Real Science !
A new class of science projects make use of the power of millions of computers connected through the Internet to perform calculations beyond the realm of possibility for even the largest supercomputers. The projects operate by distributing chunks of the calculations to personal computers which then get processed during otherwise idle time which then send the result back to the servers and download another chunk to work on. If your computer is turned on, it might as well be doing something useful!
Is there life out there? This is your chance to help find out. By downloading and running this screensaver program on your Internet-connected computer you can contribute valuable computer cycles to process the mountains of data being downloaded at the radio telescope at Aricebo to locate possible extraterrestrial radio signals.
If your interests are closer to home. Like finding cures for diseases and otherwise finding out how life works, this one might be right up your alley. This project is working to determine precisely how proteins, the basis for all life, self-assemble themselves. Knowledge gained here will allow for more effective medicines and treatments so you might say "your life depends on it".
I haven't personally tried any of the projects run by this group but they have a rather large worldwide following and have done some interesting things like cracking encryption methods that were seen as effectively unbreakable. They are also working on some oddish mathematical projects (Optimal Golomb Rulers certainly seem odd to me) if your tastes lean that way.
Another project I haven't tried yet is called GIMPS (Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search). If you know mathematics then you already know what this means but if you want an explanation you should try their site rather than struggling with any clumsy words I might offer. This project has already made mathematical history by discovering the 39th Mersenne prime in 2001 and the 40th in November of 2003. They have definitely made their mark.
This project is a big one. No way around it, trying to do large scale climate
modeling on personal computers is totally new and unprecedented. Formerly a task which could only be handled by the largest
supercomputers it is now a project of (mostly) Oxford and Open University in the UK. On September 12th, 2003, the first day it
went "live", I switched over to this project on a trial basis, just to get a feel for it.
Woohoo! After running the CPDN project software pretty much 24X7 on all my networked computers since its official starting date of 2003-9-12 I broke into the vaunted "top 200" category on 2004-5-10. Rather amazing considering the motley collection of computers I've got.
And Woohoo again! I reached the even more vaunted "top 100" on 2005-1-8 still running the same motley collection of computers. I guess this goes to show being stubborn and persistent will sometimes bring success despite the odds.
Well, it had to happen eventually. Around the beginning of 2007 I had a falling out with this group over how they were handling some of their original participants during a transition. This really shouldn't affect anyone starting afresh so don't let my final bad experience influence you. The work they are doing is still worthwhile.
My Current ProjectWorld Community Grid is another huge project. In fact it is several huge projects rolled into one. Mostly health and biological research, it aims to do no less than to find cures for serious diseases. Users are given a choice of which projects their computers should support and the system distributes work accordingly. And, surprisingly, their project requires almost no interaction and burdens computers relatively lightly.
I've switched my main computers over to this project. Because of the excess heat generated by the heavy-duty number crunching which keeps every thread of the CPUs running at 100% I only run all six (yeah, that many) of the computers in the winter when the extra heat actually helps keep the house warm. In the Summer while the air conditioning is on I only run four computers to keep the cooling costs down a bit. Crazy, I know but I never claimed sanity as a defense.
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