Silver lining on the dark cloud of COVID

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Asian scientist (September 20, 2021) -As COVID-19 spread around the world in early 2020, flights were stopped, borders closed, and people stayed at home. But while the pandemic painfully manifested national borders, it also brought countries together. Researchers around the world have sequenced and shared the SARS-CoV-2 genome; nations sent masks, test kits, and even their doctors to the hardest-hit areas; and millions of dollars flowed in the name of international aid.

Similarly, the pandemic has brought the high-performance computing community (HPC) closer in the last year, as people have taken the opportunity to direct their supercomputing powers forever. Supercomputers have not only sequenced millions of viral genomes, but have also helped us model the way the disease spreads and what measures could counter it.
Calculation against COVID-19

A few months earlier, the Japanese supercomputer Fugaku arrived on the Internet to start working on such problems, which was originally supposed to start working only in 2021, said Professor Satoshi Matsuoka, director of the RIKEN Center for Computer Science in Japan. Matsuoka spoke at the inaugural Forum of HPC Center Leaders, an expert panel at the Supercomputing Asia 2021 conference held practically from March 2 to 4, 2021.

From screening existing therapeutics for conversion to drugs for COVID-19, to detailed aerosol simulations with droplets that model transmission, Fugaku was immediately stepped up and harnessed to fight COVID-19, Matsuoka said.

“In various simulations, you go from very microscopic atomic levels all the way to social levels trying to provide solutions to a pandemic.”

Building on this initial success, it is planned to open access to Fugaku for international research partnerships, Matsuoka continued.

“We have already developed a system that enables very efficient data exchange on HPC supercomputers. We are testing this to see if we can expand it to Australia, Singapore and other Asian countries, ”he said. “With this system, researchers from other countries]will be able to use Fugaku through the cloud. The file can be local to Singapore, with gigabytes of data being transparently transmitted in an instant. ”

Access and awareness

In that spirit of openness, the two amazing partners also have ways to collaborate on HPC. Separated more than 9,000 kilometers away, tropical island Singapore and Scandinavian Finland have signed a memorandum of understanding to explore high-speed optical connections between the two countries, as well as safer ways to protect data through quantum technology, said the executive director of the National Supercomputing Center Singapore. Tan Tin Wee.

“We have also focused much more on the social impact of HPCs and aspects of translating into applications, especially for our research and industry community,” Tan said.

He added that the ultimate goal is to reach as many researchers as possible, including students, and regardless of the amount of HPC needed, so that access to the HPC can be truly democratized.

Agreeing with Tan, dr. Piyawut Srichaikul, executive director of the Thai National Agency for Science and Technology for supercomputer development, further stressed the importance of HPC literacy.

“[In Thailand], the public awareness and understanding of the HPC – from laymen to authorities and politicians – is very small. [Lack of] “Human capital is a big problem that we have been facing for years,” he said. “That’s why it’s hard to determine the direct impact of HPC on our economy and society, because ultimately the user creates that impact.”

This puzzle made it difficult for the country to understand the benefits and importance of HPC as a whole and to invest in it, Srichaikul said.
You love your supercomputer

While the public may not be aware of how supercomputers contribute behind the scenes, one thing that has captured the imagination of the public is the need to be environmentally friendly. After all, in order for supercomputers to really be the power of good, they must not only benefit people, but also the environment, said Mr. Kimmo Koski, executive director of the Finnish IT Science Center. He explained how the consortium, deciding on the location for the LUMI supercomputer, set up before the exascales, entered Kajaani, a part of Finland with an abundant supply of hydroelectric energy.

Aside from the availability of renewable energy, Kajaani’s naturally cool climate also allows for free cooling all year round, Koski said.

“We also want to use the excess heat from the supercomputer to heat the surrounding households,” he added. “It will make it very environmentally friendly, and the carbon footprint will be practical [negligible]. ”

Concluding their discussion, the four leaders concluded that HPC is likely to continue to permeate all sectors of society and across borders. Accessibility and collaboration will be key in the future, along with an emphasis on sustainability, public awareness and support. The pandemic may have pushed supercomputers to the forefront, but if they want to stay, they must integrate well into society as well.

This article was first published in print in Supercomputing Asia, July 2021.
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Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine. Illustration: Oikeat Lam and Alexandra Valino / Asian scientific journal.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the Asian scientist or his staff.


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