Its no secret that kids often prefer spending their time in front of the computer, playing games instead of studying. There is nothing wrong with games- but it may seem hard to intrest them in other things when they have a fun, exciting, flashy alternative. Here are five scientific games your kids will enjoy, and maybe develop an interest for science along the way!
1. FoldIt: 3D puzzle that helps scientists fold proteins
FoldIt is one of the first attempts at taking a scientific problem into a game- and it was a complete success. This is a three-dimensional puzzle which simulates protein folding, a complex process that happens flawlessly in nature but gives scientists a lot of headaches when they try to reproduce it in a laboratory. Fear not, if you are absolutely clueless about properties of proteins or the protein folding process to, that’s just fine!
FoldIt works as a complex 3D puzzle and starts off really simple. As you advance through levels, folding bigger and more complex proteins you get new rules– which parts can turn, fold or rotate and where they should be facing, what parts can touch and which shouldn’t’t. These rules are actually biochemical properties of different protein parts, so your kid can learn a little something about chemistry and biology along the way. There is also a handy set of tools you can use to fold your protein and to do it better than your opponents.
That’s right, this is a competitive game, and you collect points and participate in different challenges! Even if your child decides that biochemistry is not their thing, they are still developing their cognitive skills and spatial reasoning with this cool 3D puzzle.
2. Phylo: The DNA Puzzle Game
Phylo is also a puzzle, albeit not a 3D one. It id not unlike the popular or notorious game of Candy Crush Saga. Phylo puzzle starts off as rows of colorful squares and you have to align their patterns as closely as possible to get the maximum number of points. The colorful squares in fact represent base pairs and genetic sequences. More simple levels have only two rows, but more complex ones have up to ten.
What you are actually doing while playing this puzzle is multiple sequence alignments, one of the most complex and important procedure in bioinformatics. You can see the animals whose protein sequences you are comparing, and for a more scientific approach, you can choose on a particular problem you would like to solve.
3. Fraxinus: Facebook Likes May Not Save Lives, but Can Help Save Trees
The aim of this game is to save Ash trees which are severely affected by Chalara fraxinea fungus. Ash trees in the UK have been attacked by the disease and some of the country’s few remaining ancient woodlands are in real danger. Some trees are more resistant then other because of their genetic makeup, but sorting through lines of lines of genetic sequences takes forever- unless you jump in to help.
It is basically like World War Z, where you try to find the cure for a zombie disease that is killing the entire population. Except that by „population“, I mean trees and there is no Brad Pit. The game play is similar to the one in Phylo- it is a colorful puzzle with jazzy music playing int he background which helps you unwind and relax (and also save the trees).
It has one cool additional feature- it is Facebook based. So if your child is older than 13 and has a Facebook account, they can play against their friends and do something worthwhile on this social network.
4. EyeWire: Mapping the Brain
EyeWire is a game to map the brain, played by over 50,000 people from 100 countries. All these people play together to map the 3D structure of neurons and discover neural connections. The players have to explore 3D cubes, which are actually a part of a neuron, as accurately and swiftly as possible and compete against other players.
There are also organized tournaments called Geek Weeks. If your child is old enough and has an account on one of the major social networks, like Facebook, Twitter or Google +, they can be a part of that too. The winning team gets to suggest a name for the newly mapped neurons and all participants get to vote on it, making them an integral part of the scientific process, like real scientists who get to name things after they discover them.
Although Galaxy Zoo is not really a game, if your child is a young astronomer or enamoured by the night sky, they will love it. This is an online astronomy project which invites people to assist in the morphological classification of large numbers of galaxies. Sounds complex, but is in fact very simple– you are shown a photograph of a galaxy and choose one of the given shapes that best fits the image. The really cool thing about it is that you get to see images from Hubble Space telescope that have never been seen before. Isn’t that a great way for your child to discover the universe?
If you are intrigued by these games yourself, don’t be shy, go ahead and try them out. I you feel your child is too young for such puzzles and games, play with them- you will spend quality time with them, learn something new and broaden their horizons.