Hi, everybody.
We all try to help scientific reseach, by giving, when we can, some money, and/or by making people aware of the importance of helping it: because only through scientific research the causes of diseases may be discovered and the ways to fight and win over them may be found.
Well, since some years there's a new way, for all of us, to concretely and directly help the research.
In a "few" words (I don't pretend to be exhaustive):
a) you download and install a software, called BOINC:
BOINC website: http://boinc.berkeley.edu/
b) you attach to one or more research projects (this implies the creation, once for all, of an account for each selected project): there are countless, it's up to you, according to your sensibility, to decide which to support.
I'll just mention World Community Grid, which includes many different sub-projects, from "Help Conquer Cancer" to "Fight Aids @ Home"... and many others: you may decide which sub-projects help.
WCG website: http://www.worldcommunitygrid.org
c) Once in a while, BOINC will need, through an Internet connection (you may need to set your firewall/antivirus so that BOINC and its applications are free to run), to download new workunits and the applications to process them (usually the latter need to be downloaded only the first time on when they (rarely) are updated).
Then, it'll begin to process them, one or two or three or four at a time according to the number of CPUs you have (some GPUs included).
It's like if you were taking your pc to the lab and telling the researchers - hey, feel free to load your data and your software into it and temporarily use it like one of your computers! -
Only, you still have your computer at home and you're still free to use it.
Of course, both the downloaded data and software are carefully checked: no damage is made to the your computer (as far as I know).
And, of course, your computer's workload/activity increases.
The software processing the workunits for a certain project may come with graphics, showing the researchers, and a visual representation of the data processed (for example, a 3D model of a protein), statistics...
d) You *don't* need to manually process/calculate anything; once you attach to a project, BOINC downloads and runs everything by itself.
e) each single workunit has its deadline: the processing of a workunit ***must*** be completed before that deadline, or it will not be considered valid!
f) You may fully customize it and decide (for example) in which days/hours your CPUs may process those data, what percentage of your CPUs activity should be dedicated to that, how much percentage of your hard-disk has to be reserved for BOINC... and other settings; according to your choices, BOINC will decide how many workunits to download.
g) All of the projects grant you a score for each single workunit processed, according to how much worktime it took for your and others' CPUs to process it: the same workunit may be sent to other crunchers (users who crunch workunits!), so that the different results are compared and eventual faults/mistakes... and cheatings too are avoided; the more you process, the more your results are found to be correct, the more your reputation (in each projects' terms) grows and you may receive workunits that no one else receives... because you grew a good, responsible cruncher reputation.
h) A connection is required only when:
h.1) BOINC needs to download new workunits to be processed
h.2) BOINC needs to upload the results and let the projects' websites know that you've just done it.
For the rest of the time you may even be offline: just carefully check the deadlines!
i) Please consider that labs usually own a few computers, more or less powerful: at the end of a projects phase (after which the results collected are processed and eventually used as the starting point for a new phase), WCG often shows how much the researching time has been lowered with the help of crunchers from the whole world; it often happens to read things like:
"a computer alone would have taken 10000 years to process all those data: with the help of all the crunchers, it only took 5 years!"

No one of us may save, alone, the world: but, together, we can do something quite effective.

I am not involved in BOINC, nor in WCG nor in any of the many research projects.
I'm just a human being... and a cruncher, who painfully wish he had found about BOINC years ago.

Thank you for reading this.