10 Ways To Donate Your CPU Time To Science

Ryan Dube 01-03-2009

donate cpu timeThere 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.

If you’re interested in taking part in this project, the first step is to install BOINC, and configure it to connect to ClimatePrediction’s servers.

donate cpu cycles


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.

donate cpu power

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.

10 Ways To Donate Your CPU Time To Science drug model41

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.

donate cpu power

#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.

10 Ways To Donate Your CPU Time To Science spinghenge6

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.

10 Ways To Donate Your CPU Time To Science worldsource7

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?

Related topics: Charity, CPU, Geeky Science.

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  1. Fredrik
    March 25, 2015 at 6:38 pm

    I know it's a few years down the road, but maybe you'd be interested in Unoceros, using smartphone CPUs when they are charging. The phone owner installs an app and earns credits that can be redeemed for rewards, in this early phase Amazon gift cards, for the time the CPU is available. Then they will have an interface where researchers can upload their data and what they want to do with it and let Unoceros crunch it. Disclaimer: I met these guys at StartupHouse in San Francisco when they were launching @launch and really like the idea.


  2. jennifer
    January 29, 2010 at 3:21 am

    I don't play my PS3 much, but I usually leave it on Folding@Home.

  3. Techie
    January 3, 2010 at 8:48 am

    I'll do #2. I didn't know about it because I just check over Boinc's project page sometimes and I didn't find it there.

  4. Klaatu
    March 3, 2009 at 3:00 pm

    Good thing SETI's not in here. My entrance will be just a bit more surprising...

  5. Ryan Dube
    March 3, 2009 at 7:16 am

    NeilP - great question. Yes, it seems almost all of them have had results. If you visit each of the individual websites, you'll find a "results" section where they publish findings (in some cases they've even offered results to conferences and other publications).

    For example ClimatePrediction.Net has a results page where the produced climate prediction maps are published. In one case they wrote: "his means that the amount of sulphate in the atmosphere is related to the amount of SO2 emissions, but also to the availability of these other molecules, the number of cloud droplets in the air etc."

    It's actually pretty interesting to go through these websites and read through the results of the processing tasks.

  6. Streakfury
    March 3, 2009 at 6:11 am

    I'm also a participant in the Folding@Home project, and I have to say that I'm quite impressed.

    What impresses me about that particular project is that they've developed multiple clients for different platforms. The version of the client that I use is actually designed to use the GPU on my graphics card, rather than the CPU. Anyone with an 8000 or 9000 series nVidia card (I've got an 8800GT) can use that particular client as the cards are designed for projects such as these.

    I like to know that the money I've forked out for my hardware can be put to good use!

  7. NeilP
    March 3, 2009 at 4:34 am

    Given that this kind of thing has been going on for the best part of 15 years, are there any stories out there of important discoveries that have been made, or advancements that were only possible through the use of these distributed computing frameworks?

  8. Zeb
    March 2, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    No mention of Folding@home?
    Thought it was the most popular one, it even has a PS3 App.

    • Vashnik
      March 3, 2009 at 2:34 am

      The PS3 version was renamed to "Life with PlayStation" recently, but still part of Folding@Home (FAH). I too would have thought that Folding@Home would have been mentioned. It was the first one I've heard of and contributed my PS3 power to.

    • Angel
      April 22, 2009 at 5:32 pm

      Folding@home doesn't have a GUI, I would use it but I use my computer every day so I need something I can easily turn on and off.

  9. Michael kaplan
    March 1, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    I think should be mentioned. It helps astronomers map the universe.

  10. Ryan Dube
    March 1, 2009 at 10:58 am

    Hi John - you're right, SETI is almost a "given," as they really started the entire distributed computing model with their search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Other projects have followed their lead - SETI does deserve an honorable mention! Thanks for your comment.

    • Andy
      March 3, 2009 at 1:25 am

      Don't understand the following from item #5. I quote, "This project has already simulated over 565 billion neurons out of the estimated 100 billion neurons of the human brain."

      • Ryan Dube
        March 3, 2009 at 7:21 am

        Hi Andy - the following is from their web page and it describes what it means to "simulate a neuron."

        "The neural network simulator is an application that simulates neurons. Each downloaded work unit generates 500,000 biophysical neurons. Because the simulator is in an initial phase and we have very few cellular models implemented, we can only use it to test for simulations capacity. We have completed the first phase of the project, to simulate over 100 billion neurons. The second largest brain simulation has been done on a cluster of 27 machines, with 100 billion neurons simulated over a period of 50 days. While it was a very interesting experiment which pushed the frontier further on it was a partial simulation only, in the sense that many of the required components were not implemented due to hardware constraints."

  11. Ryan Dube
    March 1, 2009 at 10:54 am

    Mark, I just took a look at Electric Sheep...very cool "evolving" screen saver project. I like that. I probably wouldn't personally classify it as a project to advance science - but the "coolness" factor of Electric Sheep is certainly higher than most others!

  12. Spark
    March 1, 2009 at 3:49 pm

    Great to see people still talking about volunteer computing.

    Ryan and everyone else I recommend you take a look at GridRepublic which is a nonprofit working in collaboration with BOINC to make it easy for the mainstream to get started with volunteer computing. They bring together the BOINC projects into one site where it is easy to join, discover, and control multiple projects and computers all from a single login.

  13. John Pierce
    March 1, 2009 at 10:46 am

    I'm surprised you didn't mention SETI

  14. mark
    March 1, 2009 at 10:36 am

    you forgot electric sheep!