Time again for our Website of the Week, when we showcase interesting
and innovative online destinations. Our web guide is VOA's Art Chimes.
This week we feature a website that harnesses the unused power of a million computers around the world to help solve scientific problems for the benefit of some of the world's poorest people.
The site uses a technology called grid computing. The idea is to break big problems down into small pieces. It works this way: you download a small program onto your computer. That program uses your Internet connection to fetch a small packet of data from a central computer. Your computer processes the data at moments when it has spare capacity, and uploads the results back, where your results are combined with everyone else's.
There are other grid computing projects on the Web, but Stan Litow says WorldCommunityGrid.org is different.
"The power on World Community Grid is used purely for humanitarian purposes – cancer research, research on dengue fever, rice DNA - all kinds of public purposes. So that's one thing. But the second thing is, it's a permanent source that can serve humanitarian needs year in and year out."
Litow is a vice president of IBM Corporation, which funds the program.
World Community Grid has been online for about two years now. It only takes a few minutes to sign up. And you can choose what project you want to work on.
"You actually decide, and then on WorldCommunityGrid.org's site, you can actually track how much work your power has done – individual calculations – and you can see the progress of the research day by day," Litow says.
The software runs on most popular personal computers – Windows, Mac, or Linux. And the system requirements are very modest – you don't need a huge hard drive or a fast Internet connection. It doesn't interfere with your other computer activities.
Litow says members in more than 200 countries and territories are participating.
"And the research projects are also worldwide. The muscular dystrophy research project comes from France. The climate modeling, from Africa. Cancer research project came from Brazil. And the rice DNA study, to try to address the world food crisis, comes from Washington state, right here in the U.S."
With more than one million computers in the mix, World Community Grid is the equivalent of a supercomputer. Scientists working on projects with a humanitarian goal can apply, and proposals approved by the advisory board get free computing time and exposure they might not otherwise have. IBM's Stan Litow says one condition is that the researchers must agree to share their findings.
Do some good by donating your spare computing resources – you're not using them anyway – at WorldCommunityGrid.org, or get the link to this and more than 200 other Websites of the Week from our site, voanews.com.