EyeWire: You Play a Game, Scientists Map Neurons
Everyone wins! You guys should really check out EyeWire, an online game that helps you map neurons without any knowledge of biology. It’s revolutionary neuroscience, harnessing the power of thousands of video gamers to do a job that supercomputers can barely do.
EyeWire is a citizen science game created by MIT’s Sebastian Seung and friends (shout out to Amy from the Seung group for showing me this game!). Seung, famous for his work on the connectome (and the book of the same name), studies how mapping the nervous system’s connections help us define its true function. Understanding how our nervous system works requires knowing more than how one neuron works, we have to understand how they connect to each other to create larger networks.
In EyeWire, you tour through pattern-filled cubes, clicking colored blobs to help the software map the arms of J cells (that’s one above), a type of neuron in the retina whose connections are very poorly understood. It’s seriously addictive, and you’ll be making a real difference in our understanding of the brain.
So why make a game? This kind of pattern recognition is very hard for computers to do. The human brain is amazingly adept at picking out patterns, far better than even our most powerful machines.
My only minor complaint is that its popularity is making gameplay a little slow this first week. The great I F*cking Love Science Facebook page helped crash their servers yesterday, which are now back up, but new players are only being allowed in a handful at a time. So follow EyeWire on Facebook to find out when you can sign up. You’ll be glad you did.
I’m sure that the hordes of It’s Okay To Be Smart and other Tumblr science readers can crash the servers better than any Facebook page can, right?