World’s most powerful supercomputer to search for coronavirus cure

Japan’s new Fugaku supercomputer, which has this week been declared the most powerful in the world, is to be used to search for a potential cure for the coronavirus.

Based at the Japanese government’s RIKEN Center for Computational Science in Kobe, Fugaku is the country’s first machine to lead the biannual TOP500 supercomputer list since 2011.

It is potentially capable of performing up to 513 quadrillion mathematical operations every second, crunching through complicated simulations regarding the coronavirus and potential treatments.

TOPSHOT - This picture taken on June 16, 2020 shows Japan's Fugaku supercomputer at the Riken Center for Computational Science in Kobe, Hyogo prefecture. - The Fugaku supercomputer, built with government backing and used in the fight against the COVID-19 coronavirus, is now ranked as the world's fastest, its developers announced on June 22, 2020. (Photo by STR / JIJI PRESS / AFP) / Japan OUT (Photo by STR/JIJI PRESS/AFP via Getty Images)
Image: Japan’s Fugaku supercomputer will help study COVID-19 treatments

Although it won’t be fully operational until next year, the team leading the project have already used it to run simulations on how respiratory droplets spread through office spaces and public transport.

“I hope that the cutting-edge IT developed for Fugaku will contribute to major advances on difficult social challenges such as COVID-19,” said Satoshi Matsuoka, the head of the RIKEN Center for Computational Science.

The TOP500 list is compiled by academics in the US and Germany – and includes machines whose owners have decided to submit them for appraisal, although some supercomputers may be withheld from the list for secrecy.

However, it is unlikely that anything outside an immensely secretive military installation could surpass the supercomputers on the top of the list due to the power costs of running these machines.

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Fugaku requires 28 megawatts to run – more than two Eurostar trains, or the maximum output capacity of Taylors Lane Power Station in Willesden, northwest London.

Taylor's Lane Power Station. Pic: R Sones
Image: Taylor’s Lane Power Station generates 28 MW. Pic: R Sones

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Although it has the top spot, Japan is well short of China in terms of the number of supercomputers on the TOP500 list, with only 30 machines.

China has 226 supercomputers on the list, while American follows with 114.

The UK – whose most powerful computer belongs to the Met Office, which is the most powerful computer in the world dedicated to weather and climate modelling – sits in eighth with 11, just behind Ireland with 14.

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