Thanks to advances in technology, researchers are able to gather a tremendous amount of data. The challenge then becomes analyzing the data so that meaningful conclusions can be drawn. The amount of images that need to be analyzed or the computing power needed to do calculations can overwhelm the capabilities of the lab, so scientists have learned to crowdsource, using the public to help them out.
There are many citizen science projects available that can require a very minimal amount of training to start assessing data. These projects can vary from actually going into a community lab to playing specially-designed video games. For those looking for even less of a hands-on approach, you can let your computer do all of the work for you. The Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC) is a middleware system that allows volunteers to donate their computer’s processing power when they aren’t at their desk. Many people leave their computer on while they are at work or sleeping anyway, and BOINC makes use of this down time by performing computations for nearly all branches of science.
Claus Adams from the University of Vienna noticed that computers aren’t the only devices able to develop cancer treatments or study climate patterns while the user is away; smartphones are able to get quite a bit of work done as well. He approached Samsung with his idea for an app that would work a lot like BOINC and help facilitate research. They were immediately receptive, and Power Sleep was born.
Many cell phone users plug their phone in at night before they go to bed, leaving a device that is powered on and connected to the home’s wifi for hours at a time, with nothing to do. Power Sleep utilizes the phone’s CPU cycles and adds it to the computing power from other users, and the decoded protein sequences are sent directly to the lab’s servers upon completion.
To run the application, the user sets an alarm for the start and ending time. The program will only run when the phone’s battery is at 100% (read: plugged in) and connected to wifi. This way, it does not run down your phone's battery or use all of your data for the month to run the program. It takes about 30-60 minutes to calculate each data package, which is about 1MB to download.
The app is completely free to use and can be found in the Samsung app store as well as from Google Play. The program requires Android 2.3 or better for Samsung devices. The app is not able to access any personal data from the phone, it is only using the unused computing power to do help scientists work toward a cure for Alzheimer’s and cancer.