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Contribute to science directly by volunteering some of your computer's processing power!

Contribute to science directly by volunteering some of your computer's processing power!
By: Christopher Campbell

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Imagine being able to explore the realm of science and advance its causes.

Imagine searching the vastness of the universe, discovering pulsars and unveiling evidence for gravitational waves, or helping concerned scientists of the world to surmount the enormous and complex task of climate modeling, and in doing so, to understand how to prepare for the future of our planet.

Imagine being involved in the analysis of DNA sequence data and revealing previously unknown evolutionary relationships, or being an integral part of the effort to conquer even one of the world's most pressing diseases such as leukemia, cancer, HIV or Alzheimer's and the enormous sense of achievement that would accompany such a victory.

All of this is possible, by becoming a member of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science BOINC team.

What is BOINC ?

BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing) is free software that implements a method for distributed computing (DC). BOINC allows researchers to benefit from the resources of personal computers on a worldwide basis and concerned citizens to volunteer their computers for use and make a contribution to science.

There are several reasons why volunteer computing is important:

* The sheer amount of resources would not be available any other way.
* Supercomputers are prohibitively expensive and are often already busy with other projects such as weapons design, espionage and surveillance of one's own citizenry. Constructing a suitable distributed computing farm is also expensive and problematic as well.
* Resources scale upwards with time as users upgrade to more powerful machines.
* It generates public interest in science and allows the public to help set the course for our future.

It's the easiest way to make a contribution to science and become a part of the solution.

BOINC was originally developed to implement the SETI@home project (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence). This project involved computer analysis of mass quantities of data. Rather than incurring the extreme expense of a supercomputer, BOINC allowed the researchers to break up the task into appropriately sized chunks (workunits) and distribute these chunks to personal computers. The PC's subsequently number crunch and return the results ro a server.

BOINC along with its associated projects has a credit system. Each individual computer has a defined account. When a workunit is completed, the results are verified and the account is awarded a quantity of credits. The purpose of this is to maintain the accuracy of the results by avoiding cheating and to promote competition. Individual accounts may also join teams, which makes it fun and also promotes an organization's visibility.

BOINC is generally supported on the following platforms: Windows; Macintosh; Linux based operating systems (including Debian and Ubuntu) and Solaris. There are system requirements for each of these as explained during the installation process.

BOINC eventually evolved to deploy an impressive array of scientific projects, including biology and medicine, astronomy, physics, chemistry, earth sciences and mathematics. Most of these projects are academic in nature and are university based, with the results made available to researchers worldwide free of charge.

Here are the steps involved in getting started.

* Download, install and run the BOINC client software.
* Pick one or more projects that interest you.
* Attach to the project(s) you selected.
* Join the team named: "Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science"

Download, install and run the BOINC client software.

Use the following URL to obtain the BOINC client software (aka BOINC Manager). Read the system requirements and instructions carefully:

Pick one or more projects that interest you.

The BOINC web site offers the following guidance when selecting a project:

" BOINC software is used by many volunteer computing projects. These projects are completely independent. Some are based at universities and research labs, others are run by companies and individuals. When you participate in a project, you entrust it with the health of your computer and the privacy of your data. In deciding whether to participate in a project, read its web site and consider the following questions:

* Does it clearly describe its goals, and are these goals important and beneficial?
* Do you trust that its applications won't damage your computer or violate your privacy?
* Do you trust it to use proper security practices on its servers?
* Who owns the results of the computation? Will they be freely available to the public or will they belong to a for-profit business? "

There are many projects to choose from. What follows is a list of many of the top projects for which RDFRS is currently engaged. It does not represent all of the available projects and there are many other ensuing projects as well. The format of the list is:

* Project name and core institutions behind it.
* Web site address
* The project's goal

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- (CPDN) - Oxford University; Rutherford Appleton Laboratory; The Open University

Goal: To investigate the approximations that have to be made in state-of-the-art climate models. By running the model thousands of times we hope to find out how the model responds to slight tweaks to these approximations - slight enough to not make the approximations any less realistic. This will allow us to improve our understanding of how sensitive our models are to small changes and also to things like changes in carbon dioxide and the sulphur cycle. This will allow us to explore how climate may change in the next century under a wide range of different scenarios.

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Einstein@home - University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee ; Albert Einstein Institute

Goal: Search for spinning neutron stars (also called pulsars) using data from the LIGO and GEO gravitational wave detectors. Einstein@Home is a World Year of Physics 2005 project supported by the American Physical Society (APS) and by a number of international organizations.

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Rosetta@home - University of Washington

Goal: Determine the 3-dimensional shapes of proteins in research that may ultimately lead to finding cures for some major human diseases. By running Rosetta@home you will help us speed up and extend our research in ways we couldn't possibly attempt without your help. You will also be helping our efforts at designing new proteins to fight diseases such as HIV, Malaria, Cancer, and Alzheimer's
SETI@home - U.C. Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory

Goal: SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) is a scientific area whose goal is to detect intelligent life outside Earth. One approach, known as radio SETI, uses radio telescopes to listen for narrow-bandwidth radio signals from space. Such signals are not known to occur naturally, so a detection would provide evidence of extraterrestrial technology.

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World Community Grid (WCG) - IBM Corporate Community Relations

Goal: To further critical non-profit research on some of humanity's most pressing problems by creating the world's largest volunteer computing grid. Research includes HIV/AIDS, cancer, muscular dystrophy, dengue fever, and many more.
BBC CCE - Oxford University; UK Met Office; BBC, Open University; Reading University

Goal: This is a part of the CPDN project. It is currently closed to new users as of this writing.
Predictor@home - Scripps Research Institute

Goal: Protein structure prediction starts from a sequence of amino acids and attempts to predict the folded, functioning, form of the protein. Predicting the structure of an unknown protein is a critical problem in enabling structure-based drug design to treat new and existing diseases.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- - The Swiss Tropical Institute

Goal: Simulation models of the transmission dynamics and health effects of malaria are an important tool for malaria control. They can be used to determine optimal strategies for delivering mosquito nets, chemotherapy, or new vaccines which are currently under development and testing. Such modeling is extremely computer intensive, requiring simulations of large human populations with a diverse set of parameters related to biological and social factors that influence the distribution of the disease.
LHC@home - CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research)

Goal: The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is a particle accelerator which is being built at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, the world's largest particle physics laboratory. When it switches on in 2007, it will be the most powerful instrument ever built to investigate on particles proprieties. LHC@home simulates particles traveling around the LHC to study the stability of their orbits.
Spinhenge@home - Bielefeld University of Applied Sciences

Goal: The study of molecular magnets and controlled nanoscale magnetism. These magnetic molecules may be used to develop tiny magnetic switches, with applications in medicine (such as local tumor chemotherapy) and biotechnology.
Leiden Classical - Leiden University, The Netherlands

Goal: Surface science calculations using Classical Dynamics. In contrast to other projects, Leiden Classical allows volunteers, students and other scientist to submit their personal calculations to the grid. Each user has his own personal queue for Classical Dynamics jobs. In this way students have used the grid to simulate liquid argon, or to test the validity of the ideal gas law by actually doing the simulations through the grid.
Cosmology@Home - University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Goal: To search for the model that best describes our Universe and to find the range of models that agree with the available astronomical and particle physics data. In order to achieve this goal, participants in Cosmology@Home (i.e. you!) will compute the observable predictions of millions of theoretical models with different parameter combinations. We will use the results of your computations to compare all the available data with these models. In addition, the results from Cosmology@Home can help design future cosmological observations and experiments, and prepare for the analysis of future data sets, e.g. from the Planck spacecraft.
Tanpaku - Tokyo University of Science

Goal: To predict protein structure and function from genetic sequences, using the 'Brownian Dynamics' (BD) method. This method enables us to simulate more efficiently than conventional methods.
SZTAKI Desktop Grid (SZDG) - MTA-SZTAKI Laboratory of Parallel and Distributed Systems (Budapest)

Goal: Find all the generalized binary number systems (in which bases are matrices and digits are vectors) up to dimension 11.
The Lattice Project - University of Maryland Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology

Goal: The Lattice Project supplies computing power to scientists at the University of Maryland studying evolutionary relationships based on DNA sequence data; bacterial, plasmid, and virus protein sequences; and biological diversity in nature reserves.

Attach to the project(s) you selected

The BOINC manager has a simple view and an advanced view. Attach to a project with the simple view by clicking the Add Project button. Attach to a project with the advanced view by selecting 'Attach to project...' from the Tools dropdown. During the attach process you will enter in a project URL (e.g., your E-mail address and a password uniquely associated with your BOINC account (this is not the password associated with your E-mail address!).

Join the team named: "Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science"

Once you have selected and attached your project(s), there is a button from the BOINC Manager that allows you to access your account's definition on the project's web site. This is where the join function is accomplished. Make sure that you use the following team name:

"Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science"

and not

"Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science Team"

Reasons why people hesitate to use BOINC and counter-arguments.

Criticism: Running BOINC projects tends to encourage users to run their computers 24/7, so this is bad for the environment.

Rebuttals: If project data were not crunched using volunteer computing, most of it would crunched anyway with few options available. The supercomputer option has the problem of limited availability and is generally cost-prohibitive. Building a distributed computing 'farm' is undesirable as most of the environmental impact of a computer is its manufacture and not the power consumed in running it. During winter months, warmth from the computer can partially or completely replace space heating requirements. Participation in climate modeling projects such as CPDN, tends to make crunchers more aware of their energy consumption, prompting energy offsetting behaviors and green awareness. The carbon footprint of cruching can be easily offset. The benefits from running the projects have the potential to far outweigh the costs. It was calculated at one time that the amount of energy consumed by making tea in the UK alone is 23 times more than that of running the entire CPDN project. And this calculation was made assuming 100% efficiency for heating the water!

Criticism: The computer fans of BOINC crunchers will be working hard all the time the tasks are being processed. Fans are therefore likely to fail earlier than would have been the case otherwise.

Rebuttal: Running BOINC project tasks ensures that the fans run at an almost constant speed. This may be better for fan life than the usual frequent changes of speed.

Criticism: The CPU will overheat when used at 100%.

Rebuttals: Modern CPUs are designed to run at 100% without overheating. Temperatures can be easily monitored.
In the case of laptops whose cooling capacity is much more limited, BOINC crunchers can reduce the CPU usage by project tasks to any lower % they prefer. This precaution is strongly advised by BOINC projects.

Criticism: The computer will have to be connected to the internet all the time, increasing the likelihood of infection by malware.

Rebuttals: BOINC crunchers are always strongly recommended to run their normal anti-virus and firewall programs all the time. Computers running BOINC project tasks do not need to connect to the internet more frequently or for longer periods. Intermittent contact with the project servers is perfectly satisfactory. The computer owner has complete control of computer usage, the running of project tasks and access to the internet.

Criticism: I have doubts as to how the information is to be used (i.e. for greed based purposes vs. altruistic reasons).

Rebuttals: The websites of all the major BOINC projects can be visited before one decides whether to attach to them and process their tasks. One can select projects whose research, methods and aims one agrees with. In the case of CPDN, the data collected from computation of climate models by members of the public is now made available free of charge to climate researchers worldwide. This encourages research in countries without extensive computing facilities and reduces the duplication of research projects. If one became disenchanted with a project at a later stage, one could detach from it within seconds and with immediate effect.

Criticism: I have other general concerns regarding security and privacy.

Rebuttal: Although the BOINC software is open-source and anyone could set up a project, there is nevertheless a list of recommended projects one can select from during the download/install/project selection process. These are projects whose administrators are known personally to the founder of BOINC, Dr David Anderson at the University of California in Berkeley, and whose security safeguards he is satisfied with.

Future Projects

While the potential benefits from existing BOINC projects are staggering, there are other fascinating projects just around the corner. Here's a small sample:

* Planetquest - will involve a search for extrasolar planets.
* Intelligence Realm - will involve reverse engineering the brain with the intent of building a large artificial intelligence system.
* orbit@home - will study Solar System dynamics with initial focus on NEA (Near Earth Asteroid) research.

There are many others likely to follow.


Joining the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science BOINC team is the easiest way to make a contribution to science. It doesn't cost anything, it's easy to join and has many diverse research projects that have broad appeal. It provides for friendly competition and it's fun to see your credits accrue, but most importantly, the contribution you make may be part of a fantastic advancement for the world.

Please join the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science BOINC team and make your contribution to science!

RDFRS Team Statistics



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