How high performance computing’s power helped fight COVID-19

Network server room

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High performance computing (HPC) resources have become an essential tool to tackle COVID-19.

They can perform simulations and calculations at a rate and scale that is not possible using conventional resources.

HPC consortium

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) led a consortium of HPC facilities across the UK to focus their power on the world’s most pressing, complex problem.

The consortium supported global efforts to tackle the pandemic, including the US-led COVID-19 HPC Consortium.

It includes Distributed Research using Advanced Computing, which is the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s supercomputing facilities at:

  • University of Cambridge
  • University of Leicester
  • Institute for Computational Cosmology at Durham University
  • University of Edinburgh.

It also included the Advanced Research Computing High-End Resource (ARCHER), which was the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC) supercomputing facility at the University of Edinburgh.

ARCHER

ARCHER combined high capacity processing power, memory, data storage and networks.

It has now been superseded by ARCHER 2, which is 11 times more powerful.

Researchers used ARCHER during the pandemic to put together the known biology, chemistry and physics of the virus to create computational models of molecules.

Professor Syma Khalid from the University of Southampton explained:

If we imagine two pieces of LEGO, there is one that represents the virus and another that represents humans.

Unfortunately for us, those two LEGO pieces come together and fit rather well.

We’re using computer simulations to design new LEGO pieces that will come in and prevent that tight fit, and thereby prevent the virus from infecting people.

Watch this video on YouTube explaining how this project used HPC in the fight against COVID-19.

Supercharging the fight against COVID-19

The consortium also includes a range of EPSRC tier-2 HPC facilities from across the UK.

Together, these facilities are providing an additional 20 petaflops of computing resources to the COVID-19 High Performance Consortium, a global collection of supercomputing resources from academia and industry.

For perspective, eight petaflops of computing power can perform a million calculations per person in the world per second.

UKRI has made more than double that machine power available to the global consortium through its tier-2 facilities.

Visit the UKRI infrastructure portal to find out more about the infrastructure we fund to tackle some of the world’s most pressing issues.

Last updated: 28 October 2021

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