[email protected] has seen an explosive rise in popularity over the last month, after announcing that they’re focusing their efforts on the current Coronavirus. In the past, they’ve worked on all manner of diseases from cancer to Alzheimer’s to help scientists better understand them.
For almost 20 years now, [email protected] has been a crowd-sourced citizen science project out of Stanford University that allows ordinary people to donate computing resources to a scientific cause. As it turns out, protein folding simulations are very demanding. Each would take hundreds of years to successfully complete on most computers. By downloading their client onto your PC, Mac or Linux machine, you effectively allow the project to use your computer’s CPU and GPU to help with the heavy lifting and speed up the process.
On February 27, [email protected] announced that they will be focusing on trying to better understand the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Influential PC enthusiast circles like PCMR, Tom’s Hardware, AnandTech and LinusTechTips have all started rallying behind the cause. LTT even posted an instructional video on how anyone can set up [email protected] on their PC and join the fight.
Last week, we learned that [email protected] has gained 700,000 new contributors (finally hit 1M) with a total of 4.63 million CPU cores and 435 thousand GPUs. The combined processing power has hit the 1 exaflop milestone. That’s 1,500,000,000,000,000,000 operations per second.
For some context, that’s ten times faster than IBM’s Summit supercomputer, which is currently the world’s fastest supercomputer. In fact, [email protected] currently has more processing power than the world’s top 100 supercomputers combined.
And [email protected] have felt it! Many users have claimed to not be able to access their website and servers. At one point, they became so overwhelmed with computing power than they ran out of work units. Contributors had to wait for the team to draw up new designs and send them out as work units to be processed.
So, impressive numbers aside, what has been the result? Obviously, research is ongoing work. It’s a marathon and not a sprint. The [email protected] team even acknowledges that they don’t know when or even if their work will lead to treatment.
On April 3rd, they published a detailed blog post explaining exactly what they’re doing so that people can have a better idea. Essentially, we can’t observe the virus at a fast enough rate using modern day scientific equipment. This makes it difficult to find ways to attack it. To get around this, [email protected] is running simulations of all the possible actions and behaviors that the virus can do. This will hopefully help scientists find ways to attack it at different points in the infection.
In the blog post, they included a 23-second video of SARS-CoV-2 opening its receptor to attach to human lung cells.
A previous post, dated March 30th, includes other simulations that were successfully completed. They may not seem like much to you or me, but hopefully to scientists they do.
If you want to contribute to science but don’t have a powerful PC, check out our post on finding galaxies.