Many of us worry about the death and suffering caused by disease, but few of us can really do much about it. Aside from getting a Ph.D. and working in a lab, we’re often relegated to sidelines to wait for promising new treatments for humanity’s most painful diseases.But now that’s all changed thanks to the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC). Now we can all help!

BOINC is a piece of software that runs on your computer in place of your normal screensaver. BOINC itself is not a research project, but rather a platform for you to choose which projects you want to participate in. Many research projects require massive amounts of computing power, and there are only a handful of supercomputers that are able to handle the enormous amount of data that must be processed. These supercomputers are in high demand and they are very expensive, so the solution to this is BOINC. BOINC allows researchers to use your computer when you’re not using it. Your computer automatically downloads packets of work, crunches the numbers, and then sends the results back to the lab. And all of this happens when you’re not even using your computer!

For example, SETI@home is probably the most well-known of these projects. In case you don’t know, SETI is an acronym for the “Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.” SETI@home really started the whole concept. I myself have run SETI@home for years.

The project I recommend is Rosetta@home: “Rosetta@home needs your help to determine the 3-dimensional shapes of proteins in research that may ultimately lead to finding cures for some major human diseases. By running the Rosetta program on your computer while you don’t need it you will help us speed up and extend our research in ways we couldn’t possibly attempt without your help. You will also be helping our efforts at designing new proteins to fight diseases such as HIV, Malaria, Cancer, and Alzheimer’s…”

Are you ready to help? If you’re not yet convinced, start by watching this promotional video for Rosetta@home. (Yeah, the speakers aren’t great but the video actually gets better a minute or two into it. Give it a chance.)

Otherwise, all you need to do is download BOINC and select Rosetta@home as one of your projects. Then watch it go to work! Full instructions can be found at Rosetta@home’s website. If you’d like to get started but are having trouble, feel free to e-mail me (see the About page) and I’ll gladly walk you through the process.