Have you ever wanted to help out in a field of scientific interest? Perhaps the desire is there, but you lack the University degrees in order to go into a career for it. If so, you may be interested to learn that you can donate your computer’s processing power to help crunch scientific data in order to help piece together information that scientists can then use.
The idea is that a specific scientific venture has to collect a vast amount of data to further their field. In order to make something useful of this data, they need computing power to churn over the digits and create information from it. The problem is the data is so vast, they’re not able to get through it in a day, a week, even months using their own computers. What they need are people to take up arms and help crunch data alongside them. That’s where you come in, by entering your PC into a pool of volunteers in a process known as “volunteer distributed computing.”
When you join a distributed computing project, you’re given a chunk of data to work with. Don’t worry about having to actually do work; the project will give your computer some data and instructions on what to do, so you can leave it to process the data on its own. The appeal to these projects is that it can make use of idle processing power. If you’re doing low-intensity activities or leaving your PC idle for a notable amount of time, these projects “fill the gap” by using that spare power to process data.
Now that you know about distributed computing, let’s take a look at a few examples. A word of warning, however: these projects can be system intensive if you allow them to be. People sometimes use these projects to test the stability and max temperature of their hardware. Make sure these programs aren’t taxing your system into high temperatures or else it might end up not being able to do any work!
Folding@home is probably one of the more famous examples on this list. The project specialises in studying how proteins assemble themselves or “fold.” The real key to the study, however, is when proteins don’t quite fold. Proteins failing to fold correctly can cause major problems, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. By analysing protein folding, scientists can analyse what goes wrong and develop medicine to solve it.
By entering your computer into the pool for Folding@home, it will be used to analyse protein folding to help scientists crack the protein folding mystery. You can even enter teams of like-minded enthusiasts and collectively earn research credit for the work done. Folding@home comes with three intensity levels, so you can turn it down should it prove to be too troublesome.
SETI@home works on a simple premise that if humans use radio waves to communicate with one another, there’s a chance that aliens do as well. If aliens are using radio waves, then it’s possible that some of those waves would pass by Earth as they’re transmitted into space. SETI@home’s goal is to monitor the radio waves that surround us, then analyse them to try to find any transmissions among the noise that may have been sent by beings from another planet.
Whether or not you’re an avid believer of extraterrestrial life, SETI is a pretty interesting project to help. Essentially, you’ll be helping hunt for evidence that there is, in fact, life out there. If you’re a keen alien fan who looks out for UFOs in the night sky, this might be for you!
Going from alien worlds back to our own, ClimatePrediction.net is trying to tackle the problem of predicting the state of the Earth’s climate. Given the change in the climate, it’s vital to accurately predict what the ramifications are of global warming, what might happen, and what we have to do in order to tackle the worst it has to offer. This includes a lot of data that needs to be processed so it can be presented in a way we can read and use. By entering your computer into ClimatePrediction, your PC will be doing its part in piecing together what our climate’s future may look like.
If you’re an avid stargazer, you can probably find a new home at Asteroids@home. Astronomers from around the world have gathered data analysing asteroids around our solar system but need some help in processing it. By using this data your computer can help uncover the shape and makeup of a specific asteroid. Asteroids@home claims that all this data collection is key to understanding how the solar system started and evolved.
If you want to see the results that Asteroids@home has achieved, you can do so over on their results page.
DreamLab is an interesting example. While the above examples focus on computers, DreamLab focuses specifically on mobile devices. Given how we leave our phones and tablets idle for long periods of time, DreamLab’s goal is to turn that spare time into processing power to help solve cancer. When you boot up the app, you can select specifically what kinds of cancer you want to donate your processing power to. Once done, DreamLab will use your device’s idle time to begin working its way through the data given to it. The idea behind this project is that you can leave your device plugged in overnight, and DreamLab will mull over the data as you sleep – hence the name “DreamLab”.
6. Eve Online’s Project Discovery
A little different from the rest of the group, but still worthy of a mention! If you don’t like the idea of passively crunching data and fancy something hands-on, you can try Project Discovery instead. It’s a mini game built within the spaceship MMO game “Eve Online”, where players can actively analyse and point out patterns in protein structure to earn themselves in-game rewards.
While the quest-givers and rewards are fictional, the studies are anything but! Once done, your result is sent to other players to verify that it’s legitimate. Once that’s done, the data you supplied is sent to the Human Protein Atlas to help protein studies. It’s a lot more fun than leaving your computer to do all the work for you!
Lending a Hand
Scientists need the help of computers from around the world to help them in their field of study. If you leave your machine idle and have a particular interest in said fields, you can help out in going through their data and making use of your idle processor at the same time.
While we listed quite a few examples in this article, it’s by no means an exhaustive one. Does a scientific cause you support have their own computing project people can join? Is one of the above examples your personal favourite? Let us know in the comments.