The same is true for science. When it comes to developing new ideas or testing new theories we often rely on the concerted efforts of individuals to collect data or analyze information. The more data points collected the better the data set becomes, and the more analysts we have the more (and quicker) we can make sense of the information presented. This is a big part of the citizen science ideal with everyday people chipping in to help full-time scientists with their research.
The same idea works for computers. For really large problems a scientist could 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". In the projects listed below, you can volunteer your computer to join a network of many other computers taking part in huge number-crunching efforts. Although each part of the network only works on a small part of the problem the project collects all the pieces and puts them all together.
Since the benefit of distributed computing lies in solving hugely complex problems, many of the projects deal with such issues as climate change (modeling the entire earth), astronomy (searching vast arrays of stars) or chemistry (understanding how every molecule is designed and how they all interact with each other). So if any of these sound interesting to you here are a few you may want to try...
- Search 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.
- Spot Incoming Asteroids: Orbit@Home is developing statistical models to identify the best places to identify near-Earth asteroids and most accurately determine their likelihood of hitting our planet. The program does not look at individual asteroids but finds the best way to use valuable telescope time.
- 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 http://einstein.phys.uwm.edu/einsteinathome/index.html project scientists have turned to distributed computing users for the massive amount of analysis needed to identify a wave.
- Model our Galaxy's Formation: The MilkyWay@Home project is trying to understand how our Galaxy was formed and whether it collided with smaller galaxies in the past. To test this theory, researchers are modeling the Sagittarius galaxy (a nearby companion galaxy to ours) to identify the path it may have taken through our galaxy and whether it would look the same way it does today after such a collision. Click on our BOINC blog post for easy directions on getting started.
- Model our Universe's Formation: The Cosmology@Home project is trying to understand the conditions present when the universe began and simulate it's development over billions of years. Researchers will then compare the resulting value of certain physical values (such as the cosmic microwave background, rate of expansion, distribution of galaxies, etc.) against their current known values. Click on our BOINC blog post for easy directions on getting started.
- Improve Solar Cells: The Clean Energy Project first attempted 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 hoped to greatly increase solar cell efficiencies and test the best ways to manufacture them. Now that many candidates have been discovered Phase II is further narrowing the candidate pool by performing detailed calculations at the quantum mechanical level.
- Form Better Crystals to Build Better Cancer Drugs: To better understand proteins involved in cancer formation and growth scientists first need to isolate and crystallize them as a way to understand their shape. Crystallizing is the tricky part and requires millions of attempts (by robots) to find just the right conditions to cause crystallization. The Help Conquer Cancer project analyzes images of each cystallization attempt to determine how well each worked and decide the best way to improve the process.
- Help Fight Disease with Clean Water: Creating a high-technology but ultra-cheap method for cleaning dirty water requires careful understanding of how water flows through the filter. The Computing for Clean Water project examines the molecular dynamics of water flowing through nanotubes, thought to be one of the more promising ways to a highly-effective, cost-efficient water filtration system of the future. - Successfully Completed!!
- Turn Genes On and Off: The DNA@Home is trying to better understand gene regulation and transcription, or how cells turn on and off their genes. Using home computers to collectively examine the genome of a small bacteria, researchers hope to figure out what sets of DNA base pairs control transcription. Once we understand transcription it becomes easier to turn on beneficial genes and turn off those that cause deadly diseases.
- Investigate How Genes Become Proteins: RNAWorld
- Advance our Knowledge of 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.
- Rosetta@Home is a similar project that derives the three-dimensional structure of proteins from their basic amino acid sequence.The team has primarily studied proteins involved with malaria, anthrax, and HIV, as well as other disease-specific proteins.
- The Human Proteome Folding project's first phase successfully characterized the basic structure of a number of both natural human proteins as well as some (dangerous) pathogen proteins. The second phase now aims to understand them in even greater detail and better understand how the protein actually functions.
- POEM@Home, or Protein Optimization with Energy Method, is a protein-folding project taking advantage of networked computers to run these computationally-intense tasks. The difference for POEM is the use of some novel new approaches that provide quicker results and allow researchers to investigate the characteristics of each protein shape.
- Help Fight AIDS: FightAIDS@Home aims to stop the AIDS virus from maturing inside infected cells by searching for drugs that perfectly cling to and de-activate part of the AIDS virus called HIV Protease.
- Help Fight Childhood Cancer: This self-titled project (literally called Help Fight Childhood Cancer) asks your help with testing over 3 million potential drugs that can bind and block three specific proteins involved in neuroblastoma, one of the more common types of childhood cancer.
- Help Fight Muscular Dystrophy: Another self-titled project, the Help Fight Muscular Dystrophy initiative first aimed to understand how 168 different human proteins interact with each other and their biological environment. With that complete the project is looking to understand interactions for 2200 more proteins. Many of these are associated with Muscular Dystrophy and other neuromuscular diseases, so understanding these proteins is vital to understanding the disease. - Successfully Completed!!
- Combat Tropical Diseases:
- The Drug Search for Leishmaniasis project is looking for a cure to a tropical disease that infects over two million people in 97 countries each year. Although there are treatments to this often-neglected disease, they aren't completely effective and can cause many negative side effects. This project will use participant computers to comb through a vast library of potential drug compounds to find just the perfect one to treat the disease.
- The first phase of the Discovering Dengue Drugs - Together project aimed to understand how 168 different human proteins interact with each other and their biological environment. With that complete the project is looking to understand interactions for 2200 more proteins. Many of these are associated with Muscular Dystrophy and other neuromuscular diseases, so understanding these proteins is vital to understanding the disease.
- Predict Weather 100 Years from Now: ClimatePrediction.net wants to improve climate models that project up to 100 years in the future by better understanding how small changes in assumptions can impact the forecasts. By tweaking these assumptions ever so slightly, the program runs a global climate simulation and analyzes the final results in comparison to simulations run by thousands of other useres. This is important to better understanding global warming and quanitfying the amount of error in current models.
- 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.
- Simulate Particle Accelerator Designs: Muon1 is trying to design better particle accelerators by simulating how particles would actually flow in various configurations. In this case, the project is experimenting with the pion-to-muon decay channel, adding different components (such as a muon "cooling ring") in successive versions. Don't worry if this is a little over your head...suffice it to say this is an important problem for physicists to understand. To get started, visit the Muon1 project site and click on the downloadable zip file of the software appropriate to your computer. Save it in its own folder and open the "muon1.exe" file. The program may then need to extract additional files before running (click on "extract" if requested) and then run "Muon1.exe" again to run the full program. That's all there is to it. If you want to play around a bit more, view the "readme.txt" file for directions on making it your standard screensaver or running it continuously in the background.
- Stabilize Nanaotchnology: Magnetism@Home hopes to understand the magnetic properties of nano-scale compounds. These effects are not normally seen for macro-scale technology but are vitally important at the molecular and sub-atomic levels. Click on our BOINC blog post for easy directions on getting started.
- Roll the Dice on Quantum Mechanics: Quantum Monte Carlo is trying to better understand the solutions to certain problems in quantum mechanics. Current solutions only describe the simplest of situations so distributed computing is the next hope for moving the field forward. This project differs from others by using a Monte Carlo simulation heavily reliant on random numbers (thus the dice analogy). Click on our BOINC blog post for easy directions on getting started.
- Dabble in Many Projects: The Lattice Project is not just a single project but a method for allowing multiple projects to all share the power of distributed computing networks. In a nutshell, researchers can add their projects to the Lattice, and the system will distribute the work for all those projects to the networked projects. This benefits smaller projects that may not want to create their own, free-standing applications but want to take advantage of existing networks instead.
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!
Finally, here's a few ways to get started:
Getting Started with BOINC Is Easy:
- Go to the BOINC web site and click on Download BOINC Software.
- Check that you meet the necessary system requirements and click the "Download BOINC"
- Once downloaded, double-click the file to install the software. Choose a target directory for the program and follow all the prompts.
- 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".
- 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.
- That's all there is to it! Just let your computer run and everything will happen automatically.
Getting Started with the World Community Grid is Easy:
- Review the sites above to find the projects of most interest to you.
- Visit http://www.worldcommunitygrid.org/ and click the "Join Today" button. All you need is a username, e-mail, and password to sign up.
- Download the project software on the Download web page and allow it to install on your computer.
- Launch the program, sign in with your username and password.
- Click on "New Project" and attach yourself to the projects that most interest you. You can also sign onto the World Community Grid: My Projects page to control which projects to work on.
- That's all there is to it! Just let your computer run and everything will happen automatically.