You may think that by running your PC, you're not being the most environmentally friendly you could be. However, you'd be wrong. You can actually donate the spare processing power on your computer via one of the dozens of ongoing volunteer computing projects, many based on open source software called BOINC.

Here's a look at 12 cool projects, with thanks to volunteer computing enthusiast Jonathan Brier and UC Berkeley's David Anderson for their insights. The websites for the various projects typically include stats on how much processing power they're using, who is volunteering their processors, etc., which is run by Oxford University and the Open University, describes itself as "the world's largest climate forecasting experiment for the 21st century".

This distributed computing project is designed to produce predictions of the Earth's climate up to 2080 and to test the accuracy of climate models. Experiments include estimating the possible effects of climate change mitigation strategies and an investigation of the possible impact of human activity on extreme weather risk.

IBM World Community Grid

The World Community Grid's mission is "to create the world's largest public computing grid to tackle projects that benefit humanity".

The grid supports research into cures for muscular dystrophy, influenza, AIDS and childhood cancer, among other things. The grid, which was headed for half a million members as of August 2009, runs on BOINC software and is funded by the NSF.

A number of other volunteer computing projects also target disease cures, largely via protein research. For example, [email protected]'s pitch is that it "needs your help to determine the three-dimensional shapes of proteins in research that may ultimately lead to finding cures for some major human diseases", including Malaria and Alzheimer's.

The project, started in 2005, is run by the Baker Laboratory at the University of Washington. [email protected] and [email protected] are among other worthy volunteer computing projects that tackle protein research to help fight diseases.

[email protected]

The goal of [email protected] is "creating a highly accurate three dimensional model of the Milky Way galaxy using data gathered by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. This project enables research in both astroinformatics and computer science".

Among other things, the project is designed to help figure out how galaxies are formed. [email protected] is a joint effort between Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's departments of Computer Science and Physics, Applied Physics and Astronomy.

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