Folding@home (FAH or F@h) is a distributed computing project for disease research that simulates protein folding, computational drug design, and other types of molecular dynamics. The project uses the idle processing resources of thousands of personal computers owned by volunteers who have installed the software on their systems. Its primary purpose is to determine the mechanisms of protein folding, which is the process by which proteins reach their final three-dimensional structure, and to examine the causes of protein misfolding. This is of significant academic interest with major implications for medical research into Alzheimer's disease, Huntington's disease, and many forms of cancer, among other diseases. To a lesser extent, Folding@home also tries to predict a protein's final structure and determine how other molecules may interact with it, which has applications in drug design. Folding@home is developed and operated by the Pande laboratory at Stanford University, under the direction of Vijay Pande, and is shared by various scientific institutions and research laboratories across the world.
The project has pioneered the use of GPUs, PlayStation 3s, and Message Passing Interface (used for computing on multi-core processors) for distributed computing and scientific research. The project uses statistical simulation methodology that is a paradigm shift from traditional computational approaches. As part of the client-server network architecture, the volunteered machines each receive pieces of a simulation (work units), complete them, and return them to the project's database servers where the units are compiled into an overall simulation. Volunteers can track their contributions on the Folding@home website, which makes volunteers' participation competitive and encourages long-term involvement.
Folding@home is one of the world's fastest computing systems, with a speed of approximately 12 petaFLOPS: greater than all projects running on the BOINC distributed computing platform. The project was also the world's most powerful molecular dynamics simulator until mid-2011. This performance from its large-scale computing network has allowed researchers to run computationally expensive atomic-level simulations of protein folding thousands of times longer than previously achieved. Since its launch on October 1, 2000, the Pande lab has produced 109 scientific research papers as a direct result of Folding@home.Results from the project's simulations agree favorably with experiments