The way this all works: Those interested register on the World Community Grid and download the 40MB bit of screen-saver-like software that allows the project to tap into the processor. After it is installed, a model of a type of molecule is then sent to the computer; when the screen saver comes on, the software automatically runs an analysis on the model to determine if it has the properties needed to be included in the construction of the polymer plastic.
Millions of molecules need to be analyzed-one at a time. That's why it's so time-consuming to do it in one location.
"When you're working on the machine, none of the power is used [for the project]," Aspuru-Guzik said. "It's only when the machine is idle that the software turns on and starts the calculations."
Project Can Cut Research Time from 22 to 2 Years
Using volunteers' computers in the grid to run these numerous calculations can shorten a project that would normally take about 20 to 22 years to just two years, Aspuru-Guzik said.
The IBM World Community Grid currently has about 1 million computers linked to it. IBM created the network a couple of years ago; it might eventually be considered to be among the top 10 most powerful supercomputers in the world, thanks to its sheer size and scope.
IBM, naturally, includes security software to protect the participants' computers.
"It's a way for people that have computers to do some good for the world," IBM engineer Joe Jasinski said.
Aspuru-Guzik said that about seven volunteers signed up on the first day. "We hadn't even announced it yet," he said.
The Clean Energy Project is the 11th project to run on the World Community Grid and is one of six active projects currently running.
"We are not asking people to change their habits when using their computer," IBM Vice President of Global Community Initiatives Robin Willner told me. "We've packaged up these services into a mashup of sorts, and it's very safe and secure. And the benefits to the user are wonderful."