Game development as a student laboratory?

August 29, 2013

Blog, In the News

Ripple visualization from Catlike Coding

Ripple visualization from Catlike Coding

A recent opinion piece by Ben Serviss on Dash Jump postulates that video games might be the chemistry set of the future. Game development provides a safe and cheap way for students to experiment with crazy ideas. Learning development also provides students with skills that they might need in the modern wetlab. In our digital age, where molecular biologists are learning Python to handle massive datasets, coding (or hiring a coder) is becoming a necessity. Even if your laboratory doesn’t require coding, there is probably a principal investigator at a competing lab with a facile programmer who is getting the job done twice as fast. Game development might be a great way to prepare students for the programming skills needed to handle large datasets.

Game development might also encourage logical thinking that is valued in all the STEM disciplines. Educators are constantly citing critical thinking as a skill that needs to be developed in students. Programming demands logical thinking, which fosters critical thinking. Development of simulations can be used to test theories computationally before taking those ideas into the field or the wet lab. Game engines are so cheap and accessible these days that they can be used by labs with little to no funding. The Unity3d game engine, which is free for academics, has been used by NASA, NOAA, and a variety of other government and NGOs to visualize complicated datasets (or at least bring those data to the people).

Explore Mars at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Earth Information System at NOAA

Catlike Coding – A guide to visualization in Unity3d

Unity3d visualization page

-Originally posted at

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About Robert O. Duncan

I'm an Assistant Professor of Behavioral Sciences at City University of New York, with joint appointments in Neuroscience and Cognitive Neuroscience. I also have an appointment as a Visiting Scholar at New York University. My research interests include cognitive neuroscience, functional magnetic resonance imaging, glaucoma, neurodegenerative disorders, attention, learning, memory, educational technology, pedagogy, and developing games for education.

View all posts by Robert O. Duncan
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