Paradise Valley Schools, Students Connect To Worldwide Web Of Research

Published: Thursday, December 1, 2016 - 7:32am
Updated: Thursday, December 1, 2016 - 7:48am
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(Photo by Mariana Dale -KJZZ)
Hayden Araza shows how this computer can simulate the process of folding a protein through Stanford's Folding @ Home project.

Students and teachers at the Paradise Valley School Unified District are supporting research at Stanford University. And some of them are doing it in their sleep.

“It’s the world’s largest distributed computing project,” said Jeff Billings, the district’s IT director.

In simpler terms, the district’s computers are some of hundreds of thousands in the world to which Stanford distributes small parcels of data.

The individual computer uses a small amount of its processing power to analyze data and send it back to Stanford.

Specifically, it simulates protein folding, which is a natural process that’s part of research to help find treatments for diseases like Alzheimer’s and cancer.

Paradise Valley School District has set up about 1,000 of its computers to be part of the program that they’re calling Cluster Crush. Stanford refers to the program as Folding @ Home.  

A group of high school interns worked with the IT department to pilot the program last summer and it rolled out to the district in the last few months.

“Every kid in any grade knows someone that has been impacted,” said teacher Karen Mensing who helps facilitate technology use in the classroom. “They want to help in a positive way.

Classes from elementary school to high school are participating, and some students and teachers set up the program to run on their home computers.

“This is a real world project,” Mensing said. “This isn’t a hypothetical situation, this isn’t a worksheet.”

Stanford keeps track of groups participating in the program and assigns them points for proteins folded.  Paradise Valley Schools has almost breached the top 1,000 out of more than 200,000 teams.

“We think this generation of student wants to help, they’re blessed with technology,” Billings said. "Let’s put it to use beyond academics.”

Billings said the district has adopted the project for a minimum of three years and future summer interns will continue to expand it.

Paradise Valley Sophomore Hayden Araza has started marketing the program to her peers as a way to help out without interrupting their busy lives.

“By running this program you’re contributing to this big community that really brings people together in hopes of finding a cure," Araza said.

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