Gaming for the Cure

It was only a matter of time. As the line between the virtual world and the real word continues to blur, Carnegie Mellon and Stanford University developed the first online game that connects the two.

The game’s called EteRNA. The goal is to uncover principles for designing molecules of RNA.

Biologists believe RNA may be the key regulator of everything that happens in living cells, so understanding its design is critical. It may even prove useful for treating or controlling such diseases as HIV.

Want to help? Play the game.

Players with the best virtual RNA designs – i.e. designs that can be rendered as real, physical molecules – get the most points. Then each week’s top designs are actually synthesized in a biochemistry laboratory.

It’s in the lab where researchers see if the resulting molecules fold themselves into the 3D shapes predicted by computer models. Since EteRNA enlists the help of non-experts to uncover mysterious RNA design principles, it leaves the final scoring up to nature.

“And nature is one tough umpire,” notes CMU’s Adrien Treuille.

Treuille is an assistant professor of computer science at CMU. He leads the EteRNA project with Rhiju Das, assistant professor of biochemistry at Stanford.

Read more at cmu.edu and The New York Times. Or check out videos on the topic – What Have We Learned from EteRNA? and How Was EteRNA Created?


Imagine That

Anybody still clinging to their weight loss New Year’s resolution?

If you’re trying not to think about food in order to keep from eating it, give it up. In fact, whatever your weakness – be it salty or sweet – go ahead and visualize yourself polishing off every last bite. You’re probably better off.

Here’s why.

A study by Carnegie Mellon researchers – published in Science – shows that when you imagine eating a certain food, it reduces your actual consumption of that food.

The researchers ran a series of experiments, asking three groups of people to imagine different repetitive actions.
  • A control group imagined inserting 33 quarters into a laundry machine (an action similar to eating M&M’S).
  • A second group imagined inserting 30 quarters into a laundry machine and then imagined eating 3 M&M’S.
  • A third group imagined inserting three quarters into a laundry machine and then imagined eating 30 M&M’S.
Next, all participants ate freely from a bowl filled with M&M’S.

It turns out, participants who imagined eating 30 M&Ms actually ate significantly fewer than the other two groups.

To ensure other factors weren’t influencing the results, the researchers conducted additional tests. Each time, the participants who imagined eating the most, ended up eating the least.

Additionally, the study showed it wasn’t enough to merely think about the food – or to think of another food. It was important to imagine the act of eating the very food in question.

CMU’s research team included Young Eun Huh, Tepper School of Business Ph.D. candidate, and Joachim Vosgerau, assistant professor of marketing.

To find out more about the study, read the press release or visit cmu.edu.


Keeping CMU Talent in Pittsburgh

That’s what the Peter C. Dozzi Family Foundation is working to do with their Pittsburgh Internship Initiative.

The initiative began with a generous gift from Peter C. Dozzi, founder of Jendoco Construction Corporation. The scholarship money is available to all students who stay in the Pittsburgh Region to complete a summer internship.

It’s an incentive to keep CMU talent in and around the Pittsburgh Region. The Dozzi family hopes the scholarship will encourage students to consider calling Pittsburgh home, developing and contributing their ideas and expertise to the city.

And students are happy to oblige.

For some, the Peter C. Dozzi Pittsburgh Internship Initiative has helped them reach success.

Sam Tsai (CMU’07) received the financial support he needed to spend a summer in Pittsburgh interning at Collaborative Fusion, Inc. – a small startup firm that specializes in emergency response in the event of major disasters. The experience was unprecedented – and it led to a job as a web developer for American Eagle Outfitters.

For Andrew Seay (A’06, HNZ’08), it was an internship with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO) that kick-started his career. Upon completing his master’s degree at Heinz College, he was hired full-time by PSO. Now, Seay is a patron services representative.

Seay's internship with the PSO not only launched his career, but it also gave him a chance to explore Pittsburgh. After eight years here, Seay calls the city home.

The Peter C. Dozzi Foundation was honored as “Outstanding Foundation 2010” on National Philanthropy Day in November by the Association of Fundraising Professionals Western Pennsylvania Chapter.