One of the things I found out about years ago that too many people have not heard of today is how you can use your computer’s idle CPU time to advance science. It all started when the SETI (Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence) and the University of California at Berkley started up SETI@home deployed on a large scale the concept of distributed computing. The concept is simple basically computer tasks are broken up into thousands and thousands of small tasks that can be distributed to thousands and thousands of personal computers. The result of using so many computers is creating a super computer where scientists can crunch huge amounts of data in relatively shorts amounts of time.

Now there dozens of projects that use distributed computing and a simple to use program called BOINC (Berkley created this software as well) is used to organize and run these different projects.  These projects range from creating an accurate three dimensional model of our Milky Way galaxy (MilkyWay@home) to predicting climate change (  Of course many of my personal favorite projects have to do with chemisty, biochemistry and particle physics.  The program BOINC is very easy to use and it’s simple to attach yourself to many interesting projects.  It requires fewer computer resources than you might think and I barely notice it is running.  Currently there are Active: 328,838 volunteers, 582,721 computers and you can download the program BOINC here.

Many projects have interesting 3D animated graphics you can view when the project is running and a few even have screen savers.  A few projects I am attached to now are as follows:

SETI@Home or what I like to call “is their anybody out there” project.   The website describes the project in a short message below.

SETI@home is a scientific experiment that uses Internet-connected computers in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). You can participate by running a free program that downloads and analyzes radio telescope data.

Following is a screen shot of it runing one my computer and a short video of the screen saver.

Rosetta@home information from their website.

Rosetta@home needs your help to determine the 3-dimensional shapes of proteins in research that may ultimately lead to finding cures for some major human diseases. By running the Rosetta program on your computer while you don’t need it 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.  (the project has a nice screen saver as well)

Following is a good video describing the Rosetta project from YouTube.

Below is a screen shot of the program calculating the tertiary protien structures.

Einstein@home is another great project that objective is to detect the presence of gravitational waves in our galaxy that were predicted by Einstein’s theory of Special Relativity.   Description of the project is listed below from the website.

According to Albert Einstein, we live in a universe full of gravitational waves. He suggested that the movements of heavy objects, such as black holes and dense stars, create waves that change space and time. We have a chance to detect these waves, but we need your help to do it!

Einstein@Home uses computer time donated by computer owners all over the world to process data from gravitational wave detectors. Participants in Einstein@Home download software to their computers, which process gravitational wave data when not being used for other computer applications, like word processors or games. Einstein@Home doesn’t affect the performance of computers and greatly speeds up this exciting research.

Following is a video of the interesting screen saver that comes with the project. is one of the most interesting projects out there which includes about 100,000 simulation scenarios.  A short description of the project is contained below: is a distributed computing project to produce predictions of the Earth’s climate up to 2080 and to test the accuracy of climate models. To do this, we need people around the world to give us time on their computers – time when they have their computers switched on, but are not using them to their full capacity.

The project has great interactive graphics capabilities and a screen saver that shows the resulting temperatures, pressures, cloud cover, rain & snow that the many models suggest.   Following is a short YouTube video showing the screen saver.

Following is a short documentary about the project that was hosed by Sir. David Attenborough and was shown on BBC TV.

Below is are two screen shot from the project from results calculated on my computer showing predicted temperate changes and changes in rain and snow fall, respectively.

QMC@HOME Quantum Monte Carlo simulations used in calculating quantum properties for various chemicals.  The following describes the QMC project form the website below.

Quantum Chemistry
– is the science that invents smart approximations to Quantum Theory to predict molecular information with high accuracy. Nevertheless the solving of even approximated quantum chemical equations for real life systems require huge amounts of computing power.

Quantum Monte Carlo (QMC)
– is a very promising method new to Quantum Chemistry. One of the major advantages of QMC is the ability to perform massively parallel calculations, which can be utilized to broaden the horizon of calculable systems by distributing the work over hundreds or even thousands of processors.

Quantum Monte Carlo At Home (QMC@HOME)
– is a project designed to further develop the Quantum Monte Carlo method for general use in Quantum Chemistry. With the help of volunteers all over the world we want to aquire the computing power that is needed to test and further develop the opportunities of the promising new approach of Quantum Monte Carlo.

Here is a screen shot of a QMC simulation created by the program.

MilkyWay@home from their website:

The goal of Milkyway@Home is to use the BOINC platform to harness volunteered computing resources in creating a highly accurate three dimensional model of the Milky Way galaxy using data gathered by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. This project enables research in both astroinformatics and computer science.  Following is an image from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey project.

There are other great that are not as flash but just as scientifically worthwhile.  Some of the other projects are as follows:

ABC@home a maths project to prove the ABC conjecture.

AQUA@home (Adiabatic QUantum Algorithms) is a research project whose goal is to predict the performance of superconducting adiabatic quantum computers.

Cosmology@home which is a program that’s objective is to model the universe.

Several projects have been completed that have helped scientists and medical researchers understand the spread of maleria using computer models and simulations for predicting population growth and density around the planet.  The LHC (Large Hadron Collider) team is set to start distributed computing projects once they start receive data from the enormous device.

BTW I used one of my favorite fonts in the top graphic named “quark” heh.

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Some news concerning the search for life on other planets from the BEEB:

Astronomers hopeful of detecting extra-terrestrial life.

“Technology has advanced so that for the very first time we can actually have the realistic hope of detecting planets no bigger than the earth orbiting other stars.
“(We’ll be able to learn) whether they have continents and oceans, learning what type of atmosphere they have.

I also heard on BBC/overnight that 424 “earth-like planets” have been identified. Big meeting in Chicago today about this. Sure hope it is reported.


This is so great. Thank you. I had SETI on my iMac about 10 years ago. I bought a new Mac and forgot all about SET
I. I will download it again to put on my iBook. Thanks again.


KQ, thanks so much for this valuable collection of opportunities to be a part of science. My son is involved with some of these projects and he introduced me to the concept. Before that I had no idea that home computers could be used for the greater good. I love stuff like this…it really expands the definition of “community.” Truly a 10 star post.


Thanks KQ, I am with Woof on this one. I may not understand all the science behind it but is very fascinating. For some odd reason, I am interested in the Rosetta project and I am going to look into that one. They all look worthy. Thanks, again.

Need to talk with you about a bio-tech firm called “Aldagen.” Heard about them on Tech-Nation yesterday. (working on stem-cells and heart muscles) Unable to get through to their site.


I’ve heard of the SETI project but I didn’t realise that it was not the only distributed computing project out there!! Fascinating KQ – now I’ll have to Google ABC Conjecture (I assume it’s not about reading or writing skills).

I do enjoy your science articles – even if I don’t understand it all!! You are so good for my IQ 🙂


Gosh K, that is fascinating information. At the top of my list is finding cures for diseases, always has been, it is something never far from my thoughts. Getting to have a chinwag with an Extraterrestrial is also somewhere on that list. The times I stare at the night sky waiting for someone to take me home are numerous. I saw a UFO when my grandmother and I were taking an evening walk in our orchard once. I’ve also witnessed many shooting stars, amazing to watch.