Folding@Home Tackles COVID-19
We live in a unique age. A pandemic hitting the world at any other time in history has been a devastating loss. Even though we have seen loss during this COVID-19 crisis, we have resources unlike any seen previously in human history. Super computing and the most advanced medical science ever are both working diligently on a solution to this problem.
But it’s easy to feel unhelpful in a time like this; like you can’t contribute to the greater good. There’s a quote by the incomparable Fred Rogers that frequents the internet in times of trouble.
“Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping,” his mother once told him. And that’s what Folding@Home is working on as we speak. They use super computing technology to help solve medical problems.
How It Works
Admittedly, I didn’t understand how this worked at first. To understand what you can do to help, first you have to understand what they’re trying to accomplish.
Proteins are the building blocks of our cells. We know that after basic biology classes. What we didn’t necessarily learn, however, was how they fold. Folding refers to the way the proteins structure themselves to take on different roles within our cells. If those proteins fold incorrectly, whether on their own or from an outside invader like a virus, diseases can occur within the human body.
That’s where Folding@Home comes into play. These labs simulate all the ways a protein can fold (and correct themselves) to form diseases. By studying how they fold incorrectly, and how the other proteins work to correct that process, we can learn about how to cure the diseases caused by improper folding. All of these simulations can be run through super computing work units to figure out a complex problem.
Where Do I Fit In All This
Folding@Home asks volunteers to download their software to allow the use of your idle processing resources to help with the work units. Essentially, you allow them to use part of your computer’s processing ability to get more work done quickly. PC Matic has joined the Folding@Home family with our own “team” to assist with their research.
If you’re like me, the idea of someone using my computer makes me a little leery. After some research from Folding@Home, Google, and other teams like PC Matic, I found independent information from a larger team that explains why Folding@Home is safe.
“Folding@Home is secure. The Stanford team has gone to great lengths to ensure security, both for the integrity of their research and the safety of donors’ computers. However, the more secure the better. The Gentoo ebuild for Folding@Home creates a new user foldingathome whose sole purpose is to run the client. Now, fah_install and origami offer the same. They create a user whose account is disabled, and runs the client as this user when the init script is run as root, so the client is never run as root.”
So what that means is that the software creates a new user on your machine to run the program. This makes a more secure connection because the account is set up as a user and not a program running at the root of your computer.
Why Do They Need Me?
The question has been asked why Folding@Home can’t just use a supercomputer instead of the extra space on home users machines. Super computers are essentially a collection of processors linked by fast networking. Surprisingly, home computers are often times just as or faster than supercomputers.
Additionally, supercomputers are expensive and therefore shared between many different research facilities. It becomes tricky to scale molecular simulation to all of their processors. The idle time on your home computer allows the work to be broken up, completed, and sent back to the analysts at Folding@Home.
Their software allows you to earn points by completing projects (you don’t have to do anything to complete these, your computer will do it on its own.) You also have the ability to see the projects you’re working on. Fighting COVID-19 is one project, but they’re also working on research to find cures for Cancer, Alzheimer’s, Ebola, Huntington’s, Hepatitis, Zika, Parkinson’s and many others.
Join The Team
While we are currently living in the most technically advanced age in human history, we have seen in the past months how vulnerable we are to disease. Let’s all band together to help bring an end to this and many other illnesses. Join us today.
If you’re ready to become one of the helpers, you can join our PC Matic team via our link here. If you need more information, or want to find out more about Folding, please visit Folding@Home via their FAQ page.
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