Serious drug design researchers are apparently hacking their PS3 machines to turn them into drug discovery workhorses. At least that’s according to my alma mater New Scientist magazine. It’s the kind of catchy subject they cover and is a classic from Mike Nagle.
The PS3 console uses a Cell chip, made by IBM, Sony and Toshiba, which is composed of a CPU and eight slave processors that run on Linux. According to NS, this chip is prized by chemists and physicists alike because the same kind of calculations it uses to produce the stunning, high-quality PS3 graphics for gaming are just about the same those needed to simulate reactions between particles, ranging from the molecular to the astronomical (apparently, you can do black holes with it too).
But, when we say they’re hacking the PS3, it’s not like these scientists are just plugging in a data cable and running their lab. According to NS, University of Massachusetts astrophysicist Gaurav Khanna has actually strung together 16 PS consoles to simulate the gravity waves that to occur when two black holes collide. While University of Illinois chemist Todd Martinez is running particle simulations on a Playstation, with 1000 atoms (a small protein in other words) that can be done 130 times faster than on an ordinary PC.
It’s all quite twee really, what with the surgeons cannibalizing their Wii consoles to do virtual operations and chemists latching on to the power of virtual world Second Life too. One can almost imagine the response of the peer review panels as the grant applications start to roll in with instrumentation inventories listing costs for 32 PS3 consoles, 20 Wii controllers, a couple of PSPs, and a dozen iPhones. The real test will come though if they can get away with tacking on a few copies of World of Warcraft and Nintendogs Labrador Retriever & Friends.