By Sara Castellanos 

Researchers working on nearly 100 projects related to Covid-19 around the globe have had free access to some of the world's most powerful computers in the past year, courtesy of a consortium led in part by the U.S. government and technology companies.

Members of the Covid-19 High-Performance Computing Consortium on Tuesday spoke on the progress of their initiative and advocated for a formal organization that would be in charge of making computing resources available in the event of future pandemics, hurricanes, oil spills, wildfires and other natural disasters.

"The consortium is proof we were able to act fast and act together," said Dario Gil, senior vice president and director of the research division of International Business Machines Corp., who helped create the consortium.

Announced in March of last year, the consortium has 43 members, including IBM, the national laboratories of the Department of Energy, Amazon.com Inc.'s Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Corp., Intel Corp., Alphabet Inc.'s Google Cloud and Nvidia Corp.

Collectively, the group helped researchers world-wide gain access to more than 600 petaflops of computing capacity, plus more than 6.8 million compute nodes, such as computer processor chips, memory and storage components, and over 50,000 graphics-processing units.

Among the nearly 100 approved projects was one in which researchers at Utah State University worked with the Texas Advanced Computing Center, part of the University of Texas at Austin, and others to model the way virus particles disperse in a room. The goal was to understand the distribution of Covid-19 virus particles in an enclosed space.

Researchers from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville worked with Google and Oak Ridge National Laboratory on another project to identify multiple already-approved drug compounds that could inhibit the coronavirus. Two of them are currently in clinical trials.

Members of the group reviewed more than 190 project proposals from academia, healthcare organizations and companies world-wide, approving 98. The projects were chosen based on scientific merit and need for computing capacity by representatives from the consortium with backgrounds in areas such as high-performance computing, biology and epidemiology.

The results of many of these studies were used to inform local and regional government officials, said John Towns, executive associate director of engagement at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, part of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "A number of these things were being used as supporting evidence for decision makers," said Mr. Towns, who is also a member of the consortium's executive committee.

The consortium is still accepting applications for projects.

The group is now advocating for a formal entity called the National Strategic Computing Reserve to accelerate the pace of scientific discovery in future times of crisis. The organization would enable access to software expertise, data and computing resources that can be used by researchers. Federal officials would have to enact a law to approve such an organization and grant it funding.

"Computing and data analysis will play an increasingly important role in addressing future national emergencies, whether they be pandemics or other events such as future pandemics, tornadoes, wildfires or nuclear disasters," said Manish Parashar, director of the office of advanced cyberinfrastructure at the National Science Foundation, and a member of the consortium's executive committee.

Write to Sara Castellanos at sara.castellanos@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

March 24, 2021 14:30 ET (18:30 GMT)

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