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Physical social distancing is one way to fight the coronavirus pandemic. But a large group of volunteers is battling the virus in a different way.
Hundreds of thousands of people have added their home computers to a gigantic network forming a virtual supercomputer known as Folding@home. The project uses crowdsourced computing power to run simulations of proteins for scientists studying COVID-19.
Those proteins are what help the virus to infect human cells; with the computer simulations, researchers are hoping to fully map out the disease's proteins in order to detect vulnerabilities that could be attacked by some type of treatment.
As more volunteers donate their unused computing power to the effort, the virtual supercomputer can work much faster. Anyone worldwide can install the project's software and help out with the effort.
Project leader Gregory Bowman, a biophysicist at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, explained how the project works and how people can help in an interview with Science News.
According to Bowman, researchers are working on extremely tiny timescales to track small movements of atoms in proteins. In order to see how proteins move over one second, they need to do a "billion-squared" calculations on a computer.
However, Folding@home can perform calculations in one month that a regular desktop computer would take 100 years to perform, the science publication reported.