Stanford Helps Fight Alzheimer's with PS3
Scientists at Stanford University are hoping that video game fans will soon donate their PlayStation 3s to the good cause of finding a cure for diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
With the next software update for the game console, PS3 owners will be given an option to click an icon for Stanford's "Folding@home" project and download software that the university has designed to help outsource the computing power of the game consoles (which are essentially computers) needed for some of its research.
The software will run "protein folding" simulations, which help researchers understand why proteins sometimes fold incorrectly and mutate into diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Each participating PS3 will periodically download and analyze a chunk of the school's research, and then upload the results. The software, which is due at the end of the month, will run when the PS3 system is not playing games or performing other multimedia tasks.
"Neworked computing" is a way to spread large computing tasks across a network of computers -- or, in this case, game consoles. One of the most popular instances of this sort of computing has been the "SETI@Home" program, available as a free computer download, designed to analyze radio transmissions for signs of extraterrestrial broadcasts.
The Stanford software has already been available on personal computers, though Vijay Pande, a physical and biophysical chemistry professor at the university, said that the cutting-edge PlayStation 3's horsepower will give a 20-fold boost or more to some of its projects. If enough PlayStation 3 owners participate in the program, he said, studies that once took two years to conduct could now be done in just a month.
"What used to be impossible is now in reach," he said.
Sony says that about a million PlayStation 3s have sold in North America to date, and that about half of those consoles are connected to the Web. The PS3 maker doesn't know how many gamers will download the software, but Dr. Richard Marks, a senior researcher at the company, said he hopes that PS3 owners will see the software as a "call to action." Marks that the idea to offer the "Folding@home" software to PS3 owners came from engineers within the company's Research and Development team.
PlayStation 3 owners who download the program will be able to watch a visual representation of the research work that is being done on their game console and view a map of the Earth in which all of the consoles particpating in the "Folding@home" project are represented as bright dots. Pande also thinks that the project might have a side benefit in nudging some members of a younger generation to consider science as a possible career possibility.
"We hope that it will help excite kids about science in a way you don't get from a text book," he said. "Especially if you have a nice big TV."
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