In brief

  • An application, Folding@home, uses the idle processing power of graphics cards to aid research into curing diseases—including COVID-19.
  • Hardware manufacturer Nvidia is urging gamers who own powerful graphics cards to download the app and get started on working on a cure.
  • Bitcoin miners also have powerful graphics cards. Miners could donate their power, too.

A computer hardware manufacturer is calling on gamers to lend their computing power to help fight the coronavirus pandemic. Bitcoin miners could donate spare computing power, too—but to do so, they'd have to sacrifice potential earnings.

US-based Nvidia, one of the leading producers of graphics cards, on Friday urged gamers to install the Folding@home application—a project that harnesses unused computing power for disease research. Nvidia linked to a viral post in a popular gaming subreddit that’s pushing the idea. 

Initially released in 2000, Folding@home, developed by Stanford University’s Pande Lab in California, uses the processing power of people’s computers from around the world to power research for diseases like cancer, ALS and Parkinson’s. 

As the coronavirus wreaks havoc around the world, and the global death toll climbs over 6,000, scientists are working like maniacs to find a cure.

At the end of February, Folding@home announced it would contribute some of those computing resources to researchers working on fighting the coronavirus. The project helps scientists to understand how the coronavirus interacts with humans and learn why it’s spreading so quickly.

Mining for good

But it’s not just gamers who run high-powered graphics cards. Bitcoin miners also use ultra-powerful graphics cards for specialized computers that mine for Bitcoin. Mining rigs need the extra oomph to solve complex computational problems; the more powerful the computer, the more Bitcoin it generates.

And Bitcoin miners sure have the firepower: According to Digiconomist, a site that tracks bitcoin energy consumption, a single year of Bitcoin mining costs $3.66 billion and produces a carbon footprint comparable to that produced by Denmark.

Fellow Bitcoiners—at least, those on Reddit—are now calling on miners to contribute their computing power to the project. 

“Folding some proteins in virtual for the benefit of a COVID19 vaccine is very much in the spirit of early Bitcoin mining," posted one “Fiach_Dub.”

“I feel it would make Satoshi proud to know that the little community he seeded grew into something that would be brave enough to take on the monsters of this world, in more ways than one,” they added.

If Bitcoin's price continues to crash, Bitcoin mining rigs might be on the hunt for new jobs, anyway.