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New IBM projects striving for cleaner water

Harnessing the power of its World Community Grid of users, Big Blue embarks on a series of projects designed to improve the quality of drinking water around the world.

IBM is using its World Community Grid of users to drive research into creating cleaner drinking water.
IBM is using its World Community Grid of PC users to drive research to create cleaner drinking water. World Community Grid

IBM is tapping into its own network of PC owners to help figure out how to clean up drinking water.

Big Blue announced Monday a series of high-tech projects related to creating safer drinking water, which IBM notes is a rare resource for at least 1.2 billion people worldwide.

To drive the initiatives, the company is calling on its World Community Grid, a network of PC owners who pitch in computing time to help scientists tackle global problems. People who volunteer for the Grid allow their idle computers to be used by IBM to collectively run simulations and other intensive tasks as part of a huge peer-to-peer network.

Among the several projects planned by IBM, one will simulate how people, wildlife, and the environment interact with one another in watersheds such as the East Coast's Chesapeake Bay. The goal is to learn how to better manage watersheds by analyzing competing interests and needs among different groups.

Another project, dubbed Computing For Clean Water, is eyeing methods to improve water filtering. Launching in China, this initiative aims to find ways to filter and clean polluted water and turn saltwater into drinking water for less money.

A third project run out of Brazil is looking to cure schistosomiasis, a parasite-based disease spread through dirty water. Found in tropical areas, this disease infects around 210 million people and kills from 11,000 to 200,000 every year, according to IBM. Although one current drug has proven somewhat effective, drug-resistance strains of the disease still pose a challenge.

To move the projects, World Community Grid members are letting their PCs calculate numbers, run hypothetical scenarios, and perform simulations. Collectively, the Grid encompasses 1.5 million PCs from around 600,000 volunteers worldwide. Besides the clean water projects, Grid members also have contributed to efforts to design cleaner energy, cure diseases, and create healthier food, IBM noted.

On its end, Big Blue donates the servers, software, and technical skills necessary to run the Grid and also provides free hosting and support.

Anyone who wants to donate idle time on their PCs to the World Community Grid can register at the Grid's Web site. Joining the cause requires the installment of free software compatible with Windows, Mac OS, and Linux.

Separately, IBM is also working with The Nature Conservancy to set up a new Web site called Rivers for Tomorrow. Launching this fall, the site will let watershed managers find, analyze, and share details about freshwater river basins, a task that has proven challenging in the past. The goal is to help them map out and determine how issues like soil loss and carbon production affect the quality of water.

The new projects are part of IBM's strategy to modernize technologies devoted to creating drinkable water. Teaming up with Intel, IBM recently formed a working group to learn how information and technology can be used to better manage water needs and resources.

"I can think of few endeavors more important than making sure people across the globe have ready access to clean water," Stanley Litow, IBM's vice president of corporate citizenship & corporate affairs, said in a statement. "I would even suggest that it's a basic human right, and a hallmark of sophisticated and compassionate societies everywhere."

Below is an IBM video on the topic: