3 major ways supercomputers help in coronavirus fight

HOUSTON – The White House this week enlisted the help of some of the most powerful supercomputers in the battle against the new coronavirus.

From finding possible treatments to organizing resources like ventilators, researchers are teaming up on the front lines to fight this deadly virus.

What is a supercomputer?

Supercomputers can do in minutes what might take regular computer weeks or months to do.

So what does that mean for the coronavirus fight? A supercomputer named Frontera is located at the University of Texas in Austin.

“We have hundreds of researchers using our computers right now in various ways,” said Dan Stanzione, executive director of Texas Advanced Computing Center at UT Austin.

1. Looking at the spread of virus right now

Researchers are using the Frontera computer to look at the patterns of the virus spread in real-time.

“Tracking how things like social distancing might slow the spread of the virus,” Stanzione explains. “Trying to find places where populations might be more at risk or more protected.”

2. Help to find treatments

In an effort to find effective treatments, experts are looking at the structure of the virus itself with these computers. This is huge when it comes to possible treatments.

“Understand how it evolved and where it is in common with other viruses so you can say this other treatment worked with this virus so it might work with this one,” Stanzione said.

3. Organizes important resources like ventilators

We know hospitals in Houston are worried about a future shortage of ventilators. There’s also been a concern about available hospital beds. Data from the supercomputer is helping position important resources in hospitals all across the country.

“If you can model very accurately the spread and where it’s going to go you can position your resources like ventilators, like stocks of antivirals and masks in the areas where the critical wave will hit next,” Stanzione said.

Other ways Frontera helps

Frontera recently enabled researchers to begin to develop a 200 million atom computer model of the coronavirus that they expect will give insight into how it infects in the body.

Lauren Ancel Meyers, a professor in the College of Natural Sciences at UT Austin, also used a supercomputer to help epidemiologists model the spread of the novel virus. Based on comprehensive travel data from location-based services and modeling of the disease, Meyers and colleagues estimated there were 11,213 cases of the coronavirus in Wuhan, China, by the time of the quarantine on Jan. 22, a rate 10 times higher than the reported cases.

Texas Advanced Computer Center is one of the leading academic supercomputing centers in the nation, has always supplied computing time for worldwide and national emergencies, such as the H1N1 flu outbreak and during hurricane responses.