Solving the World's Problems - One Byte at a Time

By Jennifer Donovan | Published

It takes a lot of computing power to fight AIDS or dengue fever—a life-threatening tropical disease—or to figure out how human proteins fold. An enormous amount of computing power. But if the problem gets broken down into millions of tiny pieces, it only takes a little bit of computing power, multiplied by a lot of computers.

So IBM is tapping the power of millions of personal computers—at Michigan Tech and all over the world—while they sit idle at night or on weekends and holidays. The University has joined IBM’s World Community Grid, a partnership between the computer giant and more than 360 universities, companies, associations and other nonprofits worldwide.

“There are a lot of computers on campus that are running all night but not being used,” explained Walter Milligan, chief information officer and captain of the Michigan Tech team. “IBM has been a major supporter of the University, including diversity and educational opportunity programs, and we’re pleased to be able to support this project of theirs.”

The Michigan Tech team already has 29 members, most of them in the School of Forest Resources and Environmental Sciences and the Biology Department of the College of Sciences and Arts. They are part of an international network of more than 17,300 teams comprising nearly 167,000 members.

Michigan Tech is one of five universities in Michigan participating in the World Community Grid. The others are the University of Michigan, Michigan State, Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan Universities.

Teams compete for points based on the number of computer projects they complete. At this point, Michigan Tech ranks 271st in the world in points generated. Among Michigan universities, only the University of Michigan has accumulated more points.

And it all happens when the participating computers would otherwise be drawing power and generating heat but producing nothing useful.

Milligan is inviting faculty and staff to join the World Community Grid and lend a few spare bits and bytes to its humanitarian projects. To join using a university-owned computer, individuals should contact their system administrator.

To join or for more information, go to:

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 54 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.