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Texas Supercomputer Joins COVID-19 Fight

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Frontera is the most powerful supercomputer at any university in the world, and the fifth fastest overall.

AUSTIN, Texas — The White House this week enlisted some of the world’s most powerful supercomputers in the battle against COVID-19, including the Frontera supercomputer at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) at The University of Texas at Austin.  

COVID-19 researchers have already started using Frontera, and this new designation highlights the supercomputer as a key resource within the new High Performance Computing (HPC) Consortium, a public-private partnership that will provide researchers worldwide with massive computing resources as they combat the virus.

“The consortium offers researchers an opportunity to collaborate in ways they might not have done before, such as by helping each other get their code up and running more quickly on the processors,” said Kelly Gaither, director of health analytics at TACC. “This encourages scientists from disparate specialties to link up and solve problems in new ways and to think creatively about how to incorporate supercomputers into their research.”

For more than three decades, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has been a leader in providing the computing resources the nation’s scientists need to accelerate innovation and to enable leap-ahead discoveries. Frontera is the latest in a string of successful awards and deployments by TACC with support from the NSF.

In fact, Frontera is already affecting the fight against the pandemic. 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 TACC’s Wrangler 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 at TACC, 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.

Supercomputers can do in minutes or hours what regular computers do in days, months or years.

TACC, one of the leading academic supercomputing centers in the nation, has always supplied computing time for worldwide and national emergencies, such the H1N1 flu outbreak and during hurricane responses, according to Gaither.

The consortium is encouraging COVID-19 researchers to submit proposals through a central portal, which a steering committee will review in order to connect researchers with the right HPC resources.