We all lead busy lives, and sometimes it can be hard to carve out time to volunteer on a regular basis. Fortunately, there’s a way to get your computer to do all of your volunteering for you.
By downloading a program called BOINC, which stands for the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing, you can donate your computer’s spare computing power to a project that needs a lot of number crunching. Variously called distributed computing or grid computing, what happens is that a main server takes a big problem, divides it up into a lot of smaller problems, or packets, and ships them out to volunteer computers like yours for processing. The processing happens whenever your computer is idle, or “in background,” i.e., whenever you are doing something that doesn’t use a lot of a computer’s resources.
Once you have the client installed (and there’s an alternate download location here: http://download.cnet.com/BOINC/3000-2247_4-184929.html), there are dozens of projects to support. Malaria Control studies how malaria spreads and how it might be controlled. Climate Prediction looks at models of climate change so that we get a better understanding of how that works. Another project called POEM@Home looks at protein structures.
At the moment, more than 3 million people have a BOINC client installed, and together they have donated billions of computer processing hours to several different projects. There’s a nifty site showing you all of the stats for the various projects at the appropriately named BOINCStats site: http://boincstats.com/en.
If you don’t regularly use a desktop or laptop computer, you can consider installing the BOINC client onto your Android phone, as there’s an app available at the Google Play site: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=edu.berkeley.boinc&hl=en. Just beware that the extra processing will chew through your battery life, and you’ll also want to configure the client to upload and download packets on WiFi connections only to avoid incurring extra data charges with your carrier.
For a complete list of BOINC projects, see: http://boinc.berkeley.edu/projects.php.
Chandra Clarke is a Webby Honoree-winning blogger, a successful entrepreneur, and an author. Her book Be the Change: Saving the World with Citizen Science is available at Amazon. You can connect with her on Twitter @chandraclarke.