May 28, 2020 - by Katia Moskvitch

Today, following the commitment from G7 Science and Technology Ministers to harness high performance computing resources for COVID-19 research, the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) announced that it’s joining the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium, which calls on government, industry, and academia to volunteer free compute time and resources on their world-class machines for COVID-19 research.

As a member, the organization is making available several of its supercomputers, including ARCHER, a 2.55 Petaflop supercomputer based at the University of Edinburgh and funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. The other systems include the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) DIRAC, which was funded by the Government of the United Kingdom and STFC, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council’s (BBSRC) Earlham Institute, the Met Office and the UK Atomic Energy. All of the supercomputers will be made available to accelerate the discovery of potential treatments and vaccines for COVID-19.

“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,” said UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, Professor Sir Mark Walport.

Another European institution, the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre (CSCS), is also joining the Consortium – with the Swiss Confederation funded Piz Daint, the sixth ranked supercomputer in the world, according to the Top 500 supercomputing list.

Named after a mountain in south-eastern Grisons, Piz Daint is the first large GPU-accelerated supercomputer in Europe offering 27.15 Petaflops of peak performance. CSCS becomes the Consortium’s 40th member, only two months after it was launched on 22 March.

“We support Swiss, European and global scientific research initiatives on COVID-19. Science must be at the forefront of our common fight against this devastating pandemic,” said Professor Thomas Schulthess, Director of CSCS.

While UKRI and CSCS are the first European-based supercomputers to join, European scientists haven’t been sitting idle. Several projects have accessed shared resources and services via the Consortium, complementing the work in the European Union being organized via PRACE, the Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe. The Consortium has leveraged an existing collaboration with the US NSF-funded XSEDE project to develop a series of Knowledge Exchanges to bring together researchers on both sides of the Atlantic to share results and ideas in order to move forward quickly and collectively.

There are several UK projects already using supercomputing capabilities through the Consortium. One 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.

Then there is physicist Jason Crain, from IBM Research Europe in Daresbury at the Hartree Centre, who leads a team using Summit, the world’s fastest supercomputer located at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and funded by the US Dept of Energy and Frontera, the fifth fastest system at the Texas Advanced Computing Center and funded by the National Science Foundation -- both members of the Consortium. Together with researchers at the University of Oxford, 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.

"The search for a treatment or vaccine for COVID-19 is a race against time and with access to Summit and Frontera we will be able to do months of research in a mater of hours, which we can then publish and share with scientists around the world. I hope more European researchers take advantage of this unique opportunity to gain access to some of the fastest supercomputers in the world," said IBM's Crain.

This text by Katia Moskvitch first appeared on the COVID-19 HPC Consortium website >

(Image above: Shutterstock)