10 Ways Your Computer Can Help Science For Free

computer monitorI mentioned earlier that turning off your computer can save you a lot of money over the course of a year, but for some people, turning off the computer at night may not be an option. There also may be times during the day that you’ll be away from your computer for an hour or two, but not want to turn it off for that short period of time. If there are times that your computer is on when you aren’t using it, you can use your computer to help solve a number of problems scientific problems instead of letting it waste energy doing nothing at all.

All the following projects have one thing in common. They are doing research which requires an enormous amount of computing power; far more than the resources they have to accomplish the task. Instead of giving up, however, they have decided to elicit everyday computer users to help them solve the problem. While a single computer would have little effect, when millions are used together, they can produce the computing power that rivals that of the largest super computers. It is with this in mind that they request help from everyday computer users.

The last thing they want to do is disturb your normal, everyday use of the computer. Users download and install a special client program onto their computer provided at the site. After downloading the client, when your computer’s screen saver comes on, the client program will request some work from a the site’s server, does some calculations and then sends the results back to the site’s server. They only use the computing power on your computer when you aren’t using it. It’s an easy way that you can do a small part in helping with scientific problems that would be impossible to do today without the use of computers like yours. Here are 10 scientific projects that you may want to consider supporting:

  • Climate Prediction: Climate change, and our response to it, have global consequences which affect food production, water resources, ecosystems, energy demand, insurance costs along with many other issues. This study aims to forecast what climate changes will occur in the future.
  • Einstein Project: This project aims at detecting gravitational waves which are the ripples in space-time predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relativity. if they exist, they should be radiated by massive objects such as black holes. Directly detecting them would provide astronomers with a valuable new tool for observing the cosmos.
  • EON Project: One of the common problems in theoretical chemistry, condensed matter physics and materials science is the calculation of the time evolution of an atomic scale system. The events of interest in these calculations are quite rare. The Henkelman Research Group aims to calculate the long time dynamics of these systems.
  • Evolutionary Research: This project aims to understand evolution and its importance for our society. Through computing power, they test evolution models to better understand topics like the impact of man on this planet, the extinction of species, the evolution of pathogenic bacteria and the meaning of genomic sequences.
  • Large Hadron Collider (LHC): This project aims to simulate particle travel in the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) new particle accelerator, Large Hadron Collider, which is the world’s largest particle physics laboratory.
  • Leiden Classical: This project aims to let any scientist or science student use the processing power of a distributive computing system to study general classical dynamics. Unlike the other projects listed here, Leiden Classical allows its users to submit calculations needed for the project to compute (the first to do so).
  • Nano Hive: This project aims to accurately simulate nanosystems too large to be calculated via normal means, and thereby enable further scientific study in the field of nanotechnology.
  • Quantum Monte Carlo: This project aims to further develop the Quantum Monte Carlo (QMC) method for general use in Quantum Chemistry. QMC is a promising method new to Quantum Chemistry with the ability to perform massively parallel calculations which will help both Quantum Theory and Quantum Chemistry.
  • Search For Extra-Terrestrial Radio Signals: Probably the best known distributed computing system project, SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) has the goal of detecting intelligent life outside Earth. One approach to finding this is by using radio telescopes to listen for narrow-bandwidth radio signals from space. Narrow-bandwidth signals are not known to occur naturally, so if these were detected, they would provide evidence of extraterrestrial technology. This project digitally analyzes the data from radio telescope signals searching for the narrow-bandwidth radio signals.
  • uFluids: This project aims to design better satellite propellant management devices and address two-phase flow in microchannel and MEMS devices. The calculations help to determine two-phase fluid behavior in microgravity and microfluidics problems.
  • Muon1 Distributed Particle Accelerator Design: (NOTE: at the time of writing this, project is temporarily out of service for some database maintenance. The notice on the site will be removed when this is finished. It’s probably best to try another project for the next few weeks). The aim of this project is to simulate and design parts of a particle accelerator.

Saving money and getting your personal finances in order doesn’t mean that you have to stop contributing to worthwhile projects. It just means that you may have to be creative and utilize options that you may not have considered before. Since all the above projects use computing power that otherwise would be wasted, they are a simple way to help expand the world’s scientific knowledge at not cost to you. It’s not often that you can make a contribution that costs you no money, but could possibly be of great importance to all of us.

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7 Responses to 10 Ways Your Computer Can Help Science For Free

  1. Matt says:

    Here are a couple other distributed computing projects I’ve found:

    Protein Folding: http://folding.stanford.edu/

    Mersenne Prime Search:

  2. Jeff says:

    You forgot World Community Grid!:)



  3. fractalbrothers says:

    well, i’d like to point out that it really isn’t for free. Using the processor to the extent that most of these programs use it does put it to work, sucking extra wattage (sometimes pretty significantly). A dell, which is passively cooled except when the processor gets too hot, will turn the fan on when running some of these programs. That is testimony to the extra power it is consuming. Therefore – it is not really free, although they advertise it as so.
    dont get me wrong – I like these distributed processing programs.. I personally contribute to grid.org.

  4. Steven L says:

    I peronsally do not like to do this, as it takes a lot of computer power and takes me a little while to turn on and off.

    I do however sometimes run a torrent program to download items while I am not on my computer.

  5. Just to give some numbers to what Fractalbrothers are saying… See the bottom of The Caltech link. One hundred dollars a year (if the math is correct), seems fairly significant.

  6. Fern says:

    My apologies in advance for my general lack of knowledge in this area, but i would think the first thing people would think of, and which you haven’t addressed here in this article, is whether participating compromises your ID security in any way.

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