I remember hearing about the SETI@Home project several years ago and thinking it was an incredible concept. Today I was reminded of this project by an article titled, “14 Best Ways to Use Your Computer’s Spare Time”Discover magazine which arrived in my reader this afternoon. One of the original goals of the SETI project was to prove the effectiveness of the ‘distributed grid computing’ concept. Given the wide variety of projects available, it seems like this proves to be an ideal solution when supercomputers just aren’t practical.
Here are a few of my favorites from the article:
What it is: This program looks at ways proteins go awry by running? simulations of how the molecules are supposed to fold. Researchers hope to shed light on diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
How it works: Folding@Home simulates protein folding and its consequences. This group has the most published papers of any distributed-computing project.
Our take: Join the Fold.
What it is: Roughly $2 billion is spent each year on modeling the impact of global warming. This project attempts to vet the varying predictions.
How it works: The program sifts through thousands of climate models provided by researchers, tossing out the nonsense models as it crunches.
Our take: More than 45 teraflops of data is no joke. Finally, software worthy of your computer’s footprint.
What it is: When the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) switches on this year, it will be the most powerful particle accelerator ever built—protons will zip around its 27-kilomter-long tunnel and smash into one another with an energy of 14 teraelectron volts (that is, rather a lot).
How it works: A program called SixTrack simulates high-energy particles traveling around the LHC to study the long-term stability of their orbits. Users can organize into teams and compete for top ranking. Our take: You may not be able to find all your old Word documents, but you might be able to help find the Higgs.
What it is: If Darwin returned as an artist with a knack for computer science, he might be Scott “Spot” Draves, creator of Electric Sheep, a collective of computers that renders artwork. Animations, or “sheep,” evolve into high-definition abstract paintings, spawning off in random mutations. But it’s more science than you’d expect. “I want people to see the power of evolution,” Draves says. “I’d like people to accept evolution and randomness as the ultimate creative force in our universe.”
How it works: The program creates sheep whose color, shape, and motion are specified by a “genetic code.” If a user sees a sheep he likes, she may vote for it. Sheep that receive more votes live longer and are more likely to reproduce.
Our take: Must scientists get all the distributed-computing love? Perhaps not.
Folding@home is especially cool because the folding client runs on the PS3, allowing gamers to participate and make valuable contributions. Last September, the Folding@home broke the petaFLOPS barrier, making it the most powerful distributed computing network around.
Also check out the Wikipedia’s list of distributed computing projects.