During this Holiday Season, many of us are looking for ways to give something back. Given the state of the economy and many of our personal situations, the thought of any sort of alms might not be something we think about this year. It is in these lean times that contributing to matters larger than ourselves is of prime importance. Sometimes it doesn't take much to make a rather large impact.
In thinking along these lines, I came across the BOINC project from the University of California, Berkley. BOINC uses a concept born from SETI @ Home project. SETI collects huge amounts of radio wave data from the star systems in search of signals from intelligent extraterrestrial life. All of this data has to be evaluated to see if these signals are created naturally or artificially. With the amounts of data SETI was collecting, the amount of computing power required to analyze this data would take hundreds of years using the resources SETI had on hand.
In 1995, a clever lad by the name of David Gedye proposed getting the public involved by using the public's PC's as a virtual super-computer. Users would be able to download an analysis program that would run in the background of their PC. Crunching numbers while you went about your normal on-line business, the turnaround time for SETI's data sets would be greatly reduced.
Flash forward a few years and the folks at Berkley that helped get the SETI project off the ground created the BOINC resource. Utilizing the same principle as the SETI @ Home project, BOINC supports large calculation experiments on projects ranging from particle physics to predicting malaria transmission vectors. Each project requires more computing power than the institution running the experiment could ever finance.
I decided to give a little of my CPU's time to the Rosetta Project from the University of Washington. Rosetta's goal is to examine how different proteins fold in on each other. This doesn't sound like exciting stuff until you realize that by understanding how proteins fold, you can create new and improved proteins that can help fight diseases. AIDS, cancer, malaria, and Alzheimer's disease are at the top of Rosetta's sights to understand and combat.
So give a helping hand this Holiday season to the research project of your choice. The BOINC site lists all the projects that users can currently plug into and assist. What else is your PC doing while you're not at home? Your calculations might be the one that saves a life one day...