Make a real difference
While SETI and RC5 are the most common distributed computing programs, there are a couple of new players that hit a little closer to home. Wired is reporting that the National Foundation for Cancer Research has released a client to crunch numbers in the for search anti-cancer drugs.
Dr. Sujuan Ba, director of the National Foundation for Cancer Research, and Dr. Graham Richards of Oxford University conceived the idea and recruited Intel and United Devices, a software company in Austin, Texas, and the American Cancer Society, to help them.
United Devices built THINK, the software that PC users will download to participate in the project. THINK is designed to estimate how well small, drug-like molecules will bind themselves to proteins. If they adhere, they have a chance to someday become a cancer-fighting drug.
is another client with philanthropic ties that is aiming to gain a greater understanding of proteins and how they fold.
Understanding how proteins self-assemble ("protein folding") is a holy grail of modern molecular biophysics. What makes it such a great challenge is its complexity, which renders simulations of folding extremely computationally demanding and difficult to understand. (See Scientific Background for more details about what are proteins, why do they fold, why this is so difficult, and why do we care).
Both are easily worthy recipients of your computer's spare cycles, and have great potential to make a real difference. If you're not convinced yet, just think how easy it would be to justify upgrading your hardware if you're helping develop new drugs and fighting cancer.