The fight against the coronavirus has a new ally: supercomputers.
IBM, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the Department of Energy announced Sunday they are spearheading the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium, which aims to use supercomputers to study the coronavirus.
Google, Amazon Web Services, and Microsoft are also part of the consortium.
Supercomputers owned by tech companies, the government, and research institutions are capable of running complex experiments much more quickly than a traditional computer, let alone a puny human brain.
These things are physically huge, too: a supercomputer called Frontier, housed at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, is set to be the world’s most powerful supercomputer when it’s completed in 2021. It will weigh over 1 million pounds and is the size of two basketball courts.
Researchers whose proposals are accepted by the consortium will get access to the computing power of 16 supercomputers located across the United States.
Coronavirus research initiatives that use supercomputers are already underway. IBM shared that its Summit machine, which it calls “the most powerful supercomputer on the planet,” has been used to help researchers identify the molecular compounds that have the best chance of binding to, and therefore neutralizing, the spikes used by the coronavirus to infect healthy cells.
“They were able to recommend the 77 promising small-molecule drug compounds that could now be experimentally tested,” IBM’s announcement of the initiative reads. “This is the power of accelerating discovery through computation.”
Other consortium members include MIT and the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a host of Department of Energy national laboratories (where many of the supercomputers are actually housed), and NASA and the National Science Foundation.
Even as the citizens of cities and countries stay at home to fight coronavirus, it’s good to know the biggest brains in the world — human and machine — are on the case, too.
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