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Can your phone help find a black hole?

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APRIL 05, 2013

To answer the question, yes. Well, only if you have an Android phone (sorry, Apple buffs, we’ll explain why you’re being left out later). You’re probably thinking this isn’t possible. Your phone doesn’t have the computing power to do anything that powerful, right? That’s what the Clog thought, too, until we read this. It’s an article from Wired Magazine about one of our very own: David Anderson, a computer scientist at UC Berkeley.

In 1995, Anderson took one of his grad student’s suggestions to heart when he proposed combining the power of personal computers to do some work in the name of science. His grad student was thinking more of finding aliens, but Anderson was thinking more along the lines of pulsar and black hole discovery.

Combining the power of computers across the globe to work toward one common goal? It’s almost too romantic of a notion. But it could work. So Anderson quit the startup company he was working for at the time and developed the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing. When people signed up for BOINC, they were essentially volunteering the processing power of their computers that they weren’t using for whatever project the network needed it for. With all this extra power, there was no telling what could be accomplished. And this was in the 1990s.

Boasting more than a million participants in its earlier years, BOINC now only has about 400,000 personal computers running on the software. That’s where your Android phone comes in. Anderson, attempting to revitalize BOINC, is adapting the program to run on smartphones and tablets. Technology has advanced significantly since the ’90s, and now almost all our little gadgets have enough power to to be useful to BOINC. And when combined with the millions of other Android devices in the world … we could be finding black holes left and right.

Now, we think we know what you’re thinking. I don’t have any extra power to give away from my phone. I have enough trouble keeping it charged for the day! But lo and behold, Anderson is cognizant of our culture’s hyper-dependency on smartphones and promises to only use your phone’s processing power when it’s charging or connected to a Wi-Fi network.

We haven’t forgotten about you Apple buffs, either. It’s not that Anderson doesn’t want to utilize the power of your iPhone or iPad, but the code of BOINC’s app needs to access the processing heart of your mobile device, and that isn’t really Apple’s cup of tea. Despite the (extremely) high volume of people who use iPhones, Anderson thinks that the power he’ll (hopefully) gain from Android mobile devices will be more than sufficient.

So, for all you Android users out there, keep your eyes peeled for a new BOINC app that’ll let you sign up your device to do some analysis for Einstein@Home, a project dedicated to discovering cool stuff like black holes. Maybe they’ll name one after you! Probably not.

Contact Sabrina Werts at [email protected].

APRIL 04, 2013

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