If you're like me, you've always wanted to make some kind of contribution to science. Most people though, don't have the time or the position to make a significant contribution. These days, however, anyone can make a contribution, by donating their spare CPU cycles! I've got my computer set up to crunch numbers for SETI, and you can too!
Running SETI@Home is actually quite easy! Basically, you download a program onto your computer, and tell it to attach to the SETI@Home project. The program, called BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing), automatically goes out to the internet and fetches files called work units to your computer. Then, when your computer would otherwise be sitting around doing nothing, it crunches numbers for SETI!That's right, real-life SETI data is being analyzed on home computers all around the world, as I type this! So SETI only runs (by default) when you're not on your computer.
It turns out that the millions of PC's on this BOINC network have FAR more combined computing power than the world's best super-computers. To take advantage of this, SETI splits up it's workload into many small files that can be completed quickly by the average PC. BOINC also awards "credit" for work done, so it kind of becomes a competition to see who can do the most "average credit", and you can even join teams.
So How Do I Get SETI@Home?
It's actually quite easy!
Is SETI the Only Science I Can Do?
No! There are numerous BOINC applications, all of which run inside the BOINC client! You can run more than one at a time, too. I personally run SETI@Home, and another science project called Einstein@Home. So you can basically pick and choose what organizations to donate CPU cycles to.
For a list of projects you can donate to, check out BOINC's list of programs.
Is BOINC Computing For Me?
Well, if you like to contribute to science, and don't want to do the math, BOINC distributed computing is for you! There are a few people who will not want to run BOINC, however. See, BOINC will peg your CPU to 100% for hours on end, when you're not using your computer. So if your computer is on it's last leg, BOINC probably will finish it off. BOINC also heats up the CPU pretty good. So if you have an el-cheapo computer or laptop, BOINC is not for you. Just be aware that your computer's temperature will go up when you run BOINC, and be prepared for any problems that might cause.
Personally, I've run BOINC on 5 or 6 computers. Some of them were very old and shaky, but still ran fine. Just be sure to keep it clean and dust free inside the computer and it should be able to handle it. SETI might also not be for you if you're the kind of person that likes to save every kWh of electricity you can. Your computer will use a little more power while running SETI, so also be aware of that. Also, NEVER install BOINC on a work computer without written permission from your system administrator.
For more details on how SETI@Home works: click here.
Got questions or want to talk about SETI@Home and BOINC? Leave a comment below!