11 October 2005

Grid Computing

an image from an 'electronic sheep' from http://sheepserver.net/v2d6/cgi/node.cgi?id=7654, distributed under a Creative Commons LicenseIs your computer just wasting its brilliant mind when it is "sleeping" between responding to your requests for computing activity?

This image is from a project called Electric Sheep, which uses thousands of computers to calculate complicated fractal movies (called "sheep", since they are generated when the computers would otherwise be "sleeping", and in homage to Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), which then can be viewed by the participants as screen savers. Members can even vote for which "sheep" they like, and thus guide the evolution of new "sheep"

What Is "Grid Computing"?

The internet is a large and growing assemblage of computers, interconnected by network systems. But most of those computers aren't working flat out 100% of the time, especially desk-top computers, like the one you are probably reading this article on. While you are reading this page your CPU is probably doing almost nothing.

"Grid computing" uses that valuable resource, the unused capacity of millions of computers connected to the internet. Grid computing projects attack computation-intensive problems that are too big for any single computer, even the most super supercomputer, to solve. (Wikipedia article on grid computing)

The fun thing about grid computing is that anyone can participate. There are projects in biology, physics, mathematics, and other computation-intensive areas (in addition to fun functions like the Electric Sheep, above). If you aren't part of grid computing now, maybe you would like to join in.

List Of Grid Computing Projects


SETI@home--a scientific experiment that uses Internet-connected computers in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), by using idle CPU cycles to analyze data collected by radio telescopes. No intelligent signals detected so far.

Einstein@Home--a project developed to search data from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational wave Observatory (LIGO) Aerial view of the LIGO Hanford Observatory, from http://www.ligo-wa.caltech.edu/in the US and from the GEO 600 gravitational wave observatory in Germany. Gravitational waves are theoretically created in supernova collapses of stellar cores (which form neutron stars and black holes), collisions and coalescences of neutron stars or black holes, rotations of neutron stars with deformed crusts and the remnants of gravitational radiation created by the birth of the universe. The actual detection of gravitational waves would be one of the biggest scientific breakthroughs in years.

climateprediction.net--aims to investigate the approximations that have to be made in state-of-the-art climate models. By running the model thousands of times they hope to find out how the model responds to slight tweaks to these approximations. This will allow researchers to improve their understanding of how sensitive these models are to small changes and also to things like changes in carbon dioxide and the sulfur cycle.

LHC@home--is supposed to help design the Large Hadron Collider under construction at CERN in Switzerland by simulating the paths of particles traveling in the ring.


Folding@Home--a distributed computing project which studies protein folding, misfolding, aggregation, and related diseases. It uses novel computational methods and large scale distributed computing to simulate timescales thousands to millions of times longer than previously achieved. This has allowed it to simulate folding for the first time, and it is now using this approach to examine folding-related disease.

Genome@home--has the goal of to design new genes that can form working proteins in the cell. Genome@home uses a computer algorithm (SPA), based on the physical and biochemical rules by which genes and proteins behave, to design new proteins (and hence new genes) that have not been found in nature.

Predictor@home--is aimed at testing and evaluating new algorithms and methods of protein structure prediction.

Rosetta@home--uses internet-connected computers to predict and design protein structures, and protein-protein and protein-ligand interactions. Its goal is to develop methods that accurately predict and design protein structures and complexes, an endeavor that may ultimately help researchers develop cures for human diseases.

Cell Computing--is a biomedical research project, with a site in Japanese.

FightAIDS@home--screens millions of candidate drug compounds computationally against detailed models of evolving AIDS viruses, to help identify potential anti-AIDS drugs.

Lifemapper--is building a species diversity map of the world. It analyzes data on plant and animal distribution from collections, computes the ecological profile of each species, maps where the species has been found and predicts where each species could potentially live. The results could be used for biodiversity research, education and conservation worldwide, especially to forecast environmental events and inform public policy.

Human Proteome Folding Project--will use a modification of the Rosetta approach to predict protein structures.

grid.org United Devices Cancer Research Project--through a process called "virtual screening", special analysis software will identify molecules that interact with proteins that have been determined to be a possible targets for cancer therapy, and will determine which of the molecular candidates has a high likelihood of being developed into a drug.

grid.org Smallpox Research Grid--will use grid computing to screen millions of potential anti-smallpox drugs against a possible molecular target whose blockade would prevent the ravages of smallpox infection.

Find-a-Drug--is a not for profit distributed computing project which aims to run a series of projects in parallel addressing a number of diseases.


GIMPS, the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search--is a collaborative project to search for Mersenne prime numbers. This project has been rather successful: it has already found a total of 8 Mersenne primes, each of which was the largest known prime at the time of discovery.

ZetaGrid--largest of the computational attempts to explore as many zeroes of the Riemann ζ-function as possible. It checks over a billion zeros a day. Zeroes of the zeta function are of particular interest in mathematics, since the presence of even a single one of them out of line with the rest would instantly disprove the Riemann hypothesis, with far-reaching consequences for all of mathematics.

Seventeen or Bust--is a distributed computing project to solve the Sierpinski problem. The goal of the project is to prove that 78,557 is the smallest Sierpinski number. To do so, all odd numbers less than 78,557 must be eliminated as possible Sierpinski numbers. If a number k2n + 1 is found to be prime, then k is proven not to be a Sierpinski number. Before the project began, all but seventeen numbers below 78,557 had been eliminated.

Surely one of these science projects will interest you (some of them have cool screen savers, too). Get on board and help science move forward.

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