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Participate in Citizen Science with the new SkS BOINC team

Posted on 12 December 2012 by Steve Brown

BOINC Logo (Michal Krakowiak)

We've discussed in the past how the general public can make a real contribution to scientific discovery by highlighting some of the citizen science projects that you can participate in.  Now is your chance to join the Skeptical Science team in participating in the grand-daddy of Internet based citizen science: the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing, otherwise known as BOINC.

Some of the most difficult problems in science require huge amounts of computing power, such as modelling the Earth's climate, predicting weather, searching for evidence of the Higgs particle, or understanding how proteins can fold at the molecular level to aid the development of vaccines.  BOINC started life as an open source grid computing framework that was developed to manage the venerable SETI@Home project at the University of California, Berkeley, where members of the public could donate some of their PC's CPU time and literally create a planet-sized virtual super-computer to look for signs of intelligent life buried in radio astronomy data.  BOINC now facilitates the computation of  dozens more science and computing projects for people to take part in real research at home.

We've now created a Skeptical Science team across all of the BOINC enabled projects and it is open to any of you who want to join with us.  In return, you will get a nice gooey feeling that you are making an active contribution to real scientific endeavours, as well as the excitement of following the team league statistics.  We're already ranked 8,880 out of 97,111 teams in the BOINC worldwide league table! Detailed SkS team stats are available here.

Getting Started with BOINC 

Follow these steps to get started. If you are already running BOINC, then proceed to STEP 2:

STEP 1:  Choose a project and download the BOINC software here:  It works on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.

STEP 2: Once you've set up an account, you can join the SkS team from the "Join a Team" link on your project account page and search for "Skeptical Science".  Please note that it may take up to 48 hours before your team membership is registered.

Join a Team

Figure 1: Example of a "Find a Team" page on the project site

STEP 3: Set your BOINC software preferences (Tools - Computing Preferences..) to instruct it how much CPU time to use, the time of day to run, and its priority over other applications you are running.  By setting these preferences carefully, BOINC will run in the background unobtrusively and not result in too much additional power consumption.

BOINC Preferences

Figure 2: BOINC Computing Preferences

Climate Prediction

The project that is most relevant to climate science is, which provides a global climate model to investigate a range of questions on how Earth's climate may change up to the year 2100.  By serving up slightly different versions of the model parameters to participating PC's, experimenters are able to test the sensitivity and accuracy of the very large general circulation climate models running on multi-million dollar supercomputers at the leading research centres.  There is a growing list of scientific publications that has generated, which you can access from here.

Climate Prediction

Figure 3: Visualisation of a project model running on my PC

From time to time there may be periods where the Climate Prediction project does not have any new work for you.  This is usually due to the amount of effort it takes researchers to prepare new experiments.  If this happens then be patient and BOINC will eventually download new work units as they appear.  You can check the Climate Prediction Server status to see the availability of work units for your BOINC client:  There is also nothing to stop you from subscribing to multiple projects to ensure you keep your PC busy.

SkS Team Stats Summary 

Figure 4: SkS BOINC team statistics.  The team is currently running Climate Prediction (CPDN), Milky Way, and SETI@Home

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Comments 1 to 8:

  1. All my spare CPU cycles are on Climate Prediction for the 350 team. Started years ago with SETI.
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  2. A few additional climate science related citizen science efforts of note that involve more interaction and less CPU effort / grunt time, but are equally valuable ... - reclassifying the global tropical storm records from the whole satellite era. - digitizing old marine logbook data to improve our knowledge of historical marine surface climate changes. - digitizing old land and upper air data records. Pre-1950 there is as much in-situ data in hard copy or image only format as there is digitized. These 'unknown knowns' could literally transform our ability to characterize long-term changes in climate. The good news is that anyone can help us to reduce the fog of uncertainty in historical climate records. Your analysis and clicks in any of the above can really help us to improve our collective knowledge of historical climate changes.
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  3. :-) I've been running this on various CPUs since it was only SETI. I'm on the team of a company that no longer exists; so, I'll probably start giving credit to the SKS team. ClimatePrediction is active on my work machine, but BOINC is saying the project is not currently available when I try a new account on my personal machine. I wonder if the SKS fans have overloaded the CP site. World Community Grid also has some interesting sub-projects, including one on materials research for some form of alternate energy (solar?).
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  4. Hmmmm ... seems to be off the air at present. Perhaps it is being overloaded by prospective SkS team members? "8-)
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  5. is back up. They've had problems with power cuts due to a fire at their local electricity sub-station.
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  6. Oddly I never seem to get any work units from CPN. Was an early participant, have some completed unit credits from way back when, but nothing new is put in my queue.
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  7. Doug - There has been a bit of a drought of available work units recently. I've just started getting some after a several week gap. The preparation of new work units is rather laborious and CPDN (as with all science projects) is run on a shoestring. The availability of work is also dependent on the pipeline and scheduling of new experiments. If CPDN looks quiet the best advice is to leave it running and subscribe to one or two other BOINC projects. You can easily turn them off, or throttle them back once CPDN starts shovelling work to you.
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  8. I just had to whine about it a little more, Steve. :-) Running Milky Way and SETI so that when we hear from the aliens we'll know how to go visit. Box stays plenty busy w/that.
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