Game-mobbing biomedical research: PS3 meets Folding@home
March 15th, 2007

Daily Tech reports that Stanford’s distributed computation project, Folding@home, will be accessible via the PS3, enlisting armies of gamers in voluntary computational research communities. Combining the fervor of gaming (and ubiquity of computationally significant game devices), the power of grid computing, and the efficiencies of non-market peer production might enable scientific research that was heretofore computationally intractable — only 1% of available PS3 engines could add petaflop capability to researchers seeking to unravel the ultracomplexities of protein folding:

While Nintendo DS and Wii gamers can take the role of a surgeon to save fictional lives in the Trauma Center-series, owners of a PlayStation 3 will soon be able to use their new game system to help find real-life cures to diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, cystic fibrosis and many cancers.

The PlayStation 3 will soon have the capability to connect to Stanford University’s Folding@home program, a distributed computing project aimed at understanding protein folding, misfolding and related diseases.

After the hype surrounding the power of the Cell Broadband Engine, Folding@home could be the first application to harness some of the console’s yet untapped capabilities. According to Sony, the Cell processor inside each PS3 is roughly 10 times faster than a standard mainstream PC chip at protein folding calculations. Researchers are able to perform the simulations much faster, speeding up the research process.

‘Millions of users have experienced the power of PS3 entertainment. Now they can utilize that exceptional computing power to help fight diseases,’ said Masayuki Chatani, corporate executive and CTO, Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. ‘In order to study protein folding, researchers need more than just one super computer, but the massive processing power of thousands of networked computers. Previously, PCs have been the only option for scientists, but now, they have a new, more powerful tool — PS3.’

The process of folding proteins is incredibly complex, with simulations taking up to 30 years for a single computer to complete. Folding@home enables this task to be shared among thousands of computers connected via the network, utilizing distributed computing technology. Once the data is processed, the information is sent back via the Internet to the central computer.

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