Unlock molecular secrets with mobile game BioBlox2D

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BioBlox2D is a new free mobile computer game inspired by tackling one of the hardest problems in biological science – how molecules fit together.

BioBlox2D is the result of a collaboration between researchers at Imperial College London and Goldsmiths, University of London. It turns the science of how proteins fit together (or ‘dock’) with smaller molecules, such as medicines and vitamins, into a Tetris-style puzzle game and quiz. Players manipulate and dock molecules into proteins to score points and earn bonus powers in a race against time.

How molecules dock onto proteins is the key to understanding processes in the cell, and in particular to designing new drugs to treat conditions such as cancer and Alzheimer’s. The complex 3D forms of such molecules – resembling the bumpy surface of an asteroid full of pits and craters – make understanding how they fit together extremely challenging.

BioBlox2D presents this complex problem in 2D form. The researchers designed the game to be fun but also to help players learn about protein research and it could be used in schools to teach chemistry and biology. The quiz asks players to name a biological molecule from its description – for example asking them to name the molecule that is used by our cells to produce energy later identified as glucose.

BioBlox2D is free to download from the App store and Google Play.

Professor William Latham, from the Department of Computing at Goldsmiths, and Creative Director of the project, said: “In BioBlox2D we open the world of protein docking to the mass market casual games player, where they have fun playing our puzzle game but at the same time learn about the science.”

Professor Michael Sternberg, from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial and one of project leads, said: “We were inspired by a scientific problem to develop a fun-to-play game where players can experience the challenges of matching both shapes and electrical charges, which is central to how life works.”

The researchers say the block-slotting gameplay is given an original twist as players also have to match positively charged blocks with negatively charged ones – a reference to the binding mechanisms of real proteins. Successfully clearing blocks unlocks information and bonuses such as slowing time and automatically completing a level.

The team are also releasing a 3D version at the same time as the 2D version, BioBlox3D, which they plan to make it possible to crowdsource the protein docking problem through citizen science challenges.

The intention with BioBlox3D is to simulate the protein docking problem with far greater realism in 3D and potentially solve real-world problems. At the moment, the pre-set models in the game come from an existing protein database, but players will soon have the ability to upload their own protein data and experiment in 3D.

Frederic Fol Leymarie, Professor of Computing at Goldsmiths and co-lead on the project, said: “It is hoped this will provide the building blocks for people to create citizen science challenges to, for instance, crowdsource the search for new drug molecules.”

BioBlox3D is a free and fully accessible web tool, and the demo version is playable on the website.

The project was supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).


This article was written by Pete Wilton and originally posted in Goldsmiths News.


Creativity at its core: work for Goldsmiths Computing

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Goldsmiths Computing is recruiting for a number of posts including lectureships. Professor Robert Zimmer, head of the computing department, shares what it’s like to work here.



What’s the computing department at Goldsmiths like?
Surprising. For one thing, most of our staff have creative practices outside of, but frequently related to computing: they’re musicians, artists, social activists, and writers. If someone was wandering around the corridors and asked to guess what kind of academic department we’re in, they probably wouldn’t guess computing. But we are computer scientists, honest. The work we do is significant on the world stage, published in the best journals and presented at the best conferences.

What kind of research does this mix of disciplines lead to?
Lots of what we do involves integrating ideas across different disciplines and world views. In one project with Imperial College, we are helping people understand the way proteins dock. This could be a dry subject, but we use techniques from games and 3D digital art to produce visualisations for scientists and to aid pupils’ learning.

In another, we are helping people collectively learn how to play music using a hybrid of audio-visual and social media techniques. In a third, we put an enormous man-made sun in the middle of Trafalgar Square. We also designed software with embedded machine learning, enabling users to build their own real-time interactive systems, including musical instruments.

Does this inter-disciplinary view of computing affect teaching?
From the very first day on their course, we encourage students to take ownership for their own projects as a piece of personal work. Students learn basic principles, but they mostly learn while they are creating things.

What kind of students does this kind of computing attract?
Brilliant. Independent. Unusually diverse. We draw a lot of our students from London and we naturally inherit a great deal of cultural diversity from the city. We are particularly proud of the prominence of women in the department. We have more than twice the average percentage of women on our degree courses, but we can and will do better.

We have a women in computing scholarship scheme for undergraduates, and we run events in our welcome week for new female students. We are active in national networks for women in Stem subjects, and our head of department is one of the two co-chairs of the Goldsmiths Athena SWAN team, working to ensure gender equality across the institution.

How else do you try to broaden the reach of computing education?
We have a mission to widen access both locally and globally. Locally, we work with London schools and further education colleges to enable inner-city pupils to find their way to university.

Globally, we have been working on distance learning initiatives for over 20 years. We are the provider of the undergraduate computing programmes for the University of London International Academy. Through that, we have educated thousands of students around the world.

Over the last few years, that global reach imperative has led us increasingly down a path of online provision. We have run MOOCs (massive open online courses) on a number of platforms, teaching subjects stretching from data science to deep stack web development, and machine learning for artists. These have already reached over 200,000 learners. We expect this to grow quickly and are now expanding the department to help support the growth.

What online provision have you got coming up?
We are very excited about our next MOOC, which we think will be one of the world’s first to cover virtual reality. This will be led by our lecturer Dr Sylvia Xueni Pan.

SylviaPanSylvia is a good example of the kind of lecturers we have. Growing up in Beijing, she went on to do a PhD and post-doctoral research in virtual reality at UCL, then joined us at Goldsmiths.

She’s interested in creating empathic social experiences in VR that are immersive and engaging, and she uses these experiences in training and education, therapy, and social neuroscience research. She has, for example, been using VR to train GPs to deal with (virtual) patients’ unreasonable demands for antibiotics. She also uses VR as a research tool for social scientists, and brings social science research to VR.

Her work has been featured in BBC Horizon, New Scientist and the Wall Street Journal. All of this thinking will inform the VR section soon to appear on the online study site, Coursera.

How did you get to be the department you are?
The department development began in 2001 when the idea of “the digital” was all over Goldsmiths, as it was all over everywhere else. It seemed a great time to build a computing department that played to Goldsmiths’ core strengths in arts and social analyses and critiques. So that’s what we did. We started joint research, and teaching programmes jointly. It has worked well for us and we are now deeply embedded in all Goldsmiths’ activities.

This worldview still affects much of what we do: as we expand the kinds of computing we explore, we retain a focus on arts, creativity and the social. Therefore, our two newest growth areas – virtual reality and data science – both embrace ideas from, and applications to, arts and social science.


Goldsmiths Computing is currently recruiting for a number of posts including lectureships and a senior data science role.

Automating Soundcloud: distorted song gets clearer the more listens it gets

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A graduate from our Coursera Creative Computing MOOC recently wrote to us about his project to enable songs and playlists on Soundcloud to mutate and grow.

Attila Haraszti – who describes himself as “a self-made third culture kid based in Berlin” – is a producer and DJ with releases under the Rawfare moniker.

“I did the Coursera Creative Computing just for fun during the summer of 2014. It totally changed my perspective of what’s possible regarding creating interactive music applications. The main effect was that it encouraged me to create my own, updated context for music instead of relying on what’s provided by the outdated structure of record labels and typical music platforms. Artists can and should create their own “game”.

After completing the course, Haraszti wrote a rave-tinged track called Pipo, inspired by listening to his neighbour screaming at her pet parrot.

“In many ways, I found it to be a great fit for a fun experiment. I’ve increasingly felt that releasing tracks in a standard, ‘static’ way doesn’t make much sense anymore. It doesn’t ‘work’. The shelf life of a typical release is getting ridiculously short — you get a week, maybe two of peak attention at best. Great works get buried under the avalanche of new content, racking up only a few hundred listens.

“I wanted to reflect this relationship somehow – by connecting the markers everyone seems to care about (play counts etc.) to the content of the track itself. In short, the idea was to make Pipo ‘alive’. Just like the neighbor’s screaming, the track had to be as annoying as possible. I put the final master of the track through some of my favorite tools and ended up with a handful of trashed-up versions.”

Soundcloud Replacer

If you have Pro account on Soundcloud, you can replace the audio file uploaded for the track, without losing any of its statistics. This feature is a godsend in case you make a mistake that needs to be corrected, but, a more interesting use is to CHANGE the track entirely, depending on some feedback.

“With that, my idea was fully formed – upload a completely distorted track to Soundcloud, change it to progressively cleaner versions as more people listened to it, and gradually dial the distortion back if the weekly play counts are insufficient.”

In order to do this, the replacement process had to be fully automated. “My initial thought was to program it using the Soundcloud API, but while you can use it to make programs to upload and delete tracks from connected accounts, it doesn’t allow you to replace them. Luckily there’s a way to make almost anything on the Internet bend to your will — using browser automation. The details took me quite some time to figure out, but as you can see, the process works well. This is 100% automated, ghost-in-the-machine style stuff — I’m not touching anything.”

Songsling: online music as tamagotchi

Having built the Soundcloud Replacer, Haraszti has explored how online metrics – listens, play counts, follows, likes, sign-ups and so on – can be used to grow audience engagement.

“My own tracking engine Songsling.io turns online projects into tamagotchis – virtual pets – that need to be fed by the visible feedback of your audience. All the online metrics I can measure are patched back in to control the artworks themselves. I’ve used it for the first time to present The Bomb EP, which gradually unlocked its tracks as more people listened to them.”


This post is a mash-up edit of Attila’s emails and his detailed blogpost on automating Soundcloud. Thanks for writing to us, Attila.


Goldsmiths’ Adventures in Cyberculture

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Computer scientists at Goldsmiths feature in a Leicester festival celebrating the pioneers of acid house, techno and early internet cultures.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s something strange was happening. Early Virtual Reality and Internet were combining with house music, neo-psychedelia and cyberpunk fiction to produce a cultural movement that would herald the new hyper-connected world. Cyberculture: The Beginning of the Modern World is a exhibition of material from this era that explores this brave new world from the perspective of those who were there.

On Saturday 17 June, all-day digital arts event Phorward includes talks from William Latham – freaky fractals artist turned Goldsmiths professor – and internet pioneer Ivan Pope, who created World Wide Web Newsletter at Goldsmiths’ Computer Centre in 1993.

The rest of the day features films, video games, VR and performances, plus a set by experimental electronic music producers & club promoters Higher Intelligence Agency.

Steam Greenlight for 2nd year Games Programmer

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A game by 2nd year BSc Games Programming Bashar Saade has won a greenlight on Steam Greenlight, one of the world’s largest digital distribution platforms for PC gaming.

Syrian-Ukranian student Bashar Saade recently developed Fluffy Horde, as part of the three person team Turtle Juice.

Fluffy Horde is a 2D side-scrolling hybrid between real-time strategy and tower defense. According to the blurb, “It revolves around a magical hyper-breeding bunny horde created by a misunderstood Shaman wanderer. After having a dwelling denied in all three kingdoms, the Shaman is willing to take over all of them by force. Can you stop the Fluffy Horde?”

Dr Jeremy Gow, programme leader of Goldsmiths’ BSc Games Programming says: “Steam is the X Factor of indie game development and it’s a big deal for any student to get their work onto it. If Fluffy Horde gets enough votes to be greenlit, it is likely to win considerable attention.”


Call for submission: Goldsmiths hosts International Congress on Love & Sex with Robots

For the second year in a row, we will insert clunky doubles entendres into reports on the upcoming International Congress on Love & Sex with Robots.

Co-organised by Dr Kate Devlin and hosted by Goldsmiths, the conference offers an opportunity for academics and industry professionals to come together and discuss their work and ideas.

When: 19-20 December 2017
Where: Goldsmiths, University of London

The conference is now open for submission of papers on teledildonics, robot emotions & personalities, humanoid robots, clone robots, intelligent electronic sex hardware and roboethics, as well as papers from psychological, sociological, philosophical, ethical, affective and gender standpoints.

On 16-17 December the conference will be preceded by Sex Tech Hack, a 24-hour hackathon organised by Hacksmiths. Last year’s hackers created sexy robot nipples, computer-generated erotica and a fisting machine powered by the stock market.


CATALYST Digital Arts Computing degree show

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This May, you are invited to CATALYST, Goldsmiths’ third annual BSc Digital Arts Computing exhibition.

This year our students demonstrate their imagination and skill in working across a diverse range of media including textiles, live performance, live streaming, 3D printed sculpture, virtual reality, sound and scents.

Expect robot children, interactive hairdressing, smell-o-vision, CCTV psychodrama, textiles, a virtual metal band and robotic sculptures.

Where: St James Hatcham (the church), New Cross SE14 6AD. Map
Opening night: 5.30-9.30pm Thursday 4 May 2017
Exhibition continues: 10am-4pm Friday 5 May 2017

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Programme leader Dr Simon Katan explains: “What binds this collection of works together is that each of them constitutes an integral engagement with computation and responds to the challenge of how to make art through code.

“This is the first graduate show for BSc Digital Arts Computing. The degree was conceived to nurture a new generation of artists who are not only conversant with computational processes and techniques, but also develop a critical understanding of the socio-economic effects of computation and its expressive potential within the world of art.”