/tacit understanding of the physics involved.  Free PC download through MyGameIQ.

Science Pirates: The Curse of Brownbeard helps students understand science processes to better change food safety behavior.

Re-Mission a third person shooter game about killing cancer cells.  Find on mygameiq, too.

Enercities is a game created to teach the importance of energy and conservation by the European Union.

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Games being built–that you can contribute to!

Our collaborators at Clear Lab, where we are creating a battery of fun SCIENCE! games for middle school students!  Sign up to be a part of the development team!

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Other Fantastic Sites with some science games available:

Molecules is a site with great videos about chemicals in our everyday life and some games.  See what Sweden is up to!

Games for change has several game about the environment.

http://www.gamesforchange.org/play

NISE has some games about nanotechnology.  Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network.

http://www.nisenet.org/

Science Netlinks has many things for teaching… some are games, some are not…   Immune Attack is described at Netlinks, too!  (Still downloads at Immuneattack.org)

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Tablet Games!

A link to ALL EDUCATIONAL GAMES on Apple’s App Store.

ImmunityHD is a fun game in which you need to keep the intestinal epithelium clear of infection.  Good luck!  This intestine belongs to an adventurous eater!  On iPad…  at iTunes App store.

Virulent is an experimental game by the cool guys at Madison Wisconsin, and the Morgridge Institute for Research.  In the game you play a virus, and you have to infect your host cells to win.  The game is still underdevelopment, so check it out and keep up with the updates!

 

Other sites you really should know about.

Harvard Biovisions has created beautiful videos of the molecules inside of cells.  Xvivo is the company who actually makes them…  great career inspiration for your young computer programmers and 3D modelers.

Stem Video Game Challenge! Get your students involved in the next middle school STEM Video Game Challenge! Watch the video of the inaugural winners!  Kids submitted video games in Gamestar Mechanic, Game Maker, Small Basic, and some submitted written game design documents.  All the games submitted were fun to play, innovative and educational.

And contact Melanie Stegman, yours truly, if you have High School students interested in entering a Molecular Biology video game competition in Spring 2012.

Using Immune Attack to teach about Internet research.

I am experimenting with using Immune Attack to get students interested in science.  In particular, to get kids to ask questions about nanotech, chemistry or biology, etc in the game and to research their answer on the Web.  I presented this idea to the students of Mr. Kenneth Leslie’s engineering class at McKinley Technology High School in Washington, DC.  I asked, “Do you think we could really build a Nanobot, and if we did what would be build it out of?”  I had prepared three questions:  How much pressure would it have to withstand?  What material could withstand that pressure?  What would it look like?

The McKinley students answered with questions of their own, ones that had never crossed my mind:  “How will we control the Nanobot from outside the body?”  “What kind of motor will it have?”   Certainly a miniature motor or even a radio transmitter will not fit into a 50 micrometer box.  A Nanobot must truly be impossible.

We made a list of questions, small, easy to focus on.
1.  How much pressure is in arteries?  In veins?
2.  How much pressure can Titanium withstand?
3.  How much pressure can Aluminum withstand?
4.  How much pressure can Nanotubes withstand?

The goals were simple, write a 3 sentence report with 2 references.  The first reference could be Wikipedia, the second reference should be from a peer reviewed paper, or from the website of a professor at a university.

This one day’s experiment was successful.  The students were focused on their tasks, as the questions were not too difficult but still very interesting.  I never did get the actual repots from Mr. Leslie, but we have plans to create similar class experiences for this coming school year.

After we release Immune Attack 3.0 in October, 2009, I plan to encourage students from all over to submit these 3 sentence reports to our online Mission Intelligence database.  Students, teachers and scientists can vote for the database entries that they like.  We incorporate the best into the Mission Intelligence Database for Immune Attack 3.0.

If any teacher is interested in discussing this with us, please reply below, or email me at mstegman at fas dot org.

Are we human or are we bacteria?

NPR just reported on research done on the various kinds of bacteria that live on our body.  NPR is referring to new report from the lab of Julia Segre, Ph.D., at the National Human Genome Research Institute, NIH.   Here is the link to the article that NPR is talking about in PubMedCentral.   Here is the link to the page where the paper is published in Genome Research and is FREE to download.

OK.  So why is a scientist at the National Human Genome Research Institute doing research on bacteria?  Good question.  The answer is that there are so many bacteria living on us and inside of us, that the bacteria affect our bodies a great deal!  The bacteria eat and produce waste inside us and on our skin, they interact with our immune cells and our intestines.  Just like we have an extensive amount of cell to cell communication among the cells of our body, so are there extensive amounts of communication between bacteria and the cell of our body.  Sometimes bacteria alter the behavior of the cells of our body, in ways we used to think were only human-human cell interactions.   Additionally, the kind of bacteria that live in and on me may be different from the bacteria that live on someone else.  Could that make a difference?  It very well could!  Obesity or Crohn’s disease may be related to the bacteria in our gut.

First things first, how many bacteria live on us?  And how many different kinds of bacteria live on us?  Dr. Bonnie Bassler, of Princeton University, gives an estimate of these in her Ted talk, at the 2009 TED Conference.  Watch 0:55 through 2:30.  (The whole talk is fantastic, too!)   Number of human cells in the average adult = 1 trillion.  Number of bacteria cells in association with the average adult = 10 trillion.  Even more intriguing, is the number of genes that humans have is about 30,000.  How many different bacteria genes are associated with us?  300,000!

Link to Bonnie Bassler, PhD’s talk at the 2009 TED Conference.

OK, so there are SIGNIFICANT amounts of bacteria on our bodies, enough to affect us.  What are we going to do about it?  Well, we could follow the lead of scientists like Bonnie and Julia and start thinking of our associated bacteria genomes as part of our own!  And that means, of course, that we need to study them as much as we study ourselves.  And this is exactly what Julia Segre’s lab did.  Elizabeth Grice, Ph.D., is the first author of the paper, and she is the post doc in Dr. Julia Segre’s lab who lead the work of the paper.  Dr. Grice sampled 20 different locations on 10 different people, and found out which different kinds of organisms live in each spot.  Each location on our body provides a different climate.  Just like plants on the Earth, different bacteria grow better in a dry environment, while others grow better in a wet environment.  Elizabeth Grice, Ph.D. and her colleagues are out to find out who lives where.  This is basic research.  We don’t know yet how valuable this information will be.  But on Dr. Segre’s website you can see her research is clearly linked to disease and how to prevent it!

For an excellent, and easy to read, write up of Dr. Grice’s paper, you can go to an excellent science blog written by Ed Yong, “Not Exactly Rocket Science.“  Here is the NIH’s press release about the paper.

I hope this entry and links helps present the ideas of the world of bacteria, how much smaller and more numerous they are than us, as well as the idea that the things that that occur on the cellular level have big impact in our lives.