As anyone who’s been in my office knows, I dedicate my spare computer clock cycles to the SETI@home project. My computer is one node in a massive supercomputer. But now your brain could be one node in a massive supercomputer!

Public to look for dust grains in Stardust detectors

In a new project called Stardust@home, University of California, Berkeley, researchers will invite Internet users to help them search for a few dozen submicroscopic grains of interstellar dust captured by NASA’s Stardust spacecraft and due to return to Earth in January 2006.

An alternative name for this could be the Needle in a Haystack project.

The Web-based virtual microscope will be made available to the public in mid-March, even before all the scans have been completed in a cleanroom at Houston’s Johnson Space Center. In all, Westphal expects to need some 30,000 person hours to look through the scanned images at least four times. Searching each picture should take just a few seconds, but the close attention required as the viewer repeatedly focuses up and down through image after image will probably limit the number a person can scan in one sitting.

Do you remember that scene in The Andromeda Strain where Dr. Leavitt has an epileptic seizure while watching slides of treatments of the alien virus flash by? ‘Nuff said.