Thanks to the power of distributing computing, scientists studying protein folding have a petaflop of computing power at their disposal. Thatâ''s one quadrillion floating point equations per second; kind of like having three Blue Genes (the fastest supercomputer in the world) in the back room.
They hit that magic number yesterday. The project is run out of Stanford, but the call I got today to tell me the big news came from Sony. Because roughly 75 percent of those quadrillion flops are being contributed by Sony PlayStation3s.
Protein folding involves amino acid chains inside cells that, in a healthy organism, twist into unique, three-dimensional shapes. In certain disease processes, the folding goes wrong. Figuring out how and why folding goes wrong may help understand Alzheimerâ''s, Parkinsonâ''s, Mad Cow Disease, and some cancers. But the three-dimensional shapes are complex, and simulating them takes a lot of computing horsepower.
The Stanford-run project is tagged Folding@Home. Like the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence project, which pioneered the harnessing of idle cycles of personal computers volunteered for the effort, Folding@Home relies on a volunteer effort. In this case, volunteers register with the Folding@Home network and download the application. The application can run on demand or whenever the computer or game machine is idle.
Since the Folding@Home put out the call to PS3 owners last March, 600,000 have signed on, more than quadrupling the computing power available. Things like this give gamers a good name.