Now you can do your bit for science. You can put your idle computing power to good use by being part of Internet-connected distributed processing systems that run on volunteered home computers and harness their processing power to conduct large-scale analyses of data.
Recently, the Large Hadron Collider team at Centre for European Nuclear Research (CERN) announced the LHC@home 2.0 project, to tap into the collective computing power of the public to help simulate particle physics experiments. Among other pursuits, the project could help find an immensely important particle, the Higgs boson.
According to the LHC team, “Computer simulations of high-energy particle collisions provide a detailed theoretical reference for the measurements performed at the LHC, against which models of both known and ‘new’ physics can be tested. By looking for discrepancies between the simulations and the data, we are searching for any sign of disagreement between the current theories and the physical universe. Ultimately, such a disagreement could lead us to the discovery of new phenomena, which may be associated with new fundamental principles of Nature.”
But why isn’t the computing grid at LHC enough to run the simulations? “Sophisticated calculations typically also require enormous computing resources, for instance to probe anywhere near a reasonable number of the infinitely many quantum histories that can contribute to every single ‘event’.”
Pretty fancy stuff, eh!
Alternately, if your scientific curiosity runs more to the alien type, you can be part of the SETI@home project. The Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project deals with a lot of radio signal data, requiring massive computational resources. “The SETI approach … a radio listening to a huge number of radio, TV, radar, satellite and garage-door-opener frequencies all of the time. Then, the computer has to look at each frequency separately and try to decide if it is carrying an intelligent signal as opposed to noise.” That is where you computer comes in; when you download the SETI screensaver, it runs these computations when your computer is idle and sends the results back to SETI.
In fact, there is a slew of such distributed systems, running on University of California, Berkley’s software platform, the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC), from among which you are free to choose.