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UK joins COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium


UK joins COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium
  • UKRI becomes the first member with a supercomputer in Europe
  • Joins 40 other partners from government, academia and industry
  • Projects to address the challenges of pandemic and recovery
  • Researchers to apply for access to HPC facilities in the USA and UK
  • Consortium currently has 56 active projects and more than 430 Petaflops of compute

The UK has added more than 20 Petaflops of high-performance computing capability to the global effort to address the coronavirus crisis by joining the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium.  For perspective, a supercomputer with just eight petaflops can do a million calculations per person in the world per second. Together, the Consortium offers 50 times that.

Supercomputers in the UK and USA are being used to run a myriad of calculations in epidemiology, bioinformatics and molecular modeling, in a effort to drastically cut the time of discovery of new molecules that could lead to treatments and a vaccine.

The contribution will be led by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and involve facilities across the country, including:

  • The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s ARCHER supercomputer at the University of Edinburgh
  • The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) supercomputing facilities, DiRAC and the Hartree Centre at Daresbury Laboratory.
  • The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council’s (BBSRC) Earlham Institute

The Met Office and UK Atomic Energy Authority will also provide capabilities to the consortium.

UKRI’s membership was announced today May 28th at a virtual meeting of the G7 science ministers.

UKRI joins IBM and the U.S. Department of Energy who are co-leading the effort, with Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Hewlett Packard Enterprise, BP, as well as NASA, the National Science Foundation, Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center and six National Labs—Lawrence Livermore, Lawrence Berkeley, Argonne, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge and Sandia, and others. In addition, there are academic institutions, including MIT; Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; the University of Texas, Austin; and the University of California, San Diego and more.

While UKRI is the first European supercomputing partner to join, there are three UK projects already using supercomputing capabilities through the Consortium. One, running on another Consortium supercomputer, is London-based machine-learning chemistry startup PostEra. Since 6 April, PostEra’s Moonshot Project has already identified around 21 molecular designs that effectively target a key protein associated with COVID-19. Another project is run by an AI startup Kuano, also based in London. This team’s aim is to gain insights from diseases similar to COVID-19 such as SARS to design a new drug that could defeat coronavirus.

Projects seeking access to UK facilities will be subject to peer review process to access project needs.  UKRI has a rolling urgent call for research proposals that address Covid-19 and proposals and the Consortium will cooperate with academics to use the appropriate facilities.

Further North in Daresbury, IBM researchers who are located at and working closely with the Hartree Centre, are collaborating with researchers at the University of Oxford where they are combining advanced molecular simulations with AI in a bid to discover new potential compounds that could be repurposed as candidate antiviral drugs for COVID-19.

UK research, including that supported by UKRI’s urgent COVID-19 R&D programme, will gain access to globally leading US resources including the US Department of Energy’s Summit Facility at Oakridge, and the NSF Frontera system, subject to project review.

UK Science Minister, Amanda Solloway said: “Tackling coronavirus requires a joint and strong international effort and the very best minds in science and technology sharing their research and knowledge. 

“By joining this consortium, our leading researchers will be able to access some of the most advanced computers in the world to speed up their research, gain access to new developments, and share the UK’s world-class computing technologies to find a solution to this virus”. 

UK Data Minister, John Whittingdale said: "The UK has a longstanding reputation for innovation so it is fantastic to see our researchers and scientists working with the world's fastest supercomputers to accelerate the treatment, research and understanding of the coronavirus. 

“We are determined to use the power of data and emerging technologies to improve people's lives and the UK will make a vital contribution to the consortium".

UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, Professor Sir Mark Walport said: “The UK’s Digital Research Infrastructure is playing a vital role in the global coronavirus response, from the data science of disease propagation to simulation of antibody protein structures, and the social understanding of human response to the crisis.”

Beyond coronavirus, research and innovation using computational modelling, simulation and analytics continues at pace, across advanced engineering, environmental science, health science and more. Research and innovation taking place in the virtual realm is particularly resilient to the current challenges to the economy.

As with every sector, the digital transformation was revolutionising research productivity before the crisis, and will continue to do as we build the infrastructure to enable a science and technology powered recovery. 

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