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Supercomputers are Being Used to Hunt for COVID-19 Treatments

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The newly established COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium is bringing together industry leaders, academic institutions, and top laboratories to help identify compounds that might treat or prevent COVID-19. As the world’s greatest minds continue to search for a viable treatment for COVID-19, this group will receive a major boost in processing power in the form of supercomputers. 

The Consortium will be pooling 16 supercomputers together from companies such as IBM, Google, Amazon, as well as renowned research laboratories like Los Alamos National Laboratory and the National Science Foundation. The combined computing power of these supercomputers will allow researchers to run the immense calculations that are required for molecular modeling, epidemiology, and bioinformatics.

Already, researchers are seeing promising results from this colossal computational undertaking. Summit, IBM’s supercomputer, has run thousands of simulations to analyze drug compounds that might be effective at stopping the virus. Researchers say they have identified 77 promising compounds, and they have high hopes that they will be successful in finding an effective treatment.

To understand how supercomputers are being used to fight COVID-19, you must first understand how the virus works. Once the virus enters the body, it will infect cells by injecting them with a “spike” of genetic material. This action is how the SARS-CoV-2 virus spreads throughout a human body, which results in people developing COVID-19. Researchers hope they can use the processing power of supercomputers like Summit to identify drug compounds that can bind to the “spike”, effectively stopping the spread of the virus. 

There is still much to learn about the virus, including how we can stop its spread and developing effective and safe treatments. However, by utilizing the fastest supercomputers in the world, researchers are able to drastically cut down on time needed to run computational-intensive calculations. Alone, Summit can perform 200 quadrillion calculations each second – a feat so impressive, it would take approximately 100,000 new MacBook Pros running at full speed to compare. 

In a situation that’s developing as fast as this, time is one commodity we don’t have the luxury of spending. As research continues to unfold, The Consortium and its supercomputing resources will hopefully prove to be a valuable tool in the months to come.

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Avid writer and reader with a curious mind. I'm always looking to get the most out of life! Follow me on Twitter @whatsaschoon

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