Gordon Bell Prize Winners Embrace Summit to Advance COVID-19 Research
February 3, 2021
But even in this unusual working environment, a group of researchers across America went to remarkable lengths – with the help of IBM's Summit supercomputer– to better understand the structure and replication of the COVID-19 virus.
For their efforts, the group was recently awarded the first-of-its-kind Gordon Bell Special Prize forHigh Performance Computing-Based COVID-19 Research. The prize recognizes outstanding research achievement toward the understanding of the COVID-19 pandemic through the use of high-performance computing (HPC).
Why did you use Summit for this research over other computing systems? How did it make a difference?
Messer: Summit is a unique platform, and I always say the machines we run have more in common with the Hubble Space Telescope or the Large Hadron Collider than the laptop or desktop in your home office. Summit allows for true scientific simulation rather than more common proofs of concept on other systems.
Amaro: Summit was made for this type of research.
How important were Summit's AI capabilities throughout the course of this research project?
Messer: Summit is the world's smartest supercomputer because of the depth and breadth of its AI stack and how it can be customized. Ramanathan : I've called this a "marriage made in heaven" because many of these AI models were customized for Summit to get the maximum performance out of it. We were also doing the optimization of the settings of hyperparameters, which we had to get right as these simulations are running. So, there was an algorithmic side of the story where we developed a new model on the Summit system so we could train faster, and then we also looked at various ways in which we could get the optimized model to scale and learn from the data.
Can you elaborate on the importance of your research for ongoing vaccine efforts, both for COVID-19 and future viruses?
Amaro: One of the main limitations of some experimental techniques is the inability to see the shield of sugars that surrounds cells in the human body. Viruses have evolved the ability to cloak themselves in this shield so that when they are in the body they don't get detected as an invader by our immune systems.
The COVID-19 vaccines in development were selected back in January, but with this computing we've been able to rebuild that sugary shield and better understand how it is moving.
You carried out this research in the same remote working environment that so many have experienced this year. How were you able to collaborate so successfully across different parts of the country on a project that was so important and time-critical?
Amaro: I have not been back to the office since March, so this was definitely a new way of working. These projects also typically require more formal proposals and evaluations that can be time consuming before the work begins. That was a special thing which allowed us to get to work more quickly.
Ramanathan: There were 29 authors on the paper, so to have everyone working together and driving in the same direction was special. It was a newer venue for all of us to work in and feel part of a community.
Apr 21, 2021 at 09:19