Category Archives: Science of Immune Attack

Bacteriology, microbiology, virology, microbot, nanobot, scale, visualization, science, physics, chemistry, biology, biochemistry, atoms, molecules, cell, behavior

Want to Design Science Video Games?

We need you!

FAS Educational Technology Program is collaborating with Muzzy Lane Software to create a series of video games that help middle school students and teachers prepare for middle school science proficiency exams.  The collaboration is intended to draw in teachers, students, game designers and anyone interested to contributing to the design of the games.  Since middle school science covers a wide range of topics (Physical, Chemical, Earth and Life sciences) there is something to interest everyone.  The collaboration is called The Clear Lab Project, and is funded by a SBIR grant from DARPA to Muzzy Lane.

To get involved, go to the project website,

Soon, you will be able to access our very first draft of a game design.  You can also find a “Game Design Template,” which is a list of the necessary components of an excellent video game design draft.

I look forward to many rewarding interactions with many of you as we design games for science together!

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.


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 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.


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.


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!


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.

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

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


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.

A History of Immune Attack

Nanobot searches for Selectin so that the Monocytes can transmigrate... and save Roz.


2001 The Beginning:  Gathering Evidence.

The Federation of American Scientists started gathering research about how technology could be used to transform education in 2001.  Under the guidance of their new president Henry Kelly, the FAS launched the Learning Science and Technology Research and Development Roadmap project, which brought together approximately 100 researchers from the academic, government and corporate sectors. This extensive collaborative effort was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation to FAS-LTP (Grant number 0226421), the Department of Education, as well as the Hewlett Foundation, Microsoft Corporation, and Carnegie Corporation.  The Roadmaps were published in 2003 on the FAS-LTP website.

The collaborative work of the roadmap participants identified key research and development areas for next-generation learning systems; pedagogy and instructional design; building physically correct interactive simulations; dialogue and question management, learner modeling, and tools for assembling and constructing learning systems from these components.  These roadmaps were presented to Congress, and provided the background data for the development of legislation that was passed in 2008 as part of the Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.  This legislation authorizes the establishment of a National Center for Research in Advanced Information and Digital Technologies.

Games can teach, we’ll prove it!

FAS began its bold experiment to PROVE that video game could teach and train in 2004. The newly formed FAS-Learning Technologies Program applied for and received three peer-reviewed, federally-funded grants to design and develop learning games.  In addition to Immune Attack, FAS-LTP has also produced a simulation trainer called Multi Casualty Incident Responder and a game called Discover Babylon.  Multi Casualty Incident Responder combines realistic simulations with advanced training technologies to teach firefighters.  Discover Babylon is an immersive 3D game for 8-12 year olds that teaches about the significance of Mesopotamia in world culture using library and museum objects.


Gathering More Evidence.

In October 2005, FAS-LTP convened the Educational Games Summit ( which was the first meeting of government, academia, private foundations and the entertainment software industry to address the challenges of developing, marketing and funding educational games.  The resulting report, on Educational Games.pdf summarizes the research about why video games are expected to teach well, and in particular, why complex video games (like Immune Attack) should teach the skills that high wage jobs demand, such as data collection and decision making.  Henry Kelly, President, Federation of American Scientists, as quoted in the Educational Games Summit report, says:

“Game developers have instinctively implemented a lot of the recommendations of learning scientists and used them to help players acquire a skill set that closely matches the kind of thinking, planning, learning, and technical skills that seem to be increasingly demanded in business. In the game world, the measure of a player’s success is complex and practical. Can you use your knowledge? Can you feed your people? Can you cure the patient? Can you beat Dan Snyder at his own football franchise?”

Immune Attack!  2004-2008.

With a competitive grant from the National Science Foundation (Award number 0427827), FAS lead a collaboration with Immunologists at Brown University, with graphic art experts at University of Southern California.  We chose to create a biology game, because of the need to engage more students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) related fields.  We choose immunology because high school teachers indicated that this subject is one of the most difficult to present.

Game development is an iterative process, and scientists, teachers and students all had input.  Garry Gaber, CEO and President of Escape Hatch Entertainment, rose to the challenge.  Escape Hatch provided graphics and game mechanisms in Immune Attack that are not only fun and exciting for students to play, but that have been patiently modeled and re-modeled in response to scientists’ critiques.  This unique interaction requires Mr. Gaber’s personal dedication to the creation of an excellent educational video game, a sense of humor and collaboration on the part of our scientists, and the experience with maintaining unique collaborations that FAS-LTP provides.

Key parts of the game mechanism are that every object in the game functions as it should in nature, except for the fictional, cell sized submarine (called a nanobot) that the player pilots remotely through the body.  In this manner, game actions that are not true to nature are clear, because they involve the nanobot.  Additionally, great care was taken to generate the communication that comes from the game’s “on board advisors” so that it helps the player play the game while always presenting information that is true to science.

Once a working engine, working graphics generation system and storyline had been established, the work of testing Immune Attack with students could begin.  The most important factor in educational game development is, after all, that students should be engaged.  To this end, FAS-LTP spent an entire school year’s time testing the Immune Attack prototypes with students in 5 high school across the country.  After each evaluation with students, their comments and reactions were used to design the next prototype.  Finally a game mechanism and modified story line were finalized that was engaging for students and accurate to the science.


In May, 2008, the final version of Immune Attack was made available for free download on the FAS website [].  This version of Immune Attack is a proof of concept, a huge step toward demonstrating that a video game can be made about science.  A video game storyline can be written about cells and proteins that is compelling enough to make students want to play the game.  And importantly, video game action can be created that is true to science.   Now, for the very first time, students can learn about innate immunity painlessly.  Well, not without repeatedly dying virtual deaths in virtual exploding fireballs.  But now immunity, and the cell biology and the protein biochemistry involved in immune reactions are presented to students in an familiar format: the video game.  Information is presented intuitively, players need to accomplish a goal so they seek out the information rather than listen passively, and the constant challenge of beating the game keeps them on task longer than anyone could ever listen to a lecture on innate immunity.  The richness of the video game arena is proven to be an excellent home for the Cellular and Molecular science of the human immune system.

Immune Attack has been downloaded by over 9000 people.  Five hundred teachers have registered with us as interested in evaluating Immune Attack in their classrooms.  Immune Attack is featured on the AAAS website ScienceNetlinks.  Seed magazine wrote an article “Gaming on the Shoulders of Giants” about us.  Nature Medicine featured Immune Attack in an article.  Edutopia has made two videos about McKinley Technology High School students using Immune Attack: these students served as beta testers for Immune Attack from the very beginning.

Immune Attack 2009-2014.

Melanie Stegman, Ph.D. was hired by FAS-LTP in Summer 2008 to be project manager for Immune Attack.  Melanie is leading the evaluation of Immune Attack and the development of Immune Attack 2.0.   To support the evaluation and distribution Immune Attack, much appreciated funding comes from the Entertainment Software Association Foundation, who have been dedicated to Immune Attack for over three years.  In order to develop Immune Attack from a proof of concept into an even more engaging game with ever more science included, Melanie has received a very competitive grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Grant Number: 1R25AI084848-0110.  Collaborating with FAS_LTP in this work is the Maine International Center for Digital Learning, who helping us greatly with evaluation design.  And EscapeHatch Entertainment, of course, because they are best game designer/programmer ever.

Additionally, other important funding has come to Immune Attack from Amgen Corporation, PHrMA, Verizon Foundation.

Many goals remain to be accomplished.  Most importantly we must evaluate the effect of playing Immune Attack on students knowledge and on their attitudes toward cellular and molecular science.  Evaluations are underway, and any teacher, teaching any subject to 7th though 12th grade students is invited to participate in our evaluation. Preliminary data points out that students are learning.  Students who play Immune Attack learn about the functions of Monocytes, about proteins mediating the functions of Monocytes, and about molecular interactions among human complement factors, bacterial surface proteins and how cytokines are produced and what effect those cytokines have on white blood cells and vein endothelial cells.  Most promising is our preliminary data that students are gaining confidence with molecular and cellular biology.

Our preliminary data is so promising that the American Society of Cell Biology decided to put our abstract in their Press Book.  Our evaluations have been small scale so far, but we hope that in the next 4 months that we will be able to get about 20-30 teachers to evaluate Immune Attack in their classrooms.  The evaluation requires three 40-minute sessions in an online computer lab.  Computers need 2GHz processors and 1 GB of ram, a video card 64 MB or better and and must be running Windows XP, Vista or 7.

Scientists, we need you!

In order to develop new game levels that are full of exciting game play we need intricate molecular details about chemistry, physics, chemical engineering, nanotechnology, biochemistry, immunology and cell biology.  We have 20 dedicated scientists already serving on our Scientific Advisory Group.  Acting as a board of reviewers, these scientists keep Immune Attack accurate by “peer reviewing” the game.  There enthusiasm and expert assistance will keep Immune Attack an exciting true to life adventure!

If you would like to serve on the Scientific Advisory Group, or as an advisor as a teacher, please contact us at immuneattack at  We are having a great time presenting real cellular and molecular science to the public and we welcome you!

E.O. Wilson says Games are the future of Education

Dr. E. O. Wilson is interviewed on NPR’s Morning Edition by Will Wright, the creator of the video game, The Sims.  Dr. Wilson is Professor Emeritus (retired) at Harvard.

You can listen to the interview on NPR’s website. At the beginning of the interview, E. O. Wilson says that games are the future of education.  He says that gaming allows us to learn the way that we evolved to learn: by doing.

Who is Dr. Wilson?
From NPR site:
“Biologist E. O. Wilson, professor emeritus at Harvard University, is a two-time Pulitzer-winning ant expert who helped develop theories of island biogeography, chemical ecology, and sociobiology. A leader in the modern environmental movement, Wilson has devoted his life to understanding how all forms of life are connected.”

Who is Will Wright?
Have you heard of the video game, The Sims? Well, before the Sims, Will Wright created a game SimAnt, in 1991. And according to his story on NPR this morning, Will used Dr. Wilson’s work on ants to create the scientifically accurate game SimAnt.

Here we have another argument in favor of teaching using games. Games allow us to Do Things. FAS has long held this position, and we are always happy to hear when others say so, too.

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.

Science of Immune Attack

Welcome to the blog about the Science of Immune Attack.  This page is just for fun reading and discussion.

The first topic is Nanotechnology.

The Nanobot in our game, Immune Attack is constructed of so far unspecified materials.   For Immune Attack 2.0, we would like to specify how our Nanobot is constructed.  We are currently working with McKinley Technology High School engineering students to answer some basic questions.  So far I have asked the students, what material could we use to build a submarine that is a the size of a cell?  How much pressure would it be able to withstand?  And could we build a “ray gun” that is this small?

National Geographic article about Nanotechnology

POLICY about Nanotechnology.

Here is the summary of a talk that was given recently on concerns about nanotechnology and what kinds of concerns we should have about constructing things that are so small that our cells can absorb them.