How to help fight COVID-19 with your GPU

Apr 06, 2020 at 10:33 am by SchelleFire

COVID-19 protein structure

We know you all have some of the best computers available. You need them to render your art and play games. But research network that Folding@Home wants you to join the world's most powerful supercomputer.

Folding@Home called on all of us to help fight the coronavirus by donating spare cycles on home computers to create a crowd-sourced exascale supercomputer.

In just 10 days from March 15, supporters had downloaded the group's software on hundreds of thousands of home PCs to help crack the code on COVID-19.

"It's been a pretty amazing experience," said Greg Bowman, director of Folding@Home, an all-volunteer team of researchers. Bowman's also an associate professor at the Washington University School of Medicine, in St. Louis, home to one of 11 labs worldwide that keep the Folding@Home network humming.

"It's exciting to have the chance to try everything we can think of in parallel to maximize the chances of having an impact on the current pandemic," he said.

So far the simulations have captured a motion that creates a potentially druggable site in this Ebola protein. Instead of showing spheres for each atom, this cartoon shows a ribbon tracing the linear chain of amino acids (chemicals) the protein is made of.

As of last week, more than a million computers are now on the network that started the year with just 30,000.

Bowman estimates performance has surpassed 1.5 exaflops, fueled in part by more than 356,000 NVIDIA GPUs. The group's blog site will share more news soon, he said.

They still need help simulating the dynamics of COVID-19 proteins to hunt for new therapeutic opportunities. Here's a list of ways you can help.

  1. Downloading Folding@home and helping us run simulations is the primary way to contribute. These calculations are enormous and every little bit helps! Each simulation you run is like buying a lottery ticket. The more tickets we buy, the better our chances of hitting the jackpot. Usually, your computer will never be idle, but we’ve had such an enthusiastic response to our COVID-19 work that you will see some intermittent downtime as we sprint to setup more simulations. Please be patient with us! There is a lot of valuable science to be done, and we’re getting it running as quickly as we can.
  2. If you don’t have computers to contribute or are feeling particularly generous, you can also make donations through Washington University in St. Louis. These funds are used for a number of purposes, including: 1) supporting our software engineering and server-side hardware (particularly important right now as we scale up rapidly!) and 2) buying compounds to test experimentally based on insight from our simulations.
  3. Of course, please take precautions to help prevent the spread of the virus by washing your hands, social distancing, etc. Doing so helps sustain the medical system and buys scientists time to hunt for therapies.

Folding@Home is one of many technology efforts formed to fight coronavirus.

The U.S. Department of Energy created the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium with support from many tech companies and universities. The group will pool 16 supercomputers to deliver a combined 330 petaflops in part with help from more than 36,000 NVIDIA GPUs.

Separately, developers are already coding up projects in the #BuildforCOVID19 hackathon. Highlighted projects will be announced April 10.

For its part, NVIDIA is offering researchers a free 90-day license to its Parabricks software to accelerate the analysis of the coronavirus' genetic code.

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