As the director of a global research organization, I feel obligated to use all the resources of cutting-edge science and technology at our disposal to fight this scourge. As a father, I want a lasting solution, one that serves not just in this crisis, but the next. And, as an American and a Spaniard, with family in two hot spots, I want to help. It’s as simple as that.
It started with a phone call to the White House on Tuesday, March 17, one that proved to be a catalytic moment for industry, academia and government to act together. This was the same week I received news from my mother that my cousin in Spain had tested positive for coronavirus. She’s a doctor and, just like all medical staff around the world right now, is on the front lines of the fight against this disease. This fight is personal for so many of us.
COVID-19 is deadly serious. This respiratory disease is triggered by a virus from the family of coronaviruses, which was identified in the 1960s but had never made such an assault on humanity. The virus prevents its victims from breathing normally, making them gasp for air. Fever, cough, a sore throat and a feeling of overwhelming fatigue and helplessness follow. Lucky ones recover within a few days; some show only mild or moderately severe symptoms. But some patients are not that lucky. Bulldozing its way through the body, the virus makes the lungs fill up with fluid, and may lead to a rapid death. No one is immune. While the elderly and those with underlying health conditions are more at risk, COVID-19 has taken the lives of people of all ages, some in seemingly good health. The disease is bringing our world to its knees.
But we are resilient, and we are fighting back with all the tools we have, including some of the most sophisticated supercomputers we have ever built. These machines—more than 25 U.S.-based supercomputers with more than 400 petaflops of computing power—are now available for free to scientists searching for a vaccine or treatment against the virus, through the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium.
It was created with government, academia and industry—including competitors, working side by side. IBM is co-leading the effort with the U.S. Department of Energy, which operates the National Laboratories of the United States. Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Hewlett Packard Enterprise have joined, as well as NASA, the National Science Foundation, Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center and six National Labs—Lawrence Livermore, Lawrence Berkeley, Argonne, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge and Sandia, and others. And then there are academic institutions, including MIT; Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; the University of Texas, Austin; and the University of California, San Diego.
The supercomputers will run a myriad of calculations in epidemiology, bioinformatics and molecular modeling, in a bid to drastically cut the time of discovery of new molecules that could lead to a vaccine. Having received proposals from all over the world, we have already reviewed, approved and matched 15 projects to the right supercomputers. More will follow.
But just a few days ago none of this existed.