Join the ESRI folding@home Team to Help Model COVID-19

Blog Post created by BThompson-esristaff Employee on Apr 3, 2020

 (Banner image credited to Fusion Animation)



We love to make maps - we may not always have fantastic ideas when it comes to creating new ones, though. Can't just be me, right?


With COVID-19 already becoming the most disruptive viral infection to have spread across the United States, I grappled with figuring out what impact I could make towards improving the situation, as little as it ultimately may be. Practicing social distancing and devoting more time to work were no-brainers (it's not like I'm leaving the house anyways), but when it came to considering creative outlets like map-making, I personally felt like most of that ground had already been covered - especially when taking my lack of creativity into account!


ArcGIS Dashboards 

COVID-19 Coronavirus Tracker – Updated as of April 3, 2020 | The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation 

ArcGIS StoryMaps 



This isn't meant to be disheartening to you, or self-discouraging towards myself. That said, I'm not getting anywhere close to making something half-as-useful as the above (If you can, I hope you do - we need you!) It took a focused amount of time researching volunteer opportunities and reading other blog posts to consider alternatives, only to conclude that I wanted to try something different.


(messy cabinet - contributing nonetheless!) 


I have a love for machines, and access to a handful of hardware resources I've acquired over the years. That isn't necessarily unique - in our industry and greater professional community, our jobs live-and-die by the computer. Each and every one of us has access to one, and a semblance of knowledge over how to use it. You barely even need those two things to participate in folding@home.


Those of you who contributed to the late SETI@home project in the past may recognize this concept already - what is folding@home? It's a distributed computing project undertaken by Stanford University, aimed at leveraging our personal machines' excess processing power in a pool, with that collective capability applied to simulating protein dynamics under a very narrow scope. folding@home wants to use the CPUs & GPUs present on a multitude of devices to produce simulations of the various ways proteins can fold in on themselves, and the various shapes they adopt with that movement. In essence, a supercomputer; its nodes spread out across the entire globe - in our offices, our homes, our pockets - working to speed up our capabilities of developing therapeutics in response to threats like cancer, infectious & neurological diseases - and now COVID-19. Developing drugs to combat viral infections requires intense calculation, and folding@home gives us the opportunity to donate unused processing power towards enabling labs in their endeavors


The data you help us generate will be quickly and openly disseminated as part of an open science collaboration of multiple laboratories around the world, giving researchers new tools that may unlock new opportunities for developing lifesaving drugs.

- Dr. Greg Bowman, folding@home Director


Sounds complex, and under-the-hood it absolutely is - but that doesn't mean you need to understand these algorithms. Not at all. All you need is a computer and five minutes of your time downloading an executable. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't trying to pitch this hard to you, but I'm not over-simplifying this too much nor intentionally-so. That's honestly all you need - you'll start making a difference immediately once your machine joins the pool.


Let’s talk about that. Here’s how you can start contributing:

  1. Head to An auto-detect should recognize your OS and provide you with the appropriate installation files. If it doesn’t, a link will be present on that page that will allow you to select one manually.
  2. Begin running the installer. There are two installation methods – express and advanced. Stick to express unless you feel like getting your knuckles dirty.
  3. Once installed, you should be able to locate an icon on your task bar (if you’re on Windows). Right-click this icon and select ‘Advanced Control’. 
  4. You’ll now be given the main interface of the desktop folding@home client. In the interest of simplicity, the following options are the only ones you need to know:
    • Fold & Pause: Clicking ‘Fold’ will begin the process of finding a Work Unit. This process will likely take ~15 minutes. If you’re in the middle of processing a Work Unit, hitting ‘Pause’ will cease folding and relieve your CPU & GPU resources.
    • Folding Power: This manages how many of your system’s resources will be devoted to folding. ‘Full’ will utilize most of the resources available, while ‘Light’ will only siphon in comparison. Aim to use ‘Medium’ when you’re not working on your machine, and bump it up to ‘Full’ if you think your machine can handle it.


Click ‘Fold’… and you’re folding! That’s it! The longer you fold, the more points you'll receive. These points don't count for anything other than bragging rights - the more points you have, the more you've folded, and the more you've contributed towards helping model COVID-19.


All the above steps are meant to guide you towards contributing anonymously – what if you wanted to contribute to a larger group? Rich Spencer of our Digital Marketing Department created an 'ESRI' team, and we'd be stoked to have you fold with us.


Here’s how:

  1. First, you'll need to check and see if a username is taken. There's no user registration, but you'll want your own username so that the points you accrue are adequately credited. (Example scenario: if the username "Steven" already exists and I type "Steven" as my username in folding@home, all the folding I perform will be credited to the person who originally registered "Steven").
  2. Once you confirm that the name is available, let's request a Passkey (which will prevent the scenario in Step #1 from happening).
  3. After acquiring your username & passkey, open your folding@home client and click on 'Configure'. In the next window should be a tab named 'Identity' - click that.
  4. Enter your username under 'Name', the number 245116 under 'Team number', and your passkey in both boxes under 'Passkey'. Hit 'Save'.


Click ‘Fold’ … and you’re folding – with us!


We currently have 5 members in the ESRI team and approximately 140 Work Units completed amongst the group, with both numbers growing every day. There isn’t a limit to the amount of contributors that can be on a team, so if you’d like to join ours, know that there is plenty of room. If you have any questions, we’d be happy to answer them.


Thank you for helping us fight COVID-19!


EDIT: As of April 6th, 2020, we're in the top 4% of teams that have contributed resources so far! 

EDIT #2: As of April 10th, 2020, we've grown from 5 to 9 members, and have moved into the top 3% of contributors! 

EDIT #3: As of April 14th, 2020, we've added an additional member! Up to 10 total now! Thank you!