How is this possible? IBM’s World Community Grid enables anyone to donate the spare computing power of their computers and Android devices to help researchers find the next breakthrough. This IBM philanthropic initiative, winner of a 2016 People’s Voice Webby Award, is a safe, easy way to put an unused resource to work for good, without having any impact on your own use of your devices.
Why does this matter? Because in research, time is measured in money and lives. Quicker results mean quicker benefits for patients and more. And the enormous power of World Community Grid means that computer simulations that would have taken years can be completed in weeks or months. It’s even possible for researchers to run projects that are otherwise unaffordable or unimaginable, such as comparing all the genes from all the thousands of organisms in a soil sample, modeling water flows at atomic levels of detail, or searching through an enormous index of chemical compounds to find a treatment for the Zika virus.
The fight against the Zika virus
The Zika virus began spreading rapidly through the Americas in 2015, and there is no vaccine or effective treatment for the disease. Moreover, Zika has been linked to severe neurological complications in some adults as well as serious brain and development problems in some infants whose mothers contracted Zika while pregnant. A multi-institutional group of researchers is using World Community Grid to identify which of millions of chemical compounds might lead them to a cure for this virus. More than 50,000 volunteers signed up to help in the project’s first two months, but with additional volunteers the researchers will be able to make even more progress.
Nanotech joins the quest for clean water
A billion people lack access to clean water. Droughts decimate once-fertile farmlands. Ocean water is plentiful but, of course, too salty for most urgent needs. Now an international group of scientists, using the massive computing power contributed by 150,000 World Community Grid volunteers, has uncovered important new information about applying carbon nanotubes to water shortage issues. These tiny water filters have the potential to provide more affordable, efficient access to clean water — and contribute further to energy and medical research.
Working to stop one of the world’s deadliest diseases
Tuberculosis (TB) has plagued humans for thousands of years, yet it remains one of the world’s most dangerous diseases. About one-third of the world’s population harbors the TB bacterium, with 1.5 million infected people dying in 2014 alone. The World Health Organization now ranks TB alongside HIV as the world’s deadliest infectious disease. Researchers are using World Community Grid to help understand the molecular structure of the TB bacterium to come up with more effective treatments.
Helping develop affordable solar energy
In 2013 Harvard University announced the discovery of more than 35,000 compounds with the potential to double the rate of efficiency of most carbon-based solar cells in production today, after scanning more than 2.3 million materials on World Community Grid. Previously, carbon-based solar cells were made from a handful of highly efficient molecules that were painstakingly discovered one by one. Now, there are thousands more to explore: an exponential increase.
Breakthrough in the fight against childhood cancer
Partnering with the Chiba Cancer Research Institute and Chiba University in Japan, World Community Grid launched a project to search for new treatments for neuroblastoma, one of the most common and dangerous forms of childhood cancer. Out of more than three million drug candidates screened by 200,000 volunteers, seven promising drug candidates with no apparent side effects were identified in 2013. The highly successful in vivo test results are a major milestone that sets up the research team for the next step: human trials.