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PS3 power requested for research project

Sony invites PlayStation 3 owners to loan their machines' processing power to Stanford study of protein chemistry. Images: Harnessing PS3 power for Folding@home

If you bought a PlayStation 3 thinking it was just for games or watching movies, Sony wants you to know you can use the powerful device for something a lot more important.

Sony announced on Thursday that owners of any Internet-connected PS3 will be able to participate in a wide-ranging, distributed, scientific experiment led by Stanford University's Folding@home program, which is seeking to better understand a process called protein folding and its relationship to several serious diseases.

According to a release from Sony, the Stanford program is focusing on how two-dimensional protein strands in the human body fold into the three-dimensional molecules that determine their biological functions, and why incorrect folding can lead to debilitating diseases such as cancer, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

But studying the folding process is an extremely complex task requiring vast amounts of computing power, Sony said in its release. Hence the PS3/Folding@home initiative. PS3 participants will be able to lend their console's massive processing power to the effort, much as PC users are able to assist in the SETI@Home project, which is seeking to identify extraterrestrial life.

PS3 users are expected to be able to start lending their machines to the project on March 23, accessing Folding@home via the PS3's XrossMediaBar, the console's interactive menu system. Once participating machines are connected to the project and idle, Folding@home will tap the devices' unused processing power. Users will be able to watch the scientific simulations in real time, Sony said, as well as interact with the research by manipulating protein strands.