5 Ways Supercomputers Help Advance Science

Supercomputers are helping scientists simulate scientific processes, make predictions and create data-based solutions, tackling the biggest scientific questions one calculation at a time.

Finding drugs to fight bugs

There is an urgent need to find new and better treatments for infectious diseases such as Zika, dengue and tuberculosis. The problem is that researchers are often slowed down by the sheer number of candidate compounds and variables to consider.

IBM has pioneered a crowdsourced ‘supercomputer’ that uses the idle time of computers and smartphones around the world to address this problem. Running at a collective speed of 1.1 petaFLOPS, the World Community Grid (WCG) enables researchers to screen small-molecule drugs and millions of drug-like compounds from existing databases against models of microorganisms and their proteins. These results are shared in the public domain and made available to the scientific community as part of WCG’s commitment to improve human health and welfare.

The compounds that show the most promise are then tested in the laboratory. Instead of having to screen compounds over years or even decades in the laboratory, WCG helps perform these initial tests in a matter of months.

Over two dozen projects have been powered by WCG in the past 13 years, and as of March 2018, the platform boasts a combined total run time of 1.5 million years. During that time, 20 projects have been completed, yielding important discoveries such as a protease inhibitor that disables the replication of the dengue and West Nile viruses, as well as several molecules that are effective against malaria and drug-resistant tuberculosis.

Brenda obtained her MSc in Science Communications from the University of Sheffield, where she studied the possibility of gender bias in written forms of science communication. She is on a lifelong journey to bridge the communications gap between scientists and the public, and hopes to do this as a science and technology writer at Asian Scientist Magazine.

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