Training of trainers on Volunteer Computing for Africa

Photo © V. Krebs
Photo © V. Krebs
V. Krebs
24 July 2007

Muizenberg, South Africa, 17 July 2007 -- Participants from 18 African countries took part in a workshop on volunteer computing in Muizenberg, South Africa from 16 to 22 July 2007. Volunteer computing is a technology that allows science projects to use idle computing cycles from millions of home computers around the world, offered by volunteers. This is made possible by open source software called BOINC. So far, most of the science projects, such as SETI@home and, have been developed in Europe or North America. The workshop's main objective is to plant seeds in different universities and academic institutions around Africa to create poles of excellence for developing volunteer computing projects using BOINC, especially projects involving the most pressing health issues, such as malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis research and modeling.

The AIMS (African Institute for Mathematical Sciences) workshop on Volunteer Computing for Africa introduced participants to the state-of-the-art open source software technologies behind distributed computing and cyber-volunteering on the Internet. Participants were able to gain hands-on experience with these technologies, so that they can harness the power of volunteer computers worldwide for their own research, or support the research of their colleagues in universities and research labs across Africa.

The workshop focused on the most popular platform for volunteer computing today, BOINC, which stands for Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing. BOINC allows volunteer computers in homes and offices to run compute-intensive simulation programs such as, developed by researchers at the Swiss Tropical Institute. This was made possible through the multi-stakeholder partnership called Africa@home, which involves CERN, the University of Geneva, ICVolunteers, the World Health Organization, AIMS, several other African academic institutions, the Swiss Tropical Institute, and Informaticiens sans frontières (ISF), with the support of the Geneva International Academic Network.

Ben Segal - one of the pioneers of the Internet and a key lecturer at the seminar - pointed out that "there is a huge untapped computing capacity on the net, and lots of people around the world are keen to volunteer their PC to a good cause. African scientists can benefit from this to access computing resources for their research that would otherwise be far too expensive to assemble in their institutes."

Since day one of the Africa@home project, African volunteers and researchers have been involved in the different aspects of the project, aiming to ultimately build a network of volunteers and researchers across Africa. And what is motivating volunteers and researchers to participate in the Africa@home project? For one of the first African volunteers involved in BOINC, Chris Sutton, based in Botswana, it is a good idea to volunteer if you can and if you have technical skills to make a difference for the development of the continent. One of the workshop participants, Angelina Lutambi from Tanzania, explains: "The region where I come from was one of the first places where the HIV/AIDS pandemic hit. When at school, I saw people dying every day. I studied math and modeling and got interested in actually making a difference for my community, using my technical skills to improve community health." She concludes: "I see possibilities of volunteer computing to make a real difference in Africa, which is why I am participating in this workshop."

Through its CyberVolunteers Programme, ICVolunteers has been instrumental in the Africa@home project since the beginning, not only mobilizing volunteers and researchers, but also helping with partnership creation, logistics and documentation for the events. In Cape Town, ICVolunteers has an ICV Desk at the Cape Town Volunteer Centre, offering volunteer opportunities to South African Volunteers.

For more information, visit the Workshop Online News.

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