Monday, January 31, 2011

Distributed Computing Projects Looking for You!

As your mother always said, "Many hands make light work."

The same is true for science.  For really large calculation-intense problems scientists would love to just build a giant supercomputer, plug in the data, and let the computer zip along until it finds an answer. But despite recent gains in computer technology many problems would still takes months (or years!) of data crunching even with the fastest supercomputers. So instead we need many hands, or in this case, many computers, to make light work.  The technical term for all of this is "Distributed Computing".

This is one of the first big areas to utilize citizen scientists and you'll see there's a new OpenScientist Distributed Computing Projects Open for You web page devoted to these projects.  Only a few projects are listed now but it will be updated regularly as I can test run them all.  For starters, check out the projects listed below and if any of these sound interesting to you here are a few you may want to try...
  • Searching for Alien Life: SETI-@Home ( is one of the first and most popular programs available. Running for nearly 12 years, the project uses your computer to help search space-based radio signals for signs of intelligent life. See OpenScientist's SETI-at-Home blog post for more details.
  • Protein Folding: The Folding@Home project ( simulates biological proteins to discover their natural shapes and understand how those shapes are created. In many cases the incorrect folding of proteins or a small problem in it's overall shape can cause serious health problems. Most recently the team has been studying Alzheimer's and Huntington's Disease, and even show the results of all this effort on their list of 75+ peer-reviewed publications.
  • Prizes for Prime Numbers: The Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search is looking for a particular type of prime number from the formula (2 to the power P) - 1. From a technology standpoint this knowledge is useful for encryption and computer standpoint. But for everyday people it also means cash! The Electronic Frontier Foundation is offering cash prizes for discovering extremely high prime numbers, and the project team is offering users whose computer's find these numbers to share in the winnings. So downloading this project doesn't just help science but can help you win the prize as well.
  • Designing Solar Cells: The Clean Energy Project is attempting to increase the efficiency of solar cells by identifying organic molecules that best collect, store and transfer energy from the sun. By testing a massive number of potential candidates through distributed mathematical modeling scientists hope to greatly increase solar cell efficiencies and test the best ways to manufacture them.
  • Discover Gravity Waves: Gravity waves were predicted by Albert Einstein, and although many astronomers agree that violent events in space can cause gravitational "ripples", none have ever been found. Scientists expect they are finally ready to detect them and have built to gravity wave detectors (one in the U.S., one in Germany) for that purpose. Since they create a huge amount of data the project scientists have turned to distributed computing users for the massive amount of analysis needed to identify a wave.
Of course these are just a few options. But keep coming back when there will be many for you to choose from. And if you know of any we missed, or would like us to include a project you are working on, just let us know in the comments below!

Getting Started with BOINC Is Easy:
  1. Go to the BOINC web site and click on Download BOINC Software.
  2. Check that you meet the necessary system requirements and click the "Download BOINC"
  3. Once downloaded, double-click the file to install the software.  Choose a target directory for the program and follow all the prompts.
  4. Once the program is installed, click on the BOINC Manager file to start the program.  On the top of the window, click on "Tools" and click on "Attach to a Project or Account Manager" and then "Attach to a Project".
  5. Select the desired project or projects you wish to contribute to from the list provided.  If you aren't sure what each one does, check out our Distributed Computing web page to learn more and decide if you want to join.  If you are a new user, set up a new account with a Username and password.
  6. That's all there is to it!  Just let your computer run and everything will happen automatically.


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