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CERN supports European Year of Volunteering through Citizen Cyberscience Centre

Geneva, 8 August 2011. Today, researchers at CERN1 began public testing of a new version of the popular volunteer computing project LHC@home2. This version allows volunteers to participate for the first time in simulating high-energy collisions of protons in CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Thus, 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. This is just one example of a series of projects and events organized by the Citizen Cyberscience Centre3, a partnership between CERN, UNITAR (the UN Institute for Training and Research) and the University of Geneva, to promote volunteer-based science in this, the European Year of Volunteering 20114.

Other projects the Citizen Cyberscience Centre has initiated focus on promoting volunteer science in the developing world, for humanitarian purposes. For example, in collaboration with IBM’s philanthropic World Community Grid and Tsinghua University in Beijing, the Citizen Cyberscience Centre launched the Computing for Clean Water project5. The project uses the supercomputer-like strength of World Community Grid to enable scientists to design efficient low-cost water filters for clean water.

In a separate project supported by HP, volunteers can help UNOSAT, the Operational Satellite Applications Programme of UNITAR, to improve damage assessment in developing regions affected by natural or man-made disasters, for humanitarian purposes6.

At present most citizen cyberscience projects are organized by scientists in Europe and North America. But thanks to support from the South-African-based Shuttleworth Foundation7, a founding sponsor of the Citizen Cyberscience Centre, lectures and hands-on training events have been organized this year in Beijing, Taipei, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Mauritius, Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. This is helping to spread know-how about citizen cyberscience more widely in developing regions, and generate new projects there.

Sergio Bertolucci, Director of Research and Scientific Computing at CERN, emphasized: “While LHC@home is a great opportunity to encourage more public involvement in science, the biggest benefits of citizen cyberscience are for researchers in developing regions who have limited resources for computing and manpower. Online volunteers can boost available research resources enormously at very low cost. This is a trend we are committed to promote through the Citizen Cyberscience Centre”.

From a development and humanitarian perspective, the potential of citizen-powered research is enormous”, said Francesco Pisano, Manager of UNOSAT, “Participating in the Citizen Cyberscience Centre enables us to get new insights into the cutting edge of crowdsourcing technologies. There is no doubt that volunteers are playing an increasingly central role in dealing with crisis response, thanks to the Internet.”

Citizen cyberscience is a grass-roots movement which challenges the assumption that only professionals can do science”, said Pierre Spierer, Vice-Rector for Research of the University of Geneva. “Given the right tools and incentives, and some online training, millions of enthusiastic volunteers can make a real difference, contributing to significant scientific discoveries.”

CEO of the Shuttleworth Foundation, Helen Turvey, concurred: “It’s time to put open science squarely on the agenda not just in Europe, but also in Africa and other parts of the developing world. Openness about publicly funded research benefits scientists and citizens alike. And there’s no greater openness than when researchers invite citizen volunteers to be an active part of the scientific process. We’re excited to see the ways in which the Citizen Cyberscience Centre is pushing the social and technological envelope in this space”.

For further information see: www.citizencyberscience.net

1. CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is the world's leading laboratory for particle physics. It has its headquarters in Geneva. At present, its Member States are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Romania is a candidate for accession. India, Israel, Japan, the Russian Federation, the United States of America, Turkey, the European Commission and UNESCO have Observer status.

2. LHC@home is a platform for volunteer computing projects in high energy physics launched in 2004, initially to simulate the beam dynamics of protons circulating in CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. This uses the BOINC software for volunteer computing developed at the University of California, Berkeley. The latest extension of this platform, called LHC@home 2.0, can now simulate high-energy proton collisions in the LHC. CERN has added virtual machine technology to BOINC, and by combining this with CERN’s virtual machine support software CernVM, http://cernvm.cern.ch, it can precisely reproduce the complex computing environment of the LHC experiments on ordinary PCs and laptops. Results from a first test application, called Test4Theory, are submitted to a website, http://mcplots.cern.ch, where physicists can compare computer simulations with real data for a large range of theoretical models and collider experiments. The development of LHC@home 2.0 has been supported by the LHC Physics Centre at CERN (LPCC) and the Shuttleworth Foundation. For more information about LHC@Home 2.0, see http://cern.ch/LHCathome/Physics

3. The Citizen Cyberscience Centre (CCC) is a partnership established in 2009 to promote the use of citizen science on the Web, as an appropriate low-cost technology for researchers in developing regions. The CCC partners are CERN, the UN Institute for Training and Research and the University of Geneva. The Shuttleworth Foundation is the founding sponsor of the centre, and IBM and HP are currently project sponsors. For more information about the CCC, see http://www.citizencyberscience.net

4. The European Union has designated 2011 as the “European Year of Volunteering”. In the European Union, almost 100 million citizens of all ages invest their time, talents and money to make a positive contribution to their community and to the wider world by volunteering. In the context of the European Year of Volunteering, the European Commission is supporting a range of communication and awareness-raising measures about volunteering described at http://europa.eu/volunteering/en/home2

5. The mission of Computing for Clean Water is to provide deeper insight on the molecular scale into the origins of the efficient flow of water through a novel class of filter materials. This insight will in turn guide future development of low-cost and more efficient water filters. The project is led by researchers at the Centre for Nano and Micro Mechanics of Tsinghua University, in Beijing. IBM’s World Community Grid, a philanthropic initiative, provides the volunteer computing support for this project, as part of IBM’s sponsorship of the Citizen Cyberscience Centre. World Community Grid, which supports a range of volunteer computing projects, has over half a million registered volunteers representing over 1.5 million devices. For more information see www.worldcommunitygrid.org

6. As part of a collaboration with the Citizen Cyberscience Centre partners at University of Geneva and UNOSAT, HP is supporting the development of a volunteer-based mapping platform for humanitarian applications, such as damage assessment and deforestation monitoring, which will integrate features of HP Gloe. HP Gloe is a geo-tagging experiment from HP Labs that maps Web content to specific geographic locations. Gloe aims to provide a platform for location-based discovery of information for mobile Web users. For more information see www.hpgloe.com

7. Mark Shuttleworth, software entrepreneur and founder of Ubuntu, started the Shuttleworth Foundation in 2001. The Foundation is at its core an experiment in open philanthropy and uses alternative funding methodologies, new technologies and collaborative ways of working to support dynamic leaders who are at the forefront of social change. The Foundation awarded a fellowship to François Grey in 2010, for his work in establishing the Citizen Cyberscience Centre. Through this Fellowship, the Citizen Cyberscience Centre is running a series of workshops in Africa, Asia and Latin America, as well as developing new technologies, with the goal of rapidly expanding the number of researchers in the developing world who can exploit citizen cyberscience for humanitarian as well as fundamental research. For more information see www.shuttleworthfoundation.org