In previous postings, I’ve encouraged my readers to participate in any number of “Citizen Science” research projects by using their personal computers to help advance scientific knowledge. In this article I will present another relatively unknown opportunity for computer users to “make a small difference” in any number of projects targeted at some of the major problems facing the world community. Allow me to introduce you to the World Community Grid .
The World Community Grid is the “working side” of a philanthropy sponsored by business giant IBM . Unlike the web sites featured in my previous postings, which require that you visit a specific web site, “the Grid” is based on a concept known as distributed computing . If you aren’t familiar with distributed computing, read on.
Simply stated, distributed computing involves taking a project that requires a large amount of computer time and breaking it into smaller “chunks” which are then passed on to individual computers over an interconnected network, or “grid.” Once a computer processes the specific data chunk it was given, the processed data is returned to its original source and another chunk is retrieved for analysis. As far as you are concerned, the “beauty” of distributed computing is that the data processing occurs when your computer is on but only when your machine is not in use. Restated, the data analysis takes place when your computer is on but you are away doing something else!
The “grandfather” of distributed computing is the SETI@home (Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) project, which began in 1999. Since that time, there have been dozens of distributed projects that are currently taking place and many more that have been completed. For a relatively complete list of these projects, visit the Wikipedia entry for distributed computing projects .
As of this writing, World Community Grid projects include:
Help Conquer Cancer
This project is devoted to research in a field known as x-ray crystallography , which helps researchers understand the unique 3-dimensional structure of complex proteins that may be present in cancerous and precancerous growths. Once this structure is determined, computer models can be constructed that will help identify potential drugs that may combat cancer.
Help Fight Childhood Cancer
Based at the Chiba (Japan) University ‘s Cancer Center Research Institute, this affiliate of the World Community grid is investigating how different drugs could be used to treat neuroblastoma , one of the most common cancers of childhood.
Help Cure Muscular Dystrophy
Muscular Dystrophy (MD) is the term used to describe at least 30 distinct clinical syndromes that arise from an inherited genetic abnormality which causes the production of abnormal copies of proteins that are essential for normal function of the body’s nervous system. Although most people are aware of the childhood forms of MD, some forms of this condition do not appear until adulthood
See a companion project, Decrypton , for additional information on the use of computer investigations into the neuropathology of Muscular Dystrophy.
The Clean Energy Project
The Clean Energy Project uses distributed computing to evaluate different combinations of molecules to learn which combinations would be the best, and cheapest to produce, when it comes to production of electricity from solar power cells.
Computing for Clean Water
Computing for Clean water is the newest member of the World Community Grid. This project, from Tsinghua University ‘s Center for Nano and Micromechanics in Beijing (China), is investigating the potential uses of carbon nanotechnology in the production of clean water for human consumption and in agricultural production.
You can support the efforts of the World Community Grid project by following these simple steps:
1. Go to the World Community Grid homepage (http://www.worldcommunitygrid.org/index.jsp)
2. Click the “Join” link, which will take you to the sign-up page .
3. Once you have completed the sign-up form, you will be directed to a page which will guide you through the download and installation of the necessary software. Follow the simple instructions and, before you know it, you’re ready to make a difference in some very big problems facing our world!
Can it get any simpler that that?
Thanks for taking the time to investigate the World Community Grid, and I hope you will sign up for this worthy project.