Collaborative Games for Bioinformatics Education

A simulation of a Basic Local Alignment Search Tool result for DNA samples in the game MAX5.

Project Overview:  This project leverages recent research into the socio-emotional mechanics of online collaboration and multi-player game development to create an educational game that incorporates bioinformatics and cyberinfrastructure (CI) concepts aimed at high school students. We are interested in cyber problem solving specifically among young underrepresented minorities and women, and the production of conceptual models that will help us to better understand the larger relationships between people, educational games, and infrastructural computational technologies. Collaboration and creative strategies are encouraged and integrated into the gameplay mechanics.

A player explores a level of MAX5 to collect DNA sequences and track a lethal influenza outbreak.

About the Game:  Max Five is a game based around a futuristic crime scene investigation scenario in which players must collaborate in teams and take on the roles of forensics experts, computing experts, and scientists to solve clues and recover data from a top-secret research project that has gone awry.  The game integrates bioinformatic concepts and simulations of tools including BLAST and Jalview.  Further information about the game and our latest development updates can be found at .

Student & School Partnerships:  We are actively building partnerships with Seattle area public high schools to involve student designers and playtesters. If you would like further information about how students can become involved in game design or development, please contact Daniel Perry at dbperry[at]

About the Research Team

The research team for this project includes Professor Cecilia Aragon, Dr. Suzanne Brainard, Jeanne Chowning, Daniel Perry, Dr. Mette Peters, Stephanie Cruz, and John Robinson

Cecilia Aragon (PhD, UC Berkeley) is the director of the SCCL and an associate professor in the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering and the eScience Institute at the University of Washington, with adjunct appointments in Computer Science and Engineering and the Information School. Her current research focuses on computer-supported cooperative work, visualization, and creativity for scientific collaborations, including the socio-technical aspects of CI and the role of socio-emotional content in online communication among technical collaborations.

Suzanne Brainard (PhD, Ohio State University) is the Executive Director of the Center for Workforce Development (CWD) at the University of Washington. Brainard is also an Affiliate Professor in both Human Centered Design & Engineering and Women Studies at the University of Washington. CWD will serve as the internal evaluators on this demonstration project. CWD has served as an internal or external evaluator on several NSF-funded projects including LSAMP, STEP, ADVANCE, and a MESA STEP.

Jeanne Chowning is the Director of Education for the Northwest Association for Biomedical Research (NWABR), a non-profit educational organization established in 1988 to promote the public understanding of biomedical research and its ethical conduct. NWABR’s work centers on outreach, including supporting excellence in science teaching, building connections between scientists and students, and strengthening the research community. Chowning leads Bio-ITEST, an NSF science education grant focused on bioinformatics. Chowning earned her BA in Biology from Cornell University and an MS in Biology at the University of Washington.

Daniel Perry is a PhD student in Human Centered Design & Engineering at the University of Washington and a researcher in the Scientific Collaboration and Creativity Lab at UW. He has previously worked as a graduate researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab in the Computational Research Division and as a researcher at UC Berkeley’s Center for Next Generation Teaching and Learning. He holds a BA from Brown University and a Master of Information Management & Systems from UC Berkeley.

Mette A. Peters, PhD, has experience from the pharmaceutical industry and academia in the areas of cell and molecular biology, genetics, genomics, and bioinformatics with respect to discovery, commercial development, and education. She was previously the Director of the Technologies and Resources group at the University of Washington. Peters is currently at Sage Bionetworks, a non-profit biomedical research organization with a mission to coordinate and link academic and commercial biomedical researchers through a Commons that represents a new paradigm for genomics intellectual property, researcher cooperation, and contributor-evolved resources.

Stephanie Cruz is a graduate student in the department of Anthropology and a Research Assistant with the Center for Workforce Development at the University of Washington. She assists in the internal evaluation for the demonstration project and on other qualitative research projects. Her interests include the promotion of interdisciplinary collaboration, awareness of social and ethical issues in science, and public scholarship. She holds a BA in Anthropological Science from Stanford University.

John Robinson, is a Human Centered Design & Engineering and Psychology student at the University of Washington. His interests include data visualization, human-computer interaction, and group dynamics. He has over 15 years of software development experience including the first internet-streaming consumer-electronics devices.