Many of us leave our computers idling for long periods of time. We might use them for a few hours during the day or in the evening and then leave them on sleep mode until we come back to them.

Of course, it’s helpful for saving power and money but the reality is that computer’s don’t generally consume lots of electricity. But did you know when your computer is not doing anything you can actually put it to good use?

There are quite a few projects that are trying to solve very complicated problems which ultimately benefit mankind. However, they need more resources and many harness the processing power of millions of computer around the world to create a super computer which can help solve these problems.

If you want to help with scientific research when your computer is not being used you can get involved with any of the projects below.
  • The BOINC Project

BOINC is a software platform for volunteer computing. It is a project that comes out of the US University of Berkeley. You can volunteer your computer resources to help cure diseases, study global warming, help advance physics, find objects in space and so on.
The project has something like 172,000 volunteers with over 850,000 computers in the network. As a result BOINC has something like 27 petaflops of computing power, which is a lot. If you’re interested all you need to do is download the software and choose the projects you want to support.
  • World Community Grid

IBM's World Community Grid is the umbrella for a number of non-profit projects that address some of humanity's most pressing problems. The project started in 2004 and has supported 24 independent projects worldwide, ranging from ending childhood cancer to clean water.
It has had some remarkable results thanks to the computing power provided by volunteers such as the discovery of seven compounds that destroy neuroblastoma cancer cells without side effects. Neuroblastoma is a rare type of cancer that mostly affects babies and young children.
You can donate your spare computing power to help Harvard researchers design the most efficient solar cell in the world, help scientists develop new drugs to fight Ebola, or design more personalized cancer treatments by mapping cancer markers.
  • Folding@home

Folding@home is another volunteer service that comes out of a US university, this time it’s Stanford. Its main purpose is to research diseases by looking at protein folding.  

Folding refers to the way human protein folds in the cells that make up the human body. We rely on proteins to keep us healthy and they assemble themselves by folding. But when they misfold, there can be serious consequences to a person’s health. The project is essentially about helping design new drugs to fight diseases.
  • SETI

This is possibly the most well-known volunteer computing project and has been running for close to 20 years.SETI stands for the Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence and the actual project has been running since the early 1900’s following the advent of radio.
SETI is a collective term for scientific searches for intelligent extra-terrestrial life, for example, monitoring electromagnetic radiation for signs of transmissions from civilizations on other planets. Based at US University Berkeley, it relies on internet-connected computers and a free program that volunteers download to analyse radio telescope data.
  • Asteroids@home

If space is your thing then this project is from the field of astronomy might be just what you’re looking for. Asteroids@home comes out of the BOINC project and aims to identify the properties of asteroids such as shape, spatial orientation and rotation period using something call photometric data.
Part of the project is to determine orbits and also alterations in orbit. You can read a bit more about it here though a warning is required, it’s a bit technical and without a degree in astrophysics it might just go over your head. Like an asteroid.

There are lots of volunteer computing projects. Those listed above are just a sample. You can find projects that research into diseases as cancer, malaria, Alzheimer disease, malignant anthrax and other genetic and viral diseases. Many of them come out of the BOINC Project mentioned above.