Volunteers are fighting COVID-19 by creating world’s fastest supercomputer

Before new ways to tackle the coronavirus can be developed, scientists must first unravel the complex dynamics of the proteins that make up Sars-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). Doing this requires computers to perform folding calculations, a process that simulates how proteins are folded and how they move.

The challenge with folding calculations is that they require a whole lot of computing power, which is why an organization called Folding@Home has been calling on citizen scientists to loan spare time on their home PCs to fold proteins—a call that has been answered by the masses.

According to Folding@Home, the combined power of the network broke 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 operations per second – or one “exaflop” – on 25 March. That made it six times more powerful than the current world’s fastest traditional supercomputer, the IBM Summit, which is used for scientific research at the US’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. By Monday, it had more than doubled that, hitting a new record of 2.4 exaflops, faster than the top 500 traditional supercomputers combined, thanks to almost 1 million new members of the network.

The breakthrough reflects a huge spike in support for the Folding@Home project. Backers run a simple piece of software on their home computer, which then downloads and performs small tasks to help determine the physical structure of proteins.

Thus far, the combined effort is paying off. According to researcher Greg Bowman, folding has allowed scientists to visualize the “spike” protein that CoV-2 uses to invade human cells—something wouldn’t be possible with current observation techniques.

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Volunteers are fighting COVID-19 by creating world’s fastest supercomputer

Before new ways to tackle the coronavirus can be developed, scientists must first unravel the complex dynamics of the proteins that make up Sars-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). Doing this requires computers to perform folding calculations, a process that simulates how proteins are folded and how they move.

The challenge with folding calculations is that they require a whole lot of computing power, which is why an organization called Folding@Home has been calling on citizen scientists to loan spare time on their home PCs to fold proteins—a call that has been answered by the masses.

According to Folding@Home, the combined power of the network broke 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 operations per second – or one “exaflop” – on 25 March. That made it six times more powerful than the current world’s fastest traditional supercomputer, the IBM Summit, which is used for scientific research at the US’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. By Monday, it had more than doubled that, hitting a new record of 2.4 exaflops, faster than the top 500 traditional supercomputers combined, thanks to almost 1 million new members of the network.

The breakthrough reflects a huge spike in support for the Folding@Home project. Backers run a simple piece of software on their home computer, which then downloads and performs small tasks to help determine the physical structure of proteins.

Thus far, the combined effort is paying off. According to researcher Greg Bowman, folding has allowed scientists to visualize the “spike” protein that CoV-2 uses to invade human cells—something wouldn’t be possible with current observation techniques.

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