Those of you who have been around the Internet for a while may have heard of SETI@home. It was a project that analyzed data from space to look for possible communications from extraterrestrial life. It was the ultimate distributed computing project – 5 million volunteers installed SETI software on their computers, which allowed their computers to download and analyze SETI data when idle. It didn’t disturb the volunteers’ work at all, because the SETI program only ran when the computer was not being used, as a screen saver would. Over 2 million years of computing time were eventually donated to the project.
This model is now being expanded to other projects. You can choose to volunteer your unused computing time to research cures for human disease, analyze climate change, participate in chemistry or physics research, or analyze signals from space. Check out their website – it’s a project of the University of California, Berkeley.