World’s fastest supercomputer searches for coronavirus treatment

THE GUARDIAN – A Japanese supercomputer that has been named the world’s fastest is using its extraordinary capacity to identify potential treatments for the coronavirus.

Japan this week regained the top spot for the first time since 2011, ending years of the United States (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.

Supercomputers, which are more than 1,000 times faster than a regular computer, can be used to simulate nuclear explosions, perform virtual weapons testing and model climate systems. In seismically active Japan, Fugaku will model the impact of an earthquake and tsunami, and map out escape routes, according to the Nikkei business newspaper.

Although it will not be fully operational until next year, experts are hoping the JPY130B supercomputer will help identify treatments for COVID-19 from about 2,000 existing drugs, including those that have yet to reach the clinical trial stage.

It has already run simulations on how respiratory droplets spread in partitioned office spaces and on packed trains when the carriage windows are open.

“I hope that the cutting-edge IT developed for Fugaku will contribute to major advances on difficult social challenges such as COVID-19,” Head of Riken’s Centre for Computational Science Satoshi Matsuoka, said in a statement.

Japan’s Fugaku supercomputer at the Riken Center for Computational Science in Kobe, Hyogo prefecture. PHOTO: AFP