Vijay Pande, 31
If scientists understood how the body’s proteins folded, they could better battle diseases like Alzheimer’s. But analyzing a protein’s trillions of possible folding steps is daunting, even for a supercomputer. In 1999 Vijay Pande, a professor of chemistry and structural biology at Stanford University, wrote algorithms that enable thousands of isolated computers to calculate tiny portions of a folding sequence and combine their solutions. The pragmatic Pande then sought advice from distributed-computing entrepreneur Adam Beberg (a former TR100 honoree) on how to integrate his code into a screen saver that PC users could download. Dubbed Folding@home, the software makes calculations any time the PC’s screen saver is running and reports the results to Pande’s computer. Since the project’s October 2000 debut, some 75,000 volunteers worldwide have helped simulate, for the first time, the complete folding behavior of five important proteins. Born in Trinidad to Indian parents, Pande is now using distributed computing to map the final folded structures of the proteins. On any given day, 35,000 PCs are providing the computing power.