Westphal and his team realized early on that it would take decades for even a small army of microscopists to find the 45 dust grains scientists expect were captured in Stardust's collector — a tennis-racket-size panel made from aerogel tiles.
Programming a computer to analyze the digital images doesn't make sense either because the team couldn't predict how the gel would appear after its 7-year mission onboard the spacecraft. A computer could confuse cracks or other artifacts in the gel for tracks left behind by the grains as they zoomed into the material.
Westphal works down the hall from the SETI@home
people, so it didn't take long for a light bulb to turn on. Unlike the SETI@home project, however, which draws on the processing power of idle computers connected to the Internet, Stardust@home requires the sharp attention of detail-oriented people.