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RPI supercomputer helps crunch COVID-19 data in fight against pandemic

RPI supercomputer helps crunch COVID-19 data in fight against pandemic

RPI supercomputer helps crunch COVID-19 data in fight against pandemic
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's AiMOS supercomputer housed at the Rensselaer Technology Park is seen in this Dec. 2019 photo.
Photographer: Photo provided

If every person on the planet conducted 1 million calculations in one second, the supercomputer at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute would still make the calculations faster. That’s how fast the school’s supercomputer is.

And now the supercomputer housed at the Rensselaer Technology Park is assisting researchers around the country seeking questions about the spread of COVID-19, exploring potential vaccines and treatments, analyzing materials that could be used to protect health care workers and modeling countless scenarios of how the pandemic may play out.

Dubbed AiMOS – short for Artificial Intelligence Multiprocessing Optimized System and named for RPI co-founder Amos Eaton – the supercomputer can conduct an enormous number of calculations in the blink of an eye and process through massive data sets.

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“When we do modeling, we can literally do it on a global scale on the supercomputer,” said RPI Professor Chris Carothers, director of the school’s Center for Computational Innovations. “Something that would take a month or longer on your laptop, (AiMOS) turns it into a coffee break.”

Around 50 RPI professors have used the supercomputer since it was installed in the fall for various types of research, and now the college will be welcoming other researchers focused on a variety of issues related to global COVID-19 pandemic.

The college recently joined a consortium of other institutions, including MIT and IBM, focused on using the nation’s supercomputers to power rapid gains in scientific understanding of the virus and how to combat it.

The research that AiMOS can assist in will include exploration of potential vaccines and therapies, materials that can be used for the health care workers on the frontlines of pandemic response as well as policy questions about how the virus may spread under different scenarios.

Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic, for example, are planning to use AiMOS to run large-scale simulations of the molecular dynamics of the COVID-19 virus in hopes of gaining better insights into how the virus actually operates on a molecular level.

Carothers said the RPI group managing use of the supercomputer within the broader consortium have received about 50 research proposals in recent days and are working to approve projects on a daily basis. He said the consortium is working to prioritize the scientific research and ensure scientists pursue the most important lines of inquiry as efficiently as possible.

“What scientific questions are most compelling and most needed now?” he said of the group’s work.

The supercomputer is also a powerful tool in maintaining social distancing efforts, Carothers said. Once projects are approved and their team members are granted access to the AiMOS system, researchers from around the country can access RPI’s supercomputing capabilities remotely.

“You can literally do everything from your laptop at hour house,” Carothers said, noting that a decent internet connection would be helpful.

And the new COVID-19 focused research shouldn’t get in the way of other research already being conducted with the help of the supercomputer, considered one of the fastest and most power efficient in the world.

“There’s a lot of resource to go around for everyone,” Carothers said.

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