Volume 96, Issue 73
Friday, February 7, 2003

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Cure-puters

By Marshall Bellamy
Gazette Staff

Along with the gift of e-mail and free pornography, idle computers may now be used to find a cure for small pox.

A new program will link an estimated two million computers together into a grid to identify possible antidotes to small pox, said Joseph Jasinski, worldwide operations manager for IBM life sciences.

The project involves IBM and several other private companies working with the United States Department of Defense, Jasinski said.

Computer owners download a screen saver from a Web site that carries a program to receive instructions through the grid from an IBM computer platform, Jasinski said. He explained they will then be used to calculate certain chemical solutions, which are sent back to the IBM super computer.

"[The program] runs in the background all of the time," said Ed Hubbard, chief executive officer of United Devices, a participating computer company, adding the program will be in use in homes, businesses and universities, and is secure.

The project will attempt to compute the chemical interactions of 35 million molecules and proteins, in order to provide an effective cure for small pox, said Grant McFadden, scientific director for the project, who is also the graduate chair in the department of microbiology and immunology at Western.

The work being done by the network is expected to take approximately three months, however, if one computer had to work out all of the calculations, it would take over 100,000 years, McFadden said.

When all of the research is completed and compiled, the results will be sent to the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, where further testing will continue, Jasinski said.

The entire project was initiated by the U.S. Department of Defense, who approached IBM and United Devices about undertaking the project, Hubbard said.

Jasinski said the new technology is promising, noting the project utilizes existing technology that is always in use and could be used for research, as well as commercial purposes.

"The more we do, the more we learn," McFadden said, adding that, as results come in, the effectiveness of the technology will increase.

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