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Harnessing your processing power for good

SAN FRANCISCO--Did you know you can help to fight disease and study climate change by sharing your computer? This practice, called distributed computing, refers to using computers' spare processing power to tackle programming jobs.

One newer example of distributed computing is BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing). David P. Anderson, a scientist at the Space Science Laboratory at U.C. Berkeley who pioneered the project, spoke at AAAS's (American Association for the Advancement of Science) annual meeting here.

Before BOINC, of course, was SETI@home, also initiated by Anderson. The program is downloaded by more than 5 million people. Around half a million people still run the program every day, Anderson said, which gives the equivalent of "1,700 years of computer time" in a span of 24 hours.

While BOINC has already been picked up by some people, Anderson said he is trying to spread the word and get the public more involved in science. To contribute, you download BOINC's own software, then choose the project or projects you want to participate in. They include Ligo, a gravitational wave observatory, and Rosetta@home, which works to determine the three-dimensional shapes of proteins. BOINC volunteers remain anonymous.