With over nine million infected and nearly half a million lives lost, the COVID-19 pandemic has seized the world’s attention for several months. It has also dominated the supercomputing sector, with COVID-related research receiving major allocations on nearly every research supercomputer in the world. A Japanese supercomputer that has been named the world’s fastest is using its extraordinary capacity to identify potential treatments for the Coronavirus. Japan regained the top spot for the first time since 2011, ending years of US and Chinese dominance on the TOP500 site, which tracks the evolution of computer processing power.

Its Fugaku supercomputer can perform more than 415 quadrillion computations a second, 2.8 times faster than the Summit system developed by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the US, which held the title when the twice-yearly rankings were last published in November. Developed over the past six years by the Japanese technology giant Fujitsu and Riken, a government-backed research institute in the western city of Kobe, Fugaku includes 150,000 high-performance processing units and can test thousands of substances a week. Powered by chips from SoftBank-owned Arm, the Japanese supercomputer knocked Summit into second place. Sierra, another US-built system, took third place, and two supercomputers developed by Chinese national research institutes, Sunway TaihuLight and Tianhe-2A, rounded out the top five.

Fugaku — which is another name for Mount Fuji — is scheduled to be operating at full capacity next year. The leading-edge technology developed for Fugaku will hopefully "contribute to major advances on difficult social challenges such as Covid-19,"  said Satoshi Matsuoka, director of the Riken Center for Computational Science. The Japanese supercomputer is already being used on an experimental basis for research on Covid-19, including on diagnostics, therapeutics, and simulations of the spread of the virus.

Fugaku, which can crunch through three months' worth of typical computing before noon, is also combing through a database of 2,000 drugs to ferret out which formulations might be used to mitigate the symptoms of COVID-19. The search has already turned up some promising potential treatments that have not yet been considered by medical scientists. It has already run simulations on how respiratory droplets spread in partitioned office spaces and on packed trains when the carriage windows are open. The team is also working on a molecular simulation of how the fatal virus attaches to human cells — a valuable tool for diagnostics and drug discovery.

"I hope that the cutting-edge IT developed for Fugaku will contribute to major advances on difficult social challenges such as Covid-19,"  said Satoshi Matsuoka, the head of Riken's centre for computational science. 

Source:The Daily Star


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