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Behind the Scenes: Computing for Clean Water at South by Southwest Interactive 2016

Thanks to votes from volunteers and supporters, an influential audience at a major technology conference recently learned how World Community Grid volunteers from all over the globe have been supporting humanitarian research projects since 2004, and heard how these volunteers helped scientists make a breakthrough that could bring clean water to millions.

Physicist Francois Grey was a researcher for Computing for Clean Water, a World Community Grid project that made a major discovery about the potential of nanotechnology for more efficient water filtration. He and I were thrilled to have the opportunity to present the project’s findings–including the role of volunteers who donated their unused computing time to power this research project–at South by Southwest Interactive 2016, an annual conference in Texas. This conference is one of the largest technology events in the world and draws thousands of attendees from many fields. Our presentation, Clean Water Through Crowdsourcing and Nanotech, helped us meet people who could impact the future of World Community Grid.

Francois and I arrived at the conference from different parts of the world, and had a few hours to rehearse our presentation in person after months of planning via phone calls and email. Since this was the first time at South by Southwest for both of us, we also made time to check out other sessions, such as a citizen science genealogy project, crowdsourcing efforts to achieve United Nations’ development goals, and a brilliant speech by a citizen scientist about how to engage volunteers.

At our presentation, we hoped that World Community Grid would have a personal appeal to our audience, and it did! Most of the attendees were either interested in citizen science or had a personal connection to clean water issues. Based on the feedback we received from attendees, our session was very well received, and it was later mentioned in a US Chamber of Commerce article about organizations driving innovation to solve global issues.

We met many interesting people, including a few World Community Grid volunteers, who mingled with Keith, Al, and Jonathan from the World Community Grid development team. We also met an elected official from India who is addressing water quality issues in Rajasthan, the head of citizen science for a major British cancer research organization, an oncologist who now writes for a major publication, and many others. Meeting all these people helped us see how World Community Grid is perceived by people who have never heard of it, as well as by longtime volunteers who are familiar with our goals and history.

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We are very grateful for the support of World Community Grid volunteers, who made this opportunity possible not only by voting for us in South by Southwest’s Panel Picker, but also by donating their unused computing time to support Computing for Clean Water and our other research projects over the past 11 years. We’ll continue to look for opportunities to share the important work our volunteers do, and we hope to have the chance to meet with more volunteers at future events.