I first read about donating your computer’s spare processing power for research in The Economist in 2007. I meant to set it up but never got around to it. Now, with all of Trump’s proposed cuts to the government’s science budget, I finally got the motivation (thanks?). Last week I installed BOINC (it took all of five minutes). Please consider doing so too.
WAY back in 1999, a badge of geek pride was to run a new screensaver program called SETI@home. This used spare processing capacity on ordinary PCs to sift through radio-telescope data for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence. The bad news is that so far, not a peep has been heard from any little green men. The good news is that SETI@home is still going strong, with over 3m contributors, and is being joined by a rapidly growing legion of other volunteer computing projects supporting worthy scientific causes.
The choice is bewildering. Your PC can help design drugs against AIDS, model the future climate of the planet, search for new prime numbers or simulate micro-devices for handling satellite propellant, to cite just a few examples. Part of the boom in volunteer computing is due to an open-source platform for running such projects, called BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing), launched in 2002 by David Anderson, the director of SETI@home. Today over 40 BOINC projects are in operation, with 15 in the life sciences alone. IBM, which runs a philanthropic initiative called World Community Grid and has signed up over 800,000 volunteer computers, is switching all the humanitarian projects that it supports to run on BOINC. These include Help Conquer Cancer, Discovering Dengue Drugs and AfricanClimate@home, which the computer giant runs on behalf of university research groups that need lots of computer power for their research.
I configured BOINC on my MacBook Pro to run Rosetta@home, which is “determining three-dimensional shapes of proteins in research that may ultimately lead to finding cures for some major human diseases. By running the Rosetta program on your computer while you don’t need it you will help us speed up and extend our research in ways we couldn’t possibly attempt without your help. You will also be helping our efforts at designing new proteins to fight diseases such as HIV, Malaria, Cancer, and Alzheimer’s.”
It only runs when your computer’s not busy and it displays a nifty screensaver too.
Screenshot: Courtesy Emw2012/Wikipedia