We have heard it many times: water is the next oil, and will be the source of much global conflict over the next century. If we do not start sorting out what can be done about increasing drought, a growing population, and more water pollution and water contamination, it is going to be a long 80 years.
Thankfully technology can have a huge role in solving this crisis. One way is to use the power of the Internet to gather information about the declining bee and firefly populations—interested folks around the US, or even the globe, can simply count and enter metrics into a remote database. Then there a more powerful, yet less involved option: donating idle computer time to allow a large system to crunch numbers for a greater good. Called grid computing, such a process allows work to be split into many small pieces, reducing the time needed for a tedious yet necessary research project from years to months. Interested users just need to download a piece of software on their computer, and let the work occur remotely. IBM’s World Community Grid is a leader in this technology, and now it is allowing researchers at a Chinese university to find solutions the increasing global water problems.
One such project announced Tuesday by IBM is one that involves Tsinghua University researchers and European scientists. Their goal is to harness the power of 1.5 million computers on the Worldwide Community Grid to develop and test new nanotechnologies that can improve the filtering of dirty water at a more manageable cost. Using what the field calls large-scale molecular dynamics calculations, in which individual water molecules forced through nanotubes are simulated, these scientists hope to achieve an improved understanding of the mechanics behind the flow of water through those micro-micro-scopic tubes.
Another project will occur in Brazil. Researchers at FIOCRUZ Minas will screen millions of chemical compounds in order to find a cure to the tropical disease schistosomiasis, which is spread by contaminated water and kills tens of thousands of people annually who have limited or no access to clean water.
Registering in order to contribute your computer to the project is about as easy as accessing most sites on the web. Interested participants simply need to review a licensing agreement, select the project to which they want to donate their computer firepower, and then download and install the software.