CERN is recruiting the public to help it find the Higgs boson via distributed @home simulations.  (Source: Fermilab)

The tool will also be applied to helping tracking deforestation and other threats to mankind and the environment.  (Source: Google Images)
Latest @home projects look to protect the environment, save lives, and crack physics mysteries

While the accuracy of its most ambitious simulations is still is a work in progress, Stanford University's Folding@home has been a visionary project in showcasing the merits of distributed, volunteer-based supercomputing.

I. LHC Powers up With New Volunteer Computing Client

CERN (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire -- European Council for Nuclear Research) is teaming up with United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), and the University of Geneva to create an organization dubbed "Citizen Cyberscience Centre", which looks to test and deploy similar projects.

The Citizen Cyberscience Centre just yesterday released [press release] its second generation LHC@home software, whose ambitious goal is to assist scientists with locating the legendary Higgs boson and other exotic particles.

The client is available to download here.

Its concept is that while scientists have advanced physics theory that tells them how they expect systems to behave, they can't actually give a prediction of how a particular system will behave until they put that theory into a system.  With LHC@home, members of the public can install a client on their computers, which will apply their spare computing power towards simulating high-energy collisions between protons.  The results will then be compared with experimental data from real-world LHC runs to narrow the search for items of interest.

The LHC stands for "Large Hadron Collider".  The massive 17 mile (27 km) underground track on the Swiss-French border is the world's most powerful particle accelerator.  The LHC has been conducting full experimental runs during warm months since March 30, 2010, after two years of initial technical difficulties.

Professor Dave Britton of the University of Glasgow, a researcher who previously worked on the CMS LHC sensor, and currently works on the ATLAS sensor project, is a developer of cloud-based particle physics computing schemes.  While not directly affiliated with the LHC@home code, he voiced enthusiasm on the effort, which is similar to his own GridPP ( distributed particle physics effort.

He remarks, "Scientists like me are trying to answer fundamental questions about the structure and origin of the Universe. Through the Citizen Cyberscience Centre and its volunteers around the world, the Grid computing tools and techniques that I use everyday are available to scientists in developing countries, giving them access to the latest computing technology and the ability to solve the problems that they are facing, such as providing clean water. Whether you're interested in finding the Higgs boson, playing a part in humanitarian aid or advancing knowledge in developing countries, this is a great project to get involved with."

II. LHC@home Can Also be Used to Protect Forests -- and Lives

The new project will also be applied to processing satellite data from governments and private entities to protect the environment and human lives.  These applications will also draw computing resources from the LHC@home 2.0 client.

One plan involves tracking of natural disasters such as floods, tsunamis, and earthquakes.  Such a project could help aid workers locate injured people, saving lives.  It could also help people avoid imminent natural disasters.

Another potential humanitarian application is to use the data processing capabilities to locate clean drinking water.  Many regions of the world still lack reliable sources of safe-to-drink water.

Additionally, the processing power can be used to track deforestation.  This will allow international governments and environmental action organizations to assess the extent of environmental damage and loss of biodiversity.  This will allow them to better formulate plans of action to preserve our planet's natural treasures.

Describes Francesco Pisano, Manager of UNOSAT, "From a development and humanitarian perspective, the potential of citizen-powered research is enormous. Participating in the Citizen Cyberscience Centre enables us to get new insights into the cutting edge of crowdsourcing technologies. There is no doubt that volunteers are playing an increasingly central role in dealing with crisis response, thanks to the Internet."

III. Project is True Team Effort

While it may sound like the public is doing all the work on these projects, they also require a great deal of effort from CERN and its partners.  Not only do they have to develop all the software, but they also have to process the data down to a form that's digestible by the "volunteer cloud".

To that end the UK's Science & Technology Facilities Council is providing one of the world's top ten Tier 1 data centers to serving up information to LHC@home 2.0 clients.

The reward, though, of the marriage of academia, government institutions, and the public is in producing a distributed supercomputer that far exceeds the capacity of even today's most powerful stand-alone installations.

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