We've hunted for intelligent extraterrestrial signals, searched for cancer cures and even looked for cosmic gravitational waves... all from the comfort of our homes. This is all thanks to "citizen science" projects that use the idle time of home computers to solve some of the most complex problems facing science.
And now, CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has re-entered the distributed computing world with LHC@home 2.0 - an updated version of the 2004 effort to simulate particle collisions on home computers.
The main aim, of course, is to help track down the most elusive subatomic particles theorized to exist - the Higgs boson - but the effort will ultimately allow physicists to tap into a huge amount of computing power to simulate how our Universe came into existence.
"Volunteers can now actively help physicists in the search for new fundamental particles that will provide insights into the origin of our Universe, by contributing spare computing power from their personal computers and laptops," according to a statement issued by CERN via BBC News.
Of course, just because LHC data is being distributed to home computers doesn't mean CERN's 100 million Euro ($140 million) Worldwide Large Hadron Collider Computing Grid can't handle the 15 million gigabytes of data being generated by the LHC every year; LHC@home will complement these in-house efforts.
Complex particle collisions will be simulated by home computers, and the results will be sent back to CERN so they can be compared with LHC collision data.
"By looking for discrepancies between the simulations and the data, we are searching for any sign of disagreement between the current theories and the physical Universe," says the LHC@home 2.0 website.
"Ultimately, such a disagreement could lead us to the discovery of new phenomena, which may be associated with new fundamental principles of nature."
In my university days, I was an avid fan of SETI@home - the distributed SETI effort to process huge amounts of radio data in the hope of finding a signal from alien civilizations - so I downloaded the necessary software to run LHC@home 2.0. Note: It's the same software that runs 30 other distributed projects, including SETI@home.
Although the installation of the required software may seem complicated, if you follow the instructions on the LHC@home 2.0 website, it should only take you 5 minutes or so to get set up. Unfortunately, the creation of new accounts have been temporarily suspended, but it's likely to be up and running again soon.
Image: The CERN Computer Center (CERN)