You Can Help Fight Coronavirus by Giving Scientists Access to Your Computer

Stanford’s Folding@home is using distributed computing to help develop COVID-19 drugs

Sarvesh Mathi
OneZero
Published in
5 min readMar 13, 2020

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This illustration reveals the ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. Image: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

WWith over 100,000 confirmed cases, the race to find a vaccine and cure for COVID-19, the virus that is making its way around the world, is in full swing. But scientists from the Folding@home Consortium believe they can speed up this process with your help.

What is the Folding@home project?

Folding@home (FAH) is a project run by Stanford University’s Pande Lab that uses the idle resources of personal computers around the world to perform disease research. On February 27, the team behind the project announced they are taking up the fight against the 2019 coronavirus, and on March 10, the team provided an update on their work so far, including open-source files on GitHub for researchers to use.

FAH uses volunteers’ personal computers when the computer is idle or isn’t doing any resource-intensive work to carry out research-related computations. By doing different tasks simultaneously on thousands of volunteer computers across the world, a concept known as distributed computing, the team hopes to significantly speed up the research process, even faster than if they were to use a supercomputer (more on this later).

Besides having incredible computational power, FAH is many magnitudes cheaper to operate than a supercomputer.

This isn’t FAH’s first rodeo. The project has been running since October 2000, and the Pande Lab has published 222 research papers (as of February 2020) as a direct result of the work done by FAH. As you would expect, hundreds of other researchers have also benefited from these papers. The project has contributed significantly to the understanding of:

  • Neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, and Parkinson’s
  • Infectious diseases like dengue, Zika, hepatitis C, and Ebola
  • Breast cancer, kidney cancer, epigenetics, and the p53 protein

The primary means by which FAH contributes to these fields is by exploring a…

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