There are times in life when you want to make use of your resources in a way that can have a positive impact on the world. While many people donate money to their favorite cause, geeks do things a little differently. They donate CPU time.
If you’re sitting on top of some major CPU horsepower, you might consider putting some of its idle time to good use towards various distributed computing research projects that are important to you.
The following list of websites offer 10 ways that you can donate your CPU time to science.
How Distributed Computing Models Work
The idea of distributed computing is a very simple concept. Various research projects work with huge volumes of data and computations that need to be processed and analyzed using particular algorithms determined by the research goals.
In order to reduce the time it takes to process raw data, scientists have turned to the distributed computing model in which those computations are broken into components and distributed to distributed computer systems where the CPU of each system works on a computational task and then sends it back to the central server.
Choose a Distributed Computing Project That’s Important to You
After losing a family member to cancer not long ago, I’ve developed an affinity to supporting causes that seek to cure cancer. However, many readers out there may have their own important issues that they personally want to support.
The following list are some of the distributed computing projects that I personally find potentially significant and important in terms of human progress and technological advancement.
#1 – Climate Prediction
ClimatePrediction is one of a network of research projects that uses the BOINC software to process its distributed computing work. ClimatePrediction is one of the largest climate research projects online that’s attempting to accurately forecast the Earth’s climate in the future, using distributed computing. While there are many theories regarding the Earth’s climate, ClimatePrediction seeks to provide solid evidence using mathematical predictions.
As you can see, there are a long list of projects you can support (a few of which we’ll get to later), but in this case you’ll select ClimatePrediction. Once the software connects and downloads a set of files to work on, you can view progress in the BOINC manager as shown here.
Any software that offers a fascinating graphical interface like this scores highly in my book. Another bonus is the fact that you can set up the graphical climate modeling as an intriguing screensaver.
#2 – Defending Against Biological Terrorism
Another worthwhile project comes from the Drug Design and Optimization Lab, also known as D2OL. The goal of this project is to find antidotes or “drug candidates” that can counter biological agents such as Anthrax, Ebola, Smallpox or SARS.
By donating your CPU cycles to this cause, you’ll be helping to fight against such worldwide infectious diseases that can have disastrous effects in countries all across the world. This effort uses software called D2OL which runs in the background on your PC much like the BOINC software does. This software is available to download for Windows, Mac, Solaris or Linux.
Unfortunately the graphics look like something out of a Windows 95 or DOS game from the 1990′s, but the software does what it’s supposed to do, and in the end you could be a part of finding a cure for any one of the world’s most infectious diseases.
#3 – Fighting Cancer
Another network of distributing computing projects is called the World Community Grid. This network allows you to support various causes with one selection in the BOINC software, including discovering new drugs, AIDS, fighting Cancer, Human Proteome Folding, nutritious rice for the world, and clean energy.
In my case, I’ve selected “Help Conquer Cancer.” The graphics that display the status for this particular project aren’t breathtaking, but the cause is important.
#4 – Support the Advancement of Nanotechnology
One of the most promising branches of science is nanotechnology, another word for microscopic technologies that can be used for a multitude of important scientific achievements. The Spinhenge project seeks to discover magnetic molecular molecules that could be used in a multitude of technologies, with the potential to advance humanity into the future with integrated memory, magnetic switches, or biotechnology applications that are far in advance of where the state of the art is today.
This project utilizes BOINC, so adding this project is as simple as selecting it from the project list in your BOINC install.
The graphics display for this project is fun. While the cartoonish image on the left could probably stand some improvement, the rotating image in the center and status update bars actually make it feel like you really are part of important scientific research.
#5 – Advance Artificial Intelligence
Another area of computer technology that fascinates me personally is the field of artificial intelligence.
The distributed computing project called AIS, or Artificial Intelligence System, seeks to reverse engineer the brain. As outrageous as this sounds, with the distributed computing model, nothing is impossible. This project has already simulated over 565 billion neurons out of the estimated 100 billion neurons of the human brain. If you’re willing to donate some of your CPU time to the efforts of this small company, it could lead to a significant advancement in the field of artificial intelligence.
#6 – Clean Energy Technology
The Clean Energy distributed project is hosted by Harvard University and is using computational chemistry to isolate “the best molecules possible” that could lead to some of the most advance clean energy solutions in history. The project involves searching through thousands of potential systems and using complex algorithms related to chemical properties of various molecules.
If you are interested in reducing world dependency on fossil fuels, this is a great project to support. This one is part of the World Community Grid, so you can add the project to your BOINC app by selecting the project on the WCG web page.
Other Great Distributed Computing Research Projects
There are so many excellent scientific research projects to support, that it’s difficult to choose. It’s almost tempting to set up multiple computers simply to help these projects with their processing needs! Some additional noteworthy scientific projects include the following.
Einstein@home – Searches through data from the LIGO and GEO gravitational wave collectors in order to identify pulsars. What would this accomplish? You could help humanity take the next step toward understanding the force of gravity.
LHC@home – This project, originally designed as a form of grid computing by CERN’s IT Department, is now a volunteer effort where you can donate your CPU’s idle time to help particle accelerator physicists develop and analyze concepts for future accelerator technologies.
FightAIDS@home – This important project, also part of the World Community Grid, allows you to support important AIDS research that seeks to uncover the drug-resistant nature of this disease, and in doing so, hopefully allow for more powerful, effective drugs in the future.
Proteins@home – Based in France, this important biological research into protein structure prediction could help significantly advance our understanding of a number of diseases including various cancers and Alzheimer’s disease.
Do you know of any more? Let us know in the comments. Which ones do you support and participate in?
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