What is BOINC and why should you care?

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist, or any other form of scientist for that matter, to contribute to science. Honestly, you don’t even have to be a computer genius anymore. BOINC is so simple, you can just install it and forget about it now. Best of all, it only takes about five minutes to install – which means it only takes about five minutes to start helping the world.

For a crash course in BOINC, Qwiki offers a great explanation, in plain English:

View Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing and over 3,000,000 other topics on Qwiki.

Basically, what BOINC does is use your computer’s resources to computer for science by analyzing data. You can configure BOINC to only run while your computer is idle or all the time. Let’s face it, most of us never come even remotely close to taking full advantage of all the power our computers have these days, so why not put it to good use? BOINC allows you to do that easily. The way BOINC works is you install it on your computer and then choose Projects to run in BOINC. Some examples of projects include:

  • SETI@Home – Join the search for extraterrestrial life so we can have ET phone home.
  • Einstein@Home – Search for an analyze gravitational waves (basically some spacey stuff, I don’t know what the heck it is either)
  • World Community Grid – This one’s a bit different. WCG is a collection of projects, such as The Clean Energy Project and Computing for Clean Water. WCG is run by IBM and uses BOINC to run projects. You can also download from WCG a custom-developed version of BOINC that will get you up and running the WCG projects quickly. This is actually the easiest way to get started running BOINC and computing for science.

Of course, there are a lot more projects than just those. I simply used the projects I run as examples. For a more complete list, see this page. You can run as many or as few projects as you want. BOINC will automatically rotate between all the projects you add so that they all get equal runtime.

Finally, if you’re looking to get credit for computing for science, BOINC is not the answer. To an extent, BOINC does credit you for your contributions, but don’t expect to get mentioned by name (unless you’re one of the top contributors, which might land you a spot on the BOINC site as a featured donor. When you complete “work”, what BOINC calls the data it sends you, BOINC credits you with points. All the points do is show you how much you’ve contributed to a project and where you stand in the worldwide rankings. However, BOINC isn’t a game. The rankings are BOINC’s, science, and the scientist’s behind every project’s way of saying thank you for computing for science and taking five minutes out of your day to help improve the world. So put your computer to real work, it’s bored of just loading Facebook so you can play more spammy games and loading Twitter so you can tell everyone you just found a parking space. Join us, and compute for science.

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