Posts Tagged ‘laptop’

Have a nap and let your computer cure cancer

// October 18th, 2010 // 2 Comments » // Drugs, How Things Work, Recent Research, Science Communication

computer doing science

Image by John Watson

While waiting for inspiration to strike a solid introduction into my head, my computer screen went blank. Good ol’ MacBook conserving energy! But letting your computer go idle doesn’t mean you have to waste its processing power. Why not cure cancer with grid computing?

It’s a kind of parallel computing, which breaks up complex problems into smaller calculations and then solves them at the same time. Instead of one processor working on one calculation a time, a group of processors work on different calculations together. Dual-core computers is one way to do it. Grid computing is another.

Grid computing is like a massive virtual computer whose processors are computers linked by a central software.

World Community Grid is one group which utilises the personal computers of over half a million volunteers around the globe. Their software switches on when the computer is idle and runs virtual experiments, calculating and number crunching its way through chemical simulations. They provide this public grid to humanitarian research projects.

Childhood cancer
One of the projects they are running is helping to solve childhood cancer by finding potential new drugs for neuroblastoma, one of the most common solid tumors in children. In some people the tumors do not respond well to chemotherapy. This research is hoping to turn this around by targeting three proteins which are important to the cancer’s survival. Knock out those proteins and the cancer will in turn be knocked out by chemo.

Good plan, but how to knock out the proteins? That’s where the grid comes in.

There are three million potential drug candidates who MIGHT bind to one of the proteins and knock them out. Of course, that’s a lot of laboratory time right there. A computer would be better, but to run these nine million virtual experiments would take 8000 years. By working with the public grid they expect the project to be finished in just two years. Possibly less.

That’s a big saving on time and grant money. It’s rational based drug design (which I blogged about here) taken to a crowd sourcing extreme. They are trying a similar thing to discover dengue fever drugs.

Carbon Nanotubes

Image by Mstroeck

Clean Water
Drug design isn’t the only industry using the World Community Grid. Last month universities in Australia and China announced they are running simulations through the grid to find out how to filter water using nanotubes.

Nanotubes are small tubes that only water molecules can fit through. Not bacteria, not even viruses. It’s a great way to get rid of water dwelling nasties and desalinate sea water. But with such small pores you would expect the pressure and energy needed to force water through the filter to be incredible. And incredibly expensive. But in 2005 experiments showed that actually the water flowed pretty fast through the filters.

Why? Possibly the water molecules touching the nanotubes act more like ice and reduce friction. But who knows? To find out exactly what’s happening they’re running realistic simulations using the grid. The outcome could lead to huge improvements in water availability, potentially saving millions of lives a year in the developing world.

Like the idea of grid computing? Sign up to the World Community Grid here, and let your down time make a difference.

Solar powered laptop bags and handbags

// August 5th, 2010 // 7 Comments » // Science Art, Science at Home

Voltaic Generator Bag

Winter sun is something worth enjoying. Spreading out lizardlike and soaking up UV rays to make Vitamin D is an excellent endeavour. I often take my laptop out with me and blog in the sunlight.

Today as I was doing just that, my laptop started complaining about low charge. It made me wonder if you could solar power your laptop. Turns out you can.

You can have a panel on just about anything. Most only charge small devices like a phone, but you can have one on your desk, one on your bike, or even one on your hat (powering a small fan which spins faster as it gets more sun.)

The one pictured is a laptop bag with solar panels on the front, and it’s capable of charging a laptop. They charge a battery inside the bag, which you can run your laptop on.

Solar Handbag

I did a bit more snooping, and I found some fashionable handbags that do a similar job. These were sold on auction in mid July (one of a kind, probably couldn’t have afforded them anyway), and feature sexy solar panels that can charge your ipod, camera or phone as you walk.

It’s part of the portable light project, which has sadly finished. They create flexible photovoltaic textiles for use in developing countries. The material lends itself to traditional weaving and sewing, so people can incorporate the technology into their own culture. Open source electricity.

The solar units charge during the day, and at night work as lamps. They also have a USB port to charge phones, making it easier for traveling artists to connect with stores or midwives to seek clinic advice and diagnosis.

A mighty fine endeavour, but I’d be happy with something that quickly charged my iPod nano because he has problems. It leaks charge all over the joint like a poorly toilet trained puppy. I leave it switched off and locked in my bag, and next time I try to use it, it’s gone to Davey Jones locker. Perhaps it be time to update to an iPhone…






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