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Donate Spare Cycles, Cure Cancer

The World Community Grid is an organization whose mission is to create the “largest public computing grid benefiting humanity.” Similar to the well-known SETI@Home project, individuals donate their computers idle time to the project, becoming members of a worldwide computing grid. This grid effectively becomes a large system with power that surpasses that of any supercomputer. These donated spare cycles are then used to contribute to projects that benefit humanity. By splitting the work that needs to be done into small pieces, research time is reduced from years to only months.

Also, because the computing is done by the grid, the funds of the various projects can be put to better use than by paying for computational resources.

In existence since November 2004, the World Community Grid has contributed to projects like the “Genome Comparison Project” and the “Cure Muscular Dystrophy” project. Currently, the “Help Cure Cancer” project aids scientists who are studying proteins that have a functional relationship with cancer. By improving X-ray crystallography, researchers may be able to determine the structure and nature of many cancer-related proteins faster.

With today’s focus on global warming, another project – the “African Climate Change” study – is a timely effort that will serve as a basis for understanding how the climate will change in the future. With the data provided by this project, measures designed to alleviate the adverse effects of climate change can be implemented.

Other projects involve discovering Dengue drugs, Human Proteome Folding (to better understand protein function), and fighting AIDS.

To participate, you begin by filling out this online form, then you just download and install the free, secure software the organization provides. No additional steps are necessary unless you want to tweak the settings to only run as a screensaver. Computers running the agent in screensaver mode get to watch as proteins are analyzed. Each work unit displayed is a photo of a protein crystallization experiment. The grid agent performs a computer vision analysis of the image in order to interpret its contents.

There are agents for Mac, PC, and Linux available, so everyone can participate.

As of today, the organization boasts 351,227 members contributing a total of 864,291. SETI@Home, one the other hand, has 3 million plus members. Although perhaps not quite as exciting as finding a real live E.T., the World Community Grid offers the possibility of having an measurable impact in the world of science. And besides, the next time someone asks you what you’re doing while you’re idly channel surfing from your La-Z-Boy, you can answer with confidence, “I’m helping cure cancer.”

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