Physical social distancing is a way to fight the coronavirus pandemic. But a large group of volunteers are fighting the virus in a different way.
Hundreds of thousands of people have added their home computers to a gigantic network that forms a virtual supercomputer called Folding @ home. The project uses a large amount of computing power to run protein simulations for researchers studying COVID-19.
These proteins are what help the virus to infect human cells; With the computer simulations, researchers hope to fully map the disease’s proteins to discover vulnerabilities that can be attacked by any type of treatment.
When more volunteers donate their unused computing power to the effort, the virtual supercomputer can work much faster. Everyone around the world can install the project’s software and help with the effort.
Project Manager Gregory Bowman, a biophysicist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, explained how the project works and how people can help in an interview with Science News.
According to Bowman, researchers are working on extremely small time scales to detect small movements of atoms in proteins. To see how proteins move for a second, they have to do a “billion square” calculation on a computer.
However, Folding @ home can perform calculations in a month that a regular desktop computer would take 100 years to perform, the science publication reported.