The long-term goal of this project is to create a fun, engaging, and informative videogame called "Nurbits" that will spark the interest of middle and high school students in neuroscience. Nurbits will be a puzzle/rhythm game based on the principles and processes that underlie synaptic neurotransmission. This game will incorporate our core technologies and an innovative game design to draw students into an environment where they can learn through play, experimentation, and failure. The primary focus of this project will be on game mechanics, design aesthetics, color and sound, to ensure that Nurbits captures the attention and interest of the students in a playful manner and avoids taking on any of the characteristics of the "edutainment" category of games that fail miserably with students of this age. Rather than announcing itself as a game about neuroscience, Nurbits will begin as a simple, yet inviting game about communication among chips on a computer circuit board. During the early levels of Nurbits, the students will make decisions about which colors, shapes and sounds 'electrons'must have in order to deliver information between adjacent chips to achieve a desired outcome (e.g., release of electrons having a specified color, shape and sound). In doing so, the students will learn by failing, a process that helps them identify the ruls that govern the interactions between the chips. As gameplay increases in complexity, the computer chips will gradually become more organic in nature, the sounds will become more robust, and the "electrons" will morph into neurotransmitters. At later levels, students will contrl communications between neurons by regulating the concentrations and effects of neurotransmitters on the adjacent neuron. At the highest levels of gameplay, these events will be regulated by elements that represent calcium channels involved in neurotransmitter release, mechanisms responsible for reuptake of neurotransmitters from the synaptic cleft, and enzymes that breakdown the neurotransmitters. By disrupting specific aspects of neuronal function, it will be possible to introduce students to the abnormalities that underlie diseases such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, depression, or the ill effects of toxins such as Botulinum toxin. As a result, teachers will have a fun and engaging way to teach basic neuroscience concepts and encourage students to consider possible careers in this area. This project will address the growing problem of lack of diversity in the science work force by partnering with schools with high percentages of economically disadvantaged underrepresented minority students, and an all- girls school in Atlanta. These students will be directly involved in field-testing Nurbits in ts formative stages and providing input regarding ways to ensure that Nurbits appeals to these two demographics that are woefully underrepresented in science in the US.
Currently, very few high school students in the United States express any interest in careers in neuroscience, despite the devastating impact of diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, autism and depression. This is especially true for girls and under-represented minority students, whose representation in the health care workforce is extremely low. This project will address these problems by creating an engaging, fun and informative game called Nurbits, that will teach students the fundamental principles of neurotransmission and thereby increase their interest in neuroscience.