Surplus computing power on your Android? Donate it to science

Users of Android 2.3 or higher can become citizen scientists by downloading software and choosing the projects they want to power, such as fighting AIDS and finding new stars.

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore is based in Portland, Oregon, and has written for Wired, The Christian Science Monitor, and public radio. Her semi-obscure hobbies include climbing, billiards, board games that take up a lot of space, and piano.
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
2 min read
Jason Cipriani/CNET

Mom said to reach for the stars, right? Now you can.

By donating surplus processing power from their Android devices, so-called citizen scientists are joining researchers at IBM's World Community Grid and the Einstein@Home project who hope to speed up the work they are currently doing on AIDS and pulsars.

Volunteer computing has traditionally leaned on the excess power of desktops and laptops. But as smartphones and tablets become more powerful and energy efficient, not to mention numerous, it makes sense to tap into the burgeoning power source.

Anyone interested in participating needs a device using Android 2.3 or higher. Just download the latest version of BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing) -- which choreographs the technical aspects of volunteer computing -- from the Google Play site and choose which project you'd like to donate to. Just think, you can help discover new stars with Einstein@Home or fight AIDS via IBM's World Community Grid. And if you're concerned about such down-to-earth basics as battery lift and recharge time, the devices running BOINC will only participate when connected to Wi-Fi, charging, and when battery life is already above 90 percent.

The FightAIDS@Home project hosted on IBM's World Community Grid is run by scientists at the Olson Laboratory at the Scripps Research Institute as they search for new drugs with the right shape and chemical makeup to block three enzymes the virus needs to thrive. The Grid has already been used in projects that include researching cures for cancer, malaria, and other diseases, and plans to add other projects to the Android effort as well. It already comprises more than 2.3 million computers used by more than 600,000 people and institutions from 80 countries to speed up more than 20 projects.

The Einstein@Home project is led by the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Germany, whose application that analyzes data from the world's largest radio telescope in Puerto Rico will tap into Android power as it searches for radio pulsars via their pulsed electromagnetic wave emissions. The more computing power, the faster and more sensitive the search to better understand how stars and even the universe itself evolve. Thanks to more than 340,000 participants worldwide, the project is already responsible for discovering almost 50 new radio pulsars.

The BOINC project, by the way, was founded at the University of California at Berkeley in 2002, with support from the National Science Foundation.