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Current Affairs

Use of supercomputers in tackling COVID-19

Date: 14 April 2020 Tags: Fourth Industrial Revolution


Scientists are using supercomputers for several challenging tasks, such as understanding how the virus spreads in a community, how it infects the human body, as well as for possibly finding a cure and vaccine. 



In the global effort to tackle the novel coronavirus pandemic, many countries have now employed supercomputers to help expedited research into the virus. Supercomputers have also been used during past outbreaks, including the 2015 Zika epidemic and the 2014-16 Ebola epidemic.



  • As COVID-19 cases have been mounting the world over, an abundance of data is being made available to researchers, which supercomputers are using for modelling and analysis.

  • Due to their high processing power, supercomputers are able to perform these functions months faster than regular computers, and years sooner than if done by hand.

  • To help find a drug that could work against the novel coronavirus, supercomputers are being employed to look through databases of existing drug compounds. The novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) has spikes on its surface, which it uses to invade cells in the human body.

  • Supercomputers are looking for antiviral drugs that could potentially bind with those spikes, thus inhibiting the virus from infecting humans.

  • These computers can also help in developing a vaccine for the novel coronavirus, by identifying the virus proteins that can help create immunity among humans.

  • The other ways in which supercomputers are helping include studying the structure and origin of the novel coronavirus, analysing the spread of the virus in a population, as well as how it interacts with cells in the human body.

  • In the US, a massive public-private effort called the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium has been launched, consisting industry players such as IBM, Google, and Amazon, academic institutions such as MIT and Carnegie Mellon, along with government laboratories and agencies including NASA. 

  • The supercomputers that are part of the consortium can process massive numbers of calculations related to bioinformatics, epidemiology, and molecular modelling, helping scientists develop answers to complex scientific questions about COVID-19 in hours or days versus weeks or months.

  • Similarly, the Tianhe-1 supercomputer in China has been using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to diagnose COVID-19 patients from chest scans.

  • In India, the government owned C-DAC has announced that it would collaborate with laboratories as well industries and start-ups for performing drug repurposing simulations required towards the discovery of a new drug for COVID-19.