Sunday, March 25, 2007

Folding at Home

The other day I set up Liz's computer in the house and realized that we have quite a few little electrical machines running in our house. I also knew that we didn't shut them down every day and were wasting some valuable electricity. So, I remembered a small article that I had read when the PS3 was gearing for launch. The article was touting the computing power of the PS3 hardware and its use in a program called Folding at Home.

Essentially, Folding at home is a program set up by Standford University to tap into the power of people's computers to create in a sense a super computer. The home user downloads a piece of software that can communicate with Stanford. We then set up some preferences to when and how much we can help. For instance, I have our computers set up to help when we are at work or not using them (its called screensaver mode). Instead of going to a traditional screensaver, we work on folding proteins that Stanford can use for research. When our computer finishes folding a protein, we send the information back and download another "work unit."

Stanford then uses this information to conduct research on diseases such as "Alzheimer's, Mad Cow (BSE), CJD, ALS, Huntington's, Parkinson's disease, and many Cancers and cancer-related syndromes."

The University has also done a good job keeping people engaged with the work. Their site has lots of info on the research as well as stats for people and teams helping in the project. The piece of software that you download also lets you keep track of the work that you've done so that you can see some progress.

I look at this program as a way to give back a little to the community at large. It is a way of volunteering that actually doesn't require much. The work is done when I'm away from my computer and every little bit that me or my team contributes will help the research of the diseases and perhaps find a cure just a little quicker.

I'm going to be creating a team in the coming weeks, so shoot me a comment if you want to be a part of it.


M said...

Son, i've been doing this now for at least 3 years. Except i say to hell with mad cow, Alzheimer's, e tc. Rather i help UC_Berkeley's #1 research program: SETI.

If we can find life on other planets then why the hell should we do our own research?! j/k

It's called SETI@home. I love it!

Christopher said...

Indeed Mario. For those that don't have E.T. leanings, here's a list of distributed computing projects.

I had no idea there were so many.

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