Supercomputer Against Coronavirus
Jacob Bourne posted on July 29, 2020 |
Fugaku, the world’s fastest computer in Japan, joins COVID-19 consortium.


Researchers use the supercomputer Fugaku to simulate the effectiveness of a partition for preventing droplets from coughing from spreading in a typical office setting. (Provided by Riken Center for Computational Science and Toyohashi University of Technology. Supported by Kyoto Institute of Technology and Osaka University)

According to a report from various scientists in Japan, the odds of COVID-19 being transmitted  by an infected person are 18.7 times greater in a closed environment versus and open-air one. So while general exposure risk can’t be ruled out, transmission is much less likely to occur outdoors compared to indoor areas especially offices, elevators, hospital rooms, restaurants, nursing homes and public transportation. A key factor that makes indoor areas higher risk for contracting the coronavirus is a lack of adequate ventilation. Because offices especially lack the necessary ventilation systems to curb the spread of the virus, in addition to having many areas that multiple people touch throughout the day, many companies are continuing to keep their employees at home.

Because transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 spreads via tiny droplets from an infected person that can also become aerosolized, it can be difficult to visualize what the spread actually looks like. However, Fugaku, the world’s fastest supercomputer located at Japan’s RIKEN institute, has remedied the situation by providing powerful visualizations of how far and wide and infected person can spread the virus in enclosed spaces. A predictive algorithm was used to show patterns in how the virus-laden droplets spread in an office cubicle and on a commuter train. A digital video simulation showed both the time and extent of the droplets’ spread.

The office-space simulation depicts one person coughing and emitting a plume of blue-colored droplets that spread around them even though the desk space is equipped with a partition. The droplets then continue to spread and some end up on nearby co-workers and their desks as well. Another simulation showed a packed commuter train with open windows where someone coughs and the infected droplets similarly spread rapidly and far distances, putting other passengers at risk. Despite, the presence of ventilation, it wasn’t adequate given the number of people in close proximity. Although both simulations showed the highest concentrations of droplets right in front of the infected individual, it’s also clear that the risk of contracting the virus are high in indoor crowded spaces with only a single infected person.

In addition to the simulation, Fugaku is also working on finding different drug combinations that might be affective against the disease as part of RIKEN’s membership in the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium since June. Researchers at RIKEN are also working on molecular simulations of how the coronavirus attaches to human cells. Prior political battles in Japan over the development of supercomputers resulted in a need to prove that Fugaku was not only the fastest computer but also one with practical functionality to benefit society. It appears that the criteria was met because not only is Fugaku being used against COVID-19, it’s also being deployed to make climate and weather predictions.

“Ten years after the initial concept was proposed, and six years after the official start of the project, Fugaku is now near completion,” stated  Satoshi Matsuoka, director of RIKEN R-CCS. “Fugaku was developed based on the idea of achieving high performance on a variety of applications of great public interest, such as the achievement of Society 5.0, and we are very happy that it has shown itself to be outstanding on all the major supercomputer benchmarks. In addition to its use as a supercomputer, I hope that the leading-edge IT developed for it will contribute to major advances on difficult social challenges such as COVID-19.”

The full development of Fugaku won’t technically be complete until 2021, at which time it’s slated to be put toward high priority social and scientific uses. In the interim it will continue to be used in an experimental fashion on COVID-19 and other research, while its creators bask in the supercomputer’s achievements. In June 2020 Fugaku became the top supercomputing system on the Top 500 list and Graph 500 list. It’s built with a Fujitsu A64FX microprocessor and has 158,976 nodes.

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