DOE Shifts Focus to Help National Effort Combatting COVID-19 Virus
In response to the global pandemic caused by COVID-19, the U.S. Department of Energy has pivoted its departmental focus to bolster the national response to the virus.
Recently announced by the White House, the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium will draw on the resources of government, private industry, and academia in a joint venture to use the nation’s top computing resources to further research into COVID-19.
“America is coming together to fight COVID-19, and that means unleashing the full capacity of our world-class supercomputers to rapidly advance scientific research for treatments and a vaccine,” said U.S. Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios in the White House announcement.
Five DOE national laboratories will play a central role in the consortium—Argonne, Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, and Sandia. The DOE’s National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center will also lend resources to the national computing project.
Sandia National Laboratories and Los Alamos National Laboratory, both located in New Mexico, are now working on a vaccine and medicines to stem the rapid spread of the virus. Although the labs are known for nuclear research, recent years have seen the labs expand into medical areas like cancer research.
“Our national laboratories house the top supercomputers in the country,” said DOE Under Secretary for Science Paul Dabbar.
The supercomputers located at the national labs will be linked together through a nationwide network that will allow complex computations to be completed in short amounts of time. The calculations produced by this network will focus on bioinformatics, epidemiology, and molecular modeling in relation to the virus.
Under the terms of the consortium, researchers will submit virus-related research proposals using an online portal. The proposals will then be reviewed by an expert panel of scientists and researchers. After the review, the proposal will be directed to one of the partner institutions who has the applicable computing resources for the research.
“It will help scientists develop complex scientific questions about COVID-19 in hours or days,” Dabbar said.
Dr. Chris Fall, director of the DOE’s Office of Science, recently joined the Direct Currents podcast to speak on the Department’s role in the consortium. When asked about the work scientists in the national lab have been doing to understand COVID-19, Fall spoke to the advanced resources available at the labs.
“One thing they have been doing is using our X-ray light resources to take pictures, essentially, of the virus, to understand the structure of it, and that’s one way we could potentially impact the virus with drugs,” said Fall in the interview.
Aside from national laboratories, the consortium also includes Amazon, IBM, Google, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard and NASA, as well as other universities and government agencies spanning the nation.
As advocates for clean energy research and development, it is encouraging to see our nation’s top energy research institutions temporarily shift gears to play a defining role in the national push to combat COVID-19. We applaud the DOE, our national labs, and the private sector for this effort.