Smartphones Become Even Smarter
The world's 900 million Android devices may now contribute to world-class research and discovery
With funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) recently developed software that provides new opportunities for Android-based smartphone users to participate in citizen science efforts.
The newly-updated software, called Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing or "BOINC," gives owners of devices that use Android 2.3 operating systems or higher the chance to participate in volunteer distributive computing--that is, donate the excess computing power of their handheld devices to science.
Increasingly, the idle computers of ordinary citizens have become useful scientific tools. Citizens have donated time from their home and office computers, essentially creating very powerful, globally-distributed supercomputers. Scientists use this computational power to conduct sophisticated simulations and data analyses that often yield discoveries.
More recently, as mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets have become more powerful, energy efficient and numerous, their excess computing power became just as attractive a resource to scientists. There are now about 900 million Android devices, and their total computing power exceeds that of the largest conventional supercomputers.
Volunteer distributed computing enables people and organizations to contribute toward scientific progress with little effort, and is increasing in popularity in a wide range of disciplines such as astronomy, physics, environmental sciences and social sciences.
Einstein@Home, with funding from NSF and the The Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Hannover, Germany, leads the search for radio pulsars. The project analyzes large amounts of data from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) and the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, the world's largest and most sensitive single-dish radio telescope whose main purpose is to discover radio pulsars, rotating neutron stars that emit beams of electromagnetic radiation.
"Widening the doors to participation in Einstein@Home is great news for astronomy and physics," said NSF Program Director Bogdan Mihaila. "The study of exotic celestial bodies provides unique insights into the behavior of matter at extreme pressures and densities and may shed light on the nature of gravity. Einstein@home allows 'citizen scientists' to make contributions to profound, cutting-edge scientific research."
Three years ago, with data from Arecibo, the first significant discovery through Einstein@Home was made when citizen scientists discovered a rotating pulsar. To date, more than 340,000 participants globally have helped discover almost 50 new radio pulsars. Today, some 900 million Android users in America may easily download an application and contribute their computational power to the effort.
Another project enabled for Android smartphones and tablets is FightAIDS@Home, a search for more effective AIDS treatment hosted on IBM's World Community Grid. The Olson Laboratory at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., is using computational methods to identify new candidate drugs that have the right shape and chemical characteristics to block HIV protease, HIV integrase, or HIV reverse transcriptase, the three enzymes that the deadly AIDS virus needs to function and spread.
IBM's World Community Grid plans on Android-enabling other projects in the future. IBM's World Community Grid has been used to facilitate research into clean energy, clean water and healthy foodstuffs, as well as cures for cancer, malaria and other diseases.
The BOINC project, which choreographs the technical aspects of volunteer computing, was founded in 2002 at UC Berkeley with support from NSF. Development of its Android version was funded in part by the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics, IBM World Community Grid, NSF and Google.
Einstein@Home was founded as a key project of the World Year of Physics activities in 2005 and was an International Year of Astronomy 2009 project. Einstein@Home is led by the Center for Gravitation and Cosmology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Hannover, Germany, with financial support from NSF and the Max Planck Society. The long-term goal of Einstein@Home is the direct detection of gravitational waves from rapidly rotating neutron stars. Gravitational waves were predicted by Albert Einstein in 1916, but only now is technology catching up: soon scientists will be able to measure these tiny ripples in space-time.
More than 2.3 million computers used by more than 600,000 people and institutions from 80 countries have contributed power for projects on World Community Grid. The result is one of the fastest virtual supercomputers on the planet, advancing scientific work by hundreds of years. By 2013, at least 22 projects were running or had been completed as part of World Community Grid. Since its inception in 2004, this resource created and managed by IBM has provided research scientists with the equivalent of more than 750,000 years of computing at no cost to them.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2017, its budget is $7.5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 48,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards.
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