BOINC: How to Turn your Laptop into a Research Lab

The Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing, known for short as the BOINC project, is an open source system that focuses on volunteer and grid computing. It was originally created to support the SETI@home project, but has become a useful platform for many other projects as well.

How it works is that people from around the world will volunteer their computers to provide processing power to these projects in order to help them continue running. These projects are quite expansive, and any donation of a computer’s processor will help the project to function better. Many of these projects are based in the sciences, such as mathematics, climatology, astrophysics and environmental science. They require the collection of a lot of data and need a lot of processing power in order to make sense of this collected data.

It was developed by a team based at the Space Sciences Laboratory at the University of Berkeley when they started the SETI@home project. Since its creation, the BOINC project has amassed over one million active computers all over the world, with over 400, 00 active participants. This is because the BOINC projects are all based on open source software, so just about anyone can contribute the processing power of their computer just by downloading a program for the project of their choice. This allows users with Windows, Mac OS, Android, Linux and FreeBSD operating systems to participate.

What makes the BOINC projects even more enticing is that volunteers can earn credits for the number of work units they’ve contributed to the project of their choice. People can work separately as individuals, or they can pool together as groups in order to earn more credits. The ranking of these credits is maintained, providing a means of friendly competition between users all over the world to try and beat each other in credit numbers. Some users have even invested more of their own money to purchase more processors, just to increase their credits.

One of the pioneering BOINC projects is SETI@home, which stands for Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. This is a scientific experiment that collects and analyses telescope data in order to find narrow-bandwidth radio signals from space. Since they don’t naturally occur in space, any detection of them would provide evidence of alien technology.

Another project is Asteroids@home, which seeks to discover the presence of as many asteroids in space as is possible for the computer to process, as well as analysing them, since very little is known about them. A third project is ClimatePrediction.net, where climate models are run on the computers of volunteers in order to answer the questions on how climate change affects the current state of the world, as well as in the future.

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