Working round clock for Covid-19 research

By Gareth Wyn Williams   |   Local democracy reporter   |
Tuesday 23rd March 2021 7:00 pm
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Stuart McKenzie pictured at home before the lockdown

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As project manager for the restoration of Queen’s Pier, Stuart McKenzie is used to working all hours.

But now Stuart is dedicating even the time when he’s tucked up in bed to join in the global fight against Covid-19.

He is leading the Isle of Man’s contribution to the [email protected] project in which volunteers around the world donate the use of their idle desktop, laptop and smartphone processors for biomedical research.

At home in Ramsey, Stuart runs six large computers 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year dedicated to helping solve protein structures for research into Covid viruses.

The data collected by Berkeley University in California will be used to help develop new vaccines.

Some computer tasks are too complicated or too big to be performed on one computer however large and for some time the principle of distributed computing has been used.

[email protected], which operates on the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC), divides the task into thousands of sub tasks.

Participants worldwide are invited to use their own computers to run the programs locally and return results to the central hub.

Stuart said: ’Of course most people cannot dedicate their computers - as I do - to these tasks as they are using their machines for their own purposes.

’The USP is that the tasks only run at low priority so only use computer cycles that the user does not need. You can see that many business computers if left on overnight can continue to work when users are away.’

There are more than a million users who are donating their unused cycles to this project.

Stuart said: ’I am happy to help. One of my large computers has significant parallel processing capability with 32 CPU elements which can run 64 tasks at the same time each of which takes about eight hours to complete.

’Incidentally, although I do this for charity you should see my electricity bill!’

Stuart has taken over the administration of team Isle of Man and is encouraging any computer users either running Rosetta on Berkeley, or prepared to contribute unused cycles of their machines to this worthwhile world-wide effort, to join Team Isle of Man.

There are 1.4 million individual users, some with multiple computers like Stuart, involved in [email protected]

Each time you complete a task you are awarded points calculated according to the complexity of the task, producing league tables for individuals and teams.

Stuart is currently ranked at about 630 out of the 1.4 million and climbing while Team Isle of Man is in the 300s out of some 1,000 teams.

To join, download BOINC from the net making sure you source from Berkeley University in California and follow the instructions to start Rosetta and join Team Isle of Man.

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