Europe Taps Supercomputers to Fight Pandemic

Article By : Sally Ward-Foxton

Some of the top supercomputers in Europe have been pledged to help tackle Covid-19 by joining the Covid-19 high-performance computing (HPC) Consortium.

Some of the top supercomputers in Europe have been pledged to help tackle Covid-19 by joining the Covid-19 high-performance computing (HPC) Consortium.

Members of the Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE) will make their supercomputers available for the HPC Consortium’s Covid-19-related projects. This includes the sixth most powerful supercomputer in the world, Piz Daint at the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre, which is capable of 25 Petaflops.

Also joining the effort are three supercomputers in the UK funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). One is ARCHER, a 2.55-Petaflop supercomputer based at the University of Edinburgh. Another is DiRAC at the Science and Technology Facilities Council, which is normally used for particle physics, nuclear physics, astronomy and cosmology research. Also joining is the supercomputer at the Earlham Institute, usually used for life sciences research including genome analysis.

Piz Daint, one of the supercomputers at the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre, has joined the Covid-19 HPC Consortium’s fight against Covid-19 (Image: Swiss National Supercomputing Centre)

The Covid-19 high-performance computing (HPC) Consortium was launched by IBM in co-operation with the White House, but today includes all the major tech players and all the United States’ National Laboratories supercomputer facilities. It was formed to enable the use of supercomputing resources by research projects that directly address Covid-19, including bioinformatics, epidemiology, and molecular modeling. The aim is to drastically accelerate research aiming to look for effective drugs or vaccines, or prevent the spread of the virus.

The consortium has been running for two months and has already used supercomputing time to accelerate more than 56 research projects for free, using 430 Petaflops of compute from 40 partners.

German firm Innoplexus’ project to accelerate drug discovery was one of the first to benefit. The company’s researchers are using AI to design new and novel molecules that could prove to be effective against the virus. This project has already identified five “promising” molecules. Since Innoplexus’ computing facilities are currently unavailable due to lockdown restrictions, this project would not have happened without compute access provided by the Consortium.

Some of the other projects that have benefited from the Consortium’s compute power include NASA’s research to examine genetic traits that make people more vulnerable to the virus, the University of Utah’s use of atomic force fields to repel Covid-19 particles to help with peptide inhibitor design, Utah State University’s project to model droplet clouds that spread the virus, and Indian company Novel Techsciences’ examination of India’s medicinal plants which may be useful against the virus.

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