I’ve never made much of a big deal of it, but for many years I’ve donated my spare computer power to Stanford University’s Folding@Home project. Folding@Home is one of many distributed computing projects that harness the power of thousands (or even millions) of personal computers to solve complex problems—creating a sort of donation-based super-computer. The Folding@Home project is dedicated to researching protein folding and mis-folding as it relates to a number of serious human diseases like Alzheimer’s, ALS, Parkinson’s, certain cancers, and more. The more we understand about protein folding the more we’ll understand about the causes of these diseases and, potentially, the closer we are to finding cures. You can see my Folding statistics here.
For literally years now, I’ve been hoping that Folding@Home would switch to the BOINC platform. BOINC, designed and maintained by the University of California at Berkeley, isn’t a distributed computing project of its own but rather a platform upon which other projects can do their work. The cool thing about BOINC is that you can split your computing power between different distributed computing projects; you aren’t tied-in to just one of many worthy causes. Well, after a lot of patient waiting, I don’t think Folding@Home is ever coming to BOINC . . . so I switched to BOINC without them.
The two computers that I have running 24/7 at home—a home network server and a desktop—are now running BOINC when they’re not doing other things, and I’ve shut down their Folding@Home clients (since they can’t coexist peacefully without a lot of bothersome configuration). I’m splitting my time (roughly-equally) between human disease research and astronomical research. These are the projects to which I’m currently donating some of my spare computer time (and the rough percentage I’m donating). You can also see my stats (which are still very young) here.
- Einstein@Home (12.5 percent): Processes data from gravitational wave detectors to find and analyse pulsars, stars, and black holes.
- SETI@Home (25.0 percent): One of the oldest distributed computing projects; analyses data from radio telescopes in an effort to find possible signals from alien intelligence.
- Rosetta@Home (25.0 percent): Analyses proteins in an effort to understand how they relate to human diseases (similar to the Folding@Home project).
- SIMAP (12.5 percent): Another protein study project to identify similarities and relationships between different proteins.
- World Community Grid (25.0 percent): A ‘meta project’ sponsored by IBM that researches many human diseases like cancer, malaria, muscular dystrophy, AIDS, and protein diseases like Alzheimer’s. In addition, some of the time goes towards clean energy research.
Anyway, if you have a desktop computer that you leave on all/most of the time, you might want to install one of these applications. They just run in the background and you’ll never even notice them, but the time your computer isn’t doing anything else will be spent doing some good. If you have a little more time to spare, you can set up a BOINC manager and split your time among many projects like nerdy people do ;-).