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Computer simulation can increase understanding of coronavirus

Mapping a virus such as the coronavirus requires considerable computing power for simulations and calculations. This computing power can be achieved by interconnecting a vast array of computers to share the computational burden. RISE, through the ICE data centre in Luleå, is now supporting the Folding@Home project with computational capacity to increase and accelerate understanding of the coronavirus.

For almost 20 years, thousands of computers around the world have been working on molecular simulations to find cures for various diseases such as breast cancer, Alzheimer’s and numerous viruses as part of the Folding@Home project. The computers that work on the calculations form a distributed network and can range from powerful servers to regular home computers. Collectively, they form the world’s first computing system with exaFLOP capability, which means that the system can handle more than a billion billion calculations per second.

Since the coronavirus pandemic broke out, part of the project’s computational capacity has been redirected to map how the coronavirus functions and how medicines can be designed to stop it.

Support from RISE data centre

By way of the ICE data centre in Luleå, RISE is donating computing power to the project as part of its efforts to support society during the coronavirus pandemic.

– “We are currently donating the use of five powerful servers, each equipped with eight Nvidia RTX 2080ti GPUs,” says Daniel Olsson, who works at the data centre. “In terms of computational power, it corresponds to around 160 normal laptops.”

For the team running the data centre in Luleå, contributing to the project was the natural thing to do.

– “We have one of the most powerful GPU clusters in Sweden, so of course we will help,” explains Tor Björn Minde, Head of the ICE data centre. “By means of our computational power, we can help to accelerate the process by identifying the coronavirus’ protein chain.”

Citizen science since 2000

Folding@Home was started in October 2000 and is based at Washington University in St. Louis, USA. The project is a good example of citizen science, where the public plays an active role in research. Through Folding@Home, anyone with a computer can install a client software program through which computational power can be contributed. And since calculations are only performed when the computer is not working on anything else, the performance of the computer is not affected. One objective of the project is to attain more than million clients actively contributing computational power.

More information about Folding@Home can be found at

A graphics processing unit (GPU) is a microprocessor, located on a computer’s graphics card, which is optimised to handle graphics-related calculations. GPUs can also be used to perform calculations on large quantities of data.

Tor Björn Minde

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