Do you have a computer that sits idle for some portion of the day, unused and unloved? Well, I did, and recently started putting it to work while I'm away or asleep.
BOINC is an open-source software project developed at UC Berkeley, intended to allow anyone in the world to utilize the idle time on their own computer to contribute to scientific research.
Many scientific discoveries require intense computing power to comb through lots and lots of data. Instead of spending their budgets to rent computing time from servers somewhere, universities and other research organizations can utilize the untapped power of idle computers around the world.
Thankfully, you can choose how your computer spends its idle time, as there many projects to choose from. I'm only contributing to the Einstein@Home project right now, which searches for pulsars with data from the LIGO gravitational wave detector. It was through the great work happening there that scientists were able to confirm the existence of gravitational waves in February.
In fact, just a few days ago, the discovery of the youngest-known radio-quiet gamma ray pulsar was announced. Oh, and Einstein@Home comes with an optional, but badass, screensaver:
The application that supports all this is easy to use and provides a lot of information on how your computer is being used. It's super easy to specify times during which the software can and cannot run, which is great.
It's neat to think about other areas in which volunteer computing could be useful. I imagine it would be great for low-budget movie producers, 3d artists, and engineers that need to harness lots of computing power in order to render scenes, create animations based on physics, and perform complex simulations.
This is the sort of software that should be a no-brainer for most, as it's free and definitely a "set it and forget it" service. What's not to like? Consider installing BOINC yourself and begin volunteering your computer - for science!