Entrant 2013

University of Washington


Foldit is a game in which players compete and collaborate to fold proteins, using a variety of tools to pull, shake and wiggle the protein into the correct shape. The challenge creating Foldit was to combine the power of computers and human minds to allow ordinary (or extraordinary) people to contribute to science - without needing any prior education. This was no easy task, as protein folding is extremely complex - and so is the software that tries to model it.

Most games start with a game engine. Foldit started with a heart of biochemistry. To ensure the game would produce valid scientific results, the game was built on top of the protein modeling software Rosetta. The developers of Foldit had to take software that was designed for scientists to run computation-heavy, distributed batch computations and create a real-time, interactive game. The game also had to present this complex biochemical model in a intuitive and fun way that could be understood by players.

Already, Foldit players have contributed to several important scientific results, including solving a protein structure that had stumped scientists for over a decade. With the introduction of protein design to the game, players helped to design a synthetic enzyme and improve nearly 20x over it's initial activity. Foldit enables players to tackle some of the hardest problems of our time - whether it's fighting cancer, coming up with solutions for clean energy or curing the flu. With Foldit, players have the potential to make a significant impact on the world around them.