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IBM’s Jennifer Ryan Crozier on how the open-source World Community Grid is advancing climate solutions by allowing researchers to complete thousands of years’ worth of research in just a few years
Summer heat used to mean summer fun. But this year, the first days of summer were ushered in by an ominous new study published in Nature Climate Change by Dr.Camilo Mora of the University of Hawaii. Mora and his team of researchers are predicting that without major reductions in greenhouse gases, up to 75% of the world’s population will be in danger of dying from heat by the year 2100. According to The Weather Company, an IBM business, “Global surface temperature has increased by around 1.8°F (1.0°C) since the late 1800s. More than half of this increase has occurred since the 1970s, and every decade since then has been warmer than the one before it.”
The growing impact of climate change – including more drought, water shortages, intense storms, rising sea levels, and extremely hot weather – has galvanized scientists around the world to work overtime in the search for solutions, often with limited resources. Their work will figure prominently in making the Paris Agreement real, which was forged in 2015 as a pledge by countries worldwide to combat climate change with lower carbon emissions.
Recently business, academic and science communities with a presence in the US loudly reiterated their strong support for the accord, joining collaborative action such as the We Are Still In coalition.
Over the last few decades, the private sector has discovered the innovation related to sustainability is not only the right thing to do, but is also good for business. Customers want to do business with environmentally responsible businesses, and companies reap efficiencies that make them more competitive and creative. In fact, IBM itself has saved an enormous amount of money and done its part for the environment by meeting its own emissions and renewable energy sourcing commitments years ahead of schedule.
But we want to do more. We want to equip the science community with the kind of resources it needs to fight climate change. Computational research is one such powerful tool for advancing climate change research and developing solutions. In fact, in awarding the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry to a group of computer scientists who pioneered the field, the Prize Committee remarked that: “Today the computer is just as important a tool as the test tube.” The rapid growth in big data also holds valuable new insights. But to uncover those insights and leverage these techniques, scientists need much more computing power than they typically have access to.
World Community Grid addresses that gap. IBM's World Community Grid is a crowd-sourced virtual supercomputer that is powered by the surplus computing power of computers and Androids donated by individual volunteers and organizations. Instead of wasting energy when idle or not in full use, hundreds of thousands of these devices redirect otherwise unused processing power to research scientists to collectively perform virtual experiments at an unprecedented scale.
Through the contributions of over 730,000 volunteers and 430 organizations, worth $400m, World Community Grid’s research partners have completed the equivalent of thousands of years of work in just a few years, enabling important advances in environmental science.
For example, scientists at Harvard University used World Community Grid to run the Clean Energy Project, the world’s largest quantum chemistry experiment with the goal of identifying new materials for solar energy. In just a few years, they analyzed millions of chemical compounds to predict their efficiency at converting sunlight into electricity. Their discovery of thousands of promising compounds will advance the development of cheap, flexible solar cell materials that we hope will be used worldwide to reduce carbon emissions and contribute to the fight against climate change.
Another project, designed by a team of international researchers and led by scientists at Tsinghua University in China, undertook an unprecedented, massive computational simulation study powered by IBM's World Community Grid. They found that the use of carbon nanotubes, under specific conditions, could potentially lead to more efficient water filtering with less expense and less impact on the environment. Another World Community Grid project helped scientists study the impact of water management and development policies on large watershed areas.
World Community Grid has also enabled medical breakthroughs. For instance, the Chiba Institute in Japan identified seven novel drug candidates that could potentially be used in new medicines that fight childhood neuroblastoma, one of the most common and dangerous childhood cancers. Tests showed that even at remarkably low doses, these drug candidates are very effective at killing cancer cells with no immediately apparent side effects.
This week, the scientific community is being offered a new opportunity to advance the quest for ways to combat climate change. IBM is inviting scientists around the world to apply for a technology grant (valued at $40m) of crowd-sourced supercomputing power, meteorological data from The Weather Company, and IBM Cloud storage to support their climate or environmental research project.
Up to five of the most promising environmental and climate-related research projects will be supported, with technology and services contributions valued commercially at approximately $200 million.
These resources can support many potential areas of inquiry, such as impacts on fresh water resources, predicting migration patterns, and developing models to improve crop resilience.
Proposals will be evaluated for scientific merit, potential to contribute to the global community's understanding of specific climate and environmental challenges and development of effective strategies to mitigate them, and the capacity of the research team to manage a sustained research project.
In return for this support, winning scientists agree to support open science by publicly releasing the research data from their collaboration with us, enabling the global community to benefit from and build upon their findings.
Scientists from around the world are encouraged to apply at climate.worldcommunitygrid.org, with a first round deadline of 15 September. Individuals and organisations can also support this work by joining worldcommunitygrid.org to donate their spare computing power to the winning research projects.
Climate change is a serious threat to people and our planet. And time is of the essence. We know that businesses and citizens themselves are critical to meet this challenge. IBM is proud to stand with the #WeAreStillIn coalition, the broadest cross section of the American economy that has pledged its commitment to help continue leading the global fight against climate change. All of us must be a part of the solution. World Community Grid is giving scientists, citizens and their computers the ability to work around the clock for change.
Jennifer Ryan Crozier is vice president of IBM’s corporate citizenship and president of the IBM Foundation.