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Content about volunteer computing

August 25, 2010

Opinion - Scientists, meet the citizens

Screenshot from the Foldit online game for protein folding. Image courtesy Foldit

François Grey is the coordinator of the Citizen Cyberscience Center.
In a week’s time, an unusual meeting of minds will occur in London.
Billed as a Citizen Cyberscience Summit, it will bring together scientists from a range of distributed, volunteer computing and volunteer thinking projects, to mingle with some of the volunteers who participate in these online projects.
The upshot of the event, hosted by King’s College London on 2-3 September, should be a stimulating dialogue about how to make citizen cyberscience even more compelling for the public and even more useful to science.
The timing of the event could not be better. August saw a bumper crop of major scientific results from online science projects involving public participation. An article in Nature described progress made in protein folding using an online multiplayer game called

August 11, 2010


Link of the Week - A new twist on summer camp: computing classes in the wild

Image courtesy Carlos Jaime-Barrios Hernandez

We’ve all heard of summer camp.But SuperComputing Camp (or SSCAMP, as it is known by its acronym in Spanish) is a little different.
Starting on the 15th of August, 46 undergraduates and masters students will learn about high performance computing, grid computing, volunteer computing and cloud computing — while staying in a hacienda near Panachi National Wildlife Park, just outside the small town of Piedecuesta, Colombia.The organizer, Carlos Jaime-Barrios Hernandez, says the idea is for students to learn in a natural environment, where they can explore and enjoy the great outdoors while having access to fully up-to-date facilities, including digital resources, projectors and live-video feeds to keynote speeches and online lectures. They will remotely connect to the grid infrastructure via the web. Hernandez — a research scient

July 28, 2010

Announcement - Citizen CyberScience Summit, 2-3 September, London

Photo courtesy telegram sam, stock.exchng

Register now, to participate in the Citizen Cyberscience Summit, which will occur in London, England, on 2-3 September.
This a chance for scientists and citizens to learn about the latest breakthroughs in citizen cyberscience. It will be an opportunity to brainstorm about how new technologies can enhance citizen cyberscience. A goal of the summit is to draft a citizen cyberscience manifesto, involving all the stakeholders in the field.Who should come?
• Scientists, aspiring and established, amateur and professional, online or in the field.
• Citizens who care about the impact of science on society, and of society on science.Who is speaking?
Confirmed speakers include:
• David Anderson, director of the SETI@home project, Space Sciences Laboratory, UC Berkeley.
• George Dyson, historian and philosopher of science and author of Darwin Among The Machines.

July 7, 2010

Feature - Volunteer computing helps rescue oiled Gulf Coast wildlife

Map indicating position fo Deepwater Horizon oil spill as of June 8, and globally important bird areas considered most at risk. Image courtesy American Bird Conservancy. Click on image to enlarge.

iPhone users who come upon oiled birds and other wildlife in the Gulf Coast region can immediately transmit the location and a photo to animal rescue networks using a free new iPhone application called MoGO (Mobile Gulf Observatory). It was developed by four University of Massachusetts-Amherst researchers to make it easier for the public to help save wildlife exposed to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. With support from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the UMass-Amherst researchers hope the MoGO app will draw on the large network of “citizen scientists” who are as heartbroken as they are to witness the disaster for marine life, and who are actively looking for ways to help save wildlife along

June 23, 2010

Feature - Cancer researchers speed crystallography

Scientists have trained a system to recognize the formation of 3-D protein crystals, automating a time-intensive, manual process necessary for scrutinizing the structure of cancer-related proteins.
Image courtesy of IBM and the World Community Grid.

Using the World Community Grid, scientists at the Help Conquer Cancer Project have found a way to automate and speed up protein crystallography, according to a recent paper in the Journal of Structural and Functional Genomics.
X-ray crystallography is the process of using x-rays to map the structure of crystals. Although biological molecules such as proteins and DNA are not normally crystalline in form, they can be prompted to form crystals through exposure to the right chemical compounds. Once crystallized, the scientists can use x-rays to map the protein; knowing the structure of a protein is invaluable to scientists who are trying to understand how a protein interacts with the human

March 3, 2010

Opinion - Volunteering for a better world: harnessing technology and willing citizens

Firefly in the daytime. Image courtesy Museum of Science, Boston.

By using the strengths of distributed computing technologies, both specialized researchers and citizens have the opportunity to participate in a new way of doing science.
We live in a time when nearly all information is available to nearly all people everywhere.
We are entering an age where all types of people can also contribute to many types of information. A school bus driver in rural Romania may be part of a biomedical research project. Or a banker in Los Angeles might moonlight as a collaborator in an astronomy project – classifying galaxies in her spare time.
This new movement in science, called “citizen science,” allows non-specialist volunteers to participate in global research. The projects are as diverse as backyard insect counts (the Firefly citizen science project), studies of how malaria develops and

February 24, 2010

Feature: Virtualization - Key for LHC physics volunteer computing

BOINC is versatile enough that even mobile phones can do volunteer computing. Image courtesy BOINC

In 2006, the team that built LHC@home was given a challenge by Wolfgang von Rueden, then IT Division Leader at CERN: look at the use of the volunteer computing project BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing)  for simulating events of interest in the Large Hadron Collider. It presented a demanding problem.
The software environments used by the experiments such as ATLAS, ALICE, CMS and LHCb are very large.
Furthermore, all LHC physics software development is done under Scientific Linux, whereas most volunteer PCs run under Windows. Porting the large and rapidly changing software is not practical, so another approach was needed.
The solution?
Marrying volunteer computing with the CernVM virtual image management system under development. It would enable the practical use of thousands of volunteer P

December 9, 2009

Feature - Observing oceans online Overview map of the NEPTUNE Canada observatory off the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The network, which extends across the Juan de Fuca plate, will gather live data from a rich constellation of instruments deployed in a broad spectrum of undersea environments. This system will provide free Internet access to an immense wealth of data, both live and archived throughout the life of this planned 25-year project. Image courtesy NEPTUNE Canada. Although the Earth is mostly water, scientists know relatively little about the ocean floor. But with the creation of ocean observatories such as NEPTUNE Canada, all that could change. Until recently, scientists had to use cruise ships, satellites, and temporary probes to study the world’s oceans. This allowed them to take occasional snapshots of the ocean for later study. Ocean observatories are made up of more permanent installations of instruments directly on the ocean floor, along the co

September 2, 2009

Feature – Superlinks to identify genetic culprits

A graphic map of a particularly complex family tree. The squares represent males, while the circles represent females. Individuals affected by a genetic mutation are represented with red squares or circles. Yellow lines indicate a marriage between relatives. Image courtesy of Kwanghyuk (Danny) Lee, Baylor College of Medicine.

Once scientists know which mutation causes a disease, they can apply that knowledge in their search for a cure. Likewise, doctors can recommend lifestyle changes that will alter the course of the disease. But the computer analysis used to identify these mutations would take years to complete on a single computer.
Superlink-online, a distributed system developed at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, helps researchers perform their analyses in a matter of days by distributing the computations over thousands of computers worldwide. Geneticists submit their data through the web portal with a single click

August 12, 2009

Feature - BOINC gets social with Facebook

A screen shot of Progress Thru Processors.

For the first time, Facebook users are signing on to volunteer grid computing, thanks to a new application called Progress thru Processors.
“For all the promise of volunteer computing, the problem is that no one’s ever heard of it,” said Matt Blumberg, executive director of Grid Republic, “and that’s a big deal for a technology where the utility of the thing is a function of the number of people who participate.”
Progress thru Processors could change all that. The project was developed jointly by Intel, Grid Republic, and the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing. BOINC, which was originally created at University of California at Berkeley to assist in analyzing data in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), is the platform on which Grid Republic’s software is based. Progress thru Processors is an adaptation of Grid Republic’s so

July 22, 2009


Announcement - IBM receives award for World Community Grid

Earlier this month, IBM received the Coffey International Award for its contributions to the World Community Grid. The award recognizes corporate programmes that have had a positive impact on at least one of the United Nations’ Millenium Development Goals.
“The scale, significance, power and potential of World Community Grid is impressive,” said Charles Duff, Chair of judges. “IBM has collaborated with a wide spectrum of research partners and encouraged businesses, community groups and individuals to provide free computational capacity to support international humanitarian projects.”
WCG gains its power from the aggregated spare computing capacity of 1.3 million personal computers belonging to 460,000 volunteers from over 200 countries. “The judges salute IBM’s programme and hope that the recognition conferred by this award will encourage individuals everywhere to join with IBM so th

July 15, 2009

Feature - Conserving bio-diversity at Peru’s CIP

A few of the many varieties of potatoes. CIP maintains the world’s largest genetic bank of potatoes, including 1500 samples of 100 wild species collected in eight Latin American countries, as well as samples of 3800 traditional Andean cultivated potatoes. The collection is maintained under the auspices of the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization, and is available to plant breeders worldwide free upon request. (Click to enlarge.) Image courtesy International Potato Center

What do the objects at right have in common?
They’re all potatoes.
And their continuing variety will be partly because of the grid.The International Potato Center (known by its Spanish acronym, CIP) seeks to ensure the genetic diversity of this staple food crop. The organization also seeks to reduce poverty and achieve food security on a sustained basis in developing countries through scientific research and related activities —

June 24, 2009

Opinion - The age of citizen cyberspace

Using LHC@home, particle beam dynamics can be studied with volunteer computing. Image courtesy CERN

(François Grey, one of the key people behind the founding of the present-day iSGTW and a frequent contributor to these pages, argues that with volunteer computing, we are about to embark upon a new era of “citizen science.”)
I first met Rytis Slatkevicius in 2006, when he was 18. At the time, he had assembled the world’s largest database of prime numbers — those which are only divisible by themselves and one.
He had done this by harnessing the spare processing power of computers belonging to thousands of prime-number enthusiasts, using the internet. 
Today, Rytis is a mild-mannered MBA student by day and an avid prime-number sleuth by night. His project, called PrimeGrid, is tackling a host of numerical challenges, such as finding the longest arithmetic progression of prime numbers (the current record is 25). P

May 27, 2009

Feature - Volunteer computing against childhood cancer

Image courtesy of WCG.

Researchers from the Chiba Cancer Center Research Institute and Chiba University in Japan are launching a new World Community Grid project with IBM to discover a drug treatment for neuroblastoma, the most common cause of death in children with solid tumors. Help Fight Childhood Cancer, as the project is known, uses idle computational power from volunteers’ home and office computers to identify promising drug candidates.Most physicians believe that neuroblastoma is caused by accidental cell growth that occurs during normal development of the sympathetic ganglia and adrenal glands. This condition occurs most often the first two years of life, and poses a high risk for disease relapse with survival rates under 40 percent.The new Help Fight Childhood Cancer project uses volunteered computational power to identify which of the three million potential drug candidates prohibit growth of three proteins, TrkB, AL

May 20, 2009

Link of the week - IBM and WCG quickly launch influenza treatment project

The 1918 Spanish flu epidemic was caused by an influenza A (H1N1) virus (shown above), killing more than 500,000 people in the United States, and up to 50 million worldwide. The possible source was a newly emerged virus from a swine or an avian host of a mutated H1N1 virus. Many people died within the first few days after infection, and others died of complications later. Nearly half of those who died were young, healthy adults. Influenza A (H1N1) viruses still circulate today after being introduced again into the human population in the 1970s.
Image courtesy of CDC's public health image library (#8160)

Lab tests on drug candidates for drug-resistant influenza strains and new strains, such as H1N1, may begin in just weeks — thanks to World Community GridResearchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch will run virtual chemistry experiments on the World Community Grid to identify the chemical compoun

March 18, 2009

Feature - Volunteer computing goes East Image courtesy of Asia@home. The year 2009 marks the tenth anniversary of the launch of SETI@home, a program that uses spare capacity on ordinary PCs and laptops to analyze data from radiotelescopes in search of elusive signs of extraterrestrial intelligence. SETI@home was downloaded by millions and launched a wave of science projects that rely on volunteer computing.  In April, a workshop in Taipei and a seminar in Beijing, both under the banner of Asia@Home, aim to raise awareness among scientists in Asia of the huge – and so far largely unexploited – potential of such volunteer computing for science projects in their region. Inspired by the success of SETI@home, over 50 volunteer computing projects now use an open source software platform called BOINC, devised by the director of SETI@Home, David Anderson of the University of California at Berkeley. These projects include everything from LHC@home for simulating beam dynamics of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider to MalariaC

February 18, 2009

Feature - Help create an earthbound sun A view of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), showing its main components, with a person for size reference. One of the pilot applications running in Ibercivis is devoted to ITER simulations. Image courtesy of ITER The dream of fusion power sounds so fantastic that one’s initial reaction might be to dismiss it as science fiction. Yet  scientists hope to bring the power that emblazons the sun, fusion, to earthbound reactors. In this type of reaction two atomic nuclei bind — or fuse — together to form a heavier atom, triggering a monumental release of energy. The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) is a joint international research and development project seeking to build a prototype fusion power plant. (The finished machine will be located in the south of France.) Aiding ITER in its computational load is Ibercivis, a volunteer computing project centered in Spain, which allows computer users citizens to donate unused computing

November 26, 2008

Fight AIDS at home, via unused computer time World Community Grid is helping “FightAIDS@Home” by completing computational calculations related to molecular structures of potential anti-HIV drugs..  Image courtesy of World Community Grid Starting on World AIDS Day on 1 December, the World Community Grid will sponsor a month-long challenge via its FightAIDS@home project, with the goal of increasing the number of computers and computer cycles available to researchers conducting HIV/AIDS research.Like all molecules, HIV—the virus that causes AIDS—is dependent upon its three-dimensional shape to attack the human immune system, in much the same way that a key must fit into a lock in order to gain entry. If the lock can be blocked—with a drug, for example—then the key cannot fit, and the virus is prevented from maturing. Such blockers, known as “protease inhibitors,” are one way of avoiding the onset of AIDS.Researchers have been able to determine by trial-and-error the shapes of a

November 12, 2008

Feature - Where are they now? Interconnected computers for high performance operations call for strong interoperability. Image courtesy of Updates from the three projects covered in iSGTW’s inaugural issue, 16 November 2006.Building the global gridISGTW led its first issue with a feature on the possibility of and progress toward achieving one seamless global grid.  At the time of writing, basic interoperation between Open Science Grid and Enabling Grids for E-sciencE had been achieved, according to Laurence Field of EGEE. “Scientists using either infrastructure can now submit jobs to both and copy data between the infrastructures,” Field said. “And if another grid interoperates with either, they’ll see the other grid’s resources. Through activities like these we hope to build up a homogenous grid landscape.”Where are they now?Morris Riedel of the Jülich Supercomputing Centre in Germany, and chair of the Grid Interoperation Now (GIN) group within the Open Grid F

October 22, 2008

Feature - Catching quakes with laptops The interactive program built around the BOINC screensaver, designed for classroom activities.  Recent earthquakes and sites of major historic earthquakes are indicated; information about these events can be retrieved by clicking on them. Image courtesy of the Quake Catcher Network project. Inside your laptop is a small accelerometer chip, there to protect the delicate moving parts of your hard disk from sudden jolts. It turns out that the same chip is a pretty good earthquake sensor, too—especially if the signals from lots of them are compared, in order to filter out more mundane sources of laptop vibrations, such as typing. It’s an approach that is starting to gain acceptance. The project Quake Catcher Network (QCN), already has about 1500 laptops connected in a network that has detected several tremors, including a magnitude 5.4 quake in Los Angeles in July. Led by Elizabeth Cochran at the University of California, Riverside, and Jesse Lawrence at Stanford University, QCN u

October 15, 2008

Feature - Volunteer computing helps track malaria Thousands of volunteers are contributing to the project from all over the globe. Image courtesy of Nicolas Maire How do you predict the results of a malaria vaccine? With the grid, and volunteer computing.A research team at the Swiss Tropical Institute, or STI, in Basel studied the use of computer simulations to predict the epidemiological impact of potential malaria vaccines.  These predictions were obtained with the help of thousands of volunteers who made their computers available to, a volunteer computing project based on the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC).Malaria is one of the world’s leading public health problems, estimated to cause over a million deaths per year. Mathematical modeling of malaria, such as that done on computer, can help public health experts predict the epidemiological impact and cost effectiveness of vaccines and other malaria control interventions.Because running such simulation models is computatio

October 15, 2008

  Opinion - Reaching for the Exa-scale, with volunteer computing Over the last few years, GPUs green) and CPUs (blue) have increased exponentially in speed, but the doubling time for GPUs has been about 8 months, while it has taken 16 months for CPUsImage courtesy of NVIDIA (Editor's note: David Anderson is the founder of the popular volunteer computing platform known as BOINC, or the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing. Here, he peers into his crystal ball to predict the direction of volunteer computing, especially as new, high-speed graphics processing units come into the market.)Remember your prefixes? Kilo, mega, giga, tera, peta . . . exa? Each denoting a thousand times more than the one before? Today, the average personal computer can do a few GigaFLOPS (the acronym refers to doing one billion FLoating-point Operations Per Second). A modest cluster might do one thousand GigaFLOPS, or 1 TeraFLOPS. And for several years, one thousand TeraFLOPS, or one PetaFLOPS, was the Holy Grail

October 1, 2008

Feature - No excuse for under-utilization: Clemson back-fills with BOINC Clemson University students work on lab computers that contribute computing power to the World Community Grid. Image courtesy of Clemson University. Clemson University in South Carolina is helping to tackle climate change, muscular dystrophy, cancer and a host of other world problems. The university’s School of Computing contributes the unused power of computers in instructional labs to the World Community Grid (WCG), a not-for-profit endeavor sponsored by IBM which uses the BOINC grid platform.Before arriving at Clemson, Sebastien Goasguen, assistant professor in the School of Computing, had deployed a campus Condor pool at Purdue University and configured it as an Open Science Grid (OSG) site. Finding about 1500 Windows machines at Clemson, he got the first such pool for Windows running in January 2007. This pool represents a unique mix of cyberinfrastructure technologies that bring together three types of computing grids—campus (Clemson),

October 1, 2008

Link of the week - UCLA finds first Mersenne Prime over 10 million digits Image courtesy of On August 23rd, a UCLA computer discovered the 45th known Mersenne prime, 243,112,609 – 1, a mammoth 12,978,189 digit number! The prime number qualifies for the Electronic Frontier Foundation 's $100,000 award for discovery of the first 10 million digit prime number. Congratulations to Edson Smith, who was responsible for installing and maintaining the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (GIMPS) software on the UCLA Mathematics Department's computers.— www.mersenne.orgEdson Smith, a system administrator in the Mathematics department at UCLA, says congratulations are due the entire UCLA Mathematics Computing Group. On behalf of the group, he responds to a number of questions about Mersenne Primes and the award via a FAQ.  His page is non-technical; all you have to know is that a Prime Number is evenly divisible only by itself and the number 1.Here's a teaser... but do read the FAQ; it's worth

September 24, 2008

Grids meet aliens and androids “To boldly go where no man has gone before . . . ”  Image courtesy of Patrick Wormsley, A Pangalactic Workshop on BOINC is the sort of place you might expect to meet people in Star Trek suits. In fact, at the fourth edition of this workshop, held at the INRIA institute in Grenoble 10-12 September, the talk was not about space travel, but about volunteer computing. (“Pangalactic” is a tongue-in-cheek reference to SETI@home, or Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. It harnesses personal computers to sift through radio wave data from outer space—the most visible of volunteer computing projects since it was launched in 1999.)SETI@home spawned BOINC, the Berkeley Open Interface for Network Computing, which is now used as a general-purpose platform for volunteer computing by over 50 projects, running on about a million volunteer computers, with an aggregate processing power of over 1 petaflop as of  January. While SETI@home remains popular, the workshop