Name: Seth Cooper
Title: Computer scientist and creative director
Organization: Center for Game Science, University of Washington
Seth Cooper has helped unleash an online video game that has taken the biomedical research world by storm. The computer scientist at the University of Washington and his colleagues have seen thousands of players pick up their game, called Foldit, and solve protein structure problems that have proven difficult for computer algorithms and scientists to master.
Last year, the UW group reported in September that players of the game, most of whom have no formal backgrounds in biochemistry, came close to nailing the structure of an AIDS-related enzyme that enables the virus to thrive--a feat that trained scientists failed to accomplish over the course of more than a decade. The findings from that Foldit challenge could shed light on future therapeutic approaches to combat AIDS.
FierceBiotech IT could have named a number of people behind the Foldit phenomenon--including UW biochemist David Baker, whose work gave rise to the game--but Cooper, a computer scientist and video game player, rose to the top because his role as lead designer and developer of the game helped it appeal to the masses. And only with the wisdom of the crowd has Foldit evolved into the force that it is in biomedical research.
Cooper, who now serves as creative director at UW's Center for Game Science, has done stints at digital entertainment outfits such as Electronic Arts, Pixar and Square Enix. "I have always enjoyed playing games, so working on a game that would be useful scientifically was very exciting," Cooper told The Economist in an interview about Foldit.
There you go. A guy who likes video games and happens to be smart enough to design them is helping change the world. It's a story that should inspire lots of video gamers to study math and science.