Tallinn University of Technology

Thanks to the cooperation of the university’s IT staff, the currently unused computers in the empty computer classrooms of the university were reassigned to break down the molecules of COVID-19. For this purpose, the Folding@Home (FAH) software was installed on the computers. The computers of the computer classrooms are no titans in terms of computational power, but every little bit helps and becomes part of a large-scale computing project. By now, the computer classrooms of TalTech have been assisting FAH’s calculations for a week or two.

Folding@Home, also known as FAH or F@h, is a distributed computing project for simulating (molecules of) proteins. The large-scale computing task has been divided into smaller pieces by the central server. By running the FAH client, numerous participants can download and compute these pieces and upload their results to the central server later. These results can later be used by researchers of the respective field (biologists, virologists, molecular chemists, etc.). [https://foldingathome.org/about/]

With its calculations, FAH assists in researching many illnesses. Previous subjects of research include molecules containing Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, various forms of cancer, Ebola, hepatitis, Zika virus, dengue fever, and other illnesses. This year, the simulation of the molecules of the coronavirus causing COVID-19 was added to this list and became the FAH’s current primary task. [https://foldingathome.org/diseases/]

Therefore, by participating in FAH’s calculations, everyone can make a small contribution to researching the coronavirus causing COVID-19. To participate, download the software from the website of FAH [https://foldingathome.org/] – while on the website of FAH with your web browser, press the link ‘Start Folding’.

The IT staff of the university has created a FAH team called ‘Tallinn University of Technology’ to coordinate the computing statistics. The ID of the team is 254117. Everyone related to the university, students and staff alike, are invited to participate in the work of the FAH team. The statistics of our team is available at [https://stats.foldingathome.org/team/254117].

As interest in FAH has increased in recent weeks and large numbers of users have joined the computing project, the FAH website is slow and not many computing tasks are available. If the calculation does not start immediately and the FAH program is unable to obtain the tasks, please be patient. Due to the vast numbers of users, receiving a computing task may take anywhere between a few moments and half a day. In addition, the FAH statistics are not updated too often – the frequency of updates ranges from a few hours to several days.

From a technical aspect, the IT staff of the university recommends that users participating in the calculations of FAH set their program to MEDIUM mode. The reason for this is the high computational intensity of FAH. Firstly, running the program produces a lot of heat. If the computer is slightly older and has issues with its cooling system, it may overheat. Secondly, the high computational intensity makes the computer slow for other programs of the user. The MEDIUM mode sets the work load at 75%, where sufficient resources can still be distributed to other programs and the computer does not overheat.

The Department of Computer Systems of the university has provided an ISO image of a small-scale version of Linux to all interested parties. It is a pre-configured ready-made system that joins the team of the university and computes FAH’s tasks independently. The user needs to do nothing except download the ISO image and boot from it. The ISO image (size: 624 MB) is available at [https://ati.ttu.ee/fah/fah.iso]. Download it, burn a CD or move it to a USB drive, and boot from it.