Where is the Fastest Supercomputer in the U.S.?

Meet Summit, a massive machine in Oak Ridge, TN that went toe-to-toe with COVID-19.

By
Bill Lewis
On Friday, July 23, 2021 - 13:35
Oak Ridge, TN

During the global pandemic when time was measured in lost lives, researchers knew they did not have the months it would take to unlock the secrets of COVID-19 using ordinary computers. Instead, they turned to Summit, the supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

Summit, located in Oak Ridge, TN, is the fastest supercomputer in the U.S. It's capable of working at speeds of 200 quadrillion calculations per second.

That’s 200 followed by 15 zeros!

Summit examined data from 40,000 genes and 17,000 genetic samples. A week later, the researchers had their answer. “This is one of those rare times where you can really tie everything back to a eureka moment,” says Dr. Daniel Jacobson, staff scientist in ORNL’s Biosciences Division.

New Theory Emerges in Oak Ridge, TN

Summit’s results led to a new theory about COVID-19’s effect on the human body – the bradykinin hypothesis. The data indicated that genes related to the bradykinin system, which helps control blood pressure, were overactive in COVID-19 patients.

Excessive levels of bradykinin, a compound that dilates blood vessels, cause fluids to build up in the body. Additional research could open the possibility of new treatments for patients.

The team’s research was part of the Molecular Design project created to harness world-leading Department of Energy capabilities in high-performance computing and artificial intelligence combined with the structural biology, chemistry and analytical capabilities of the national laboratories, says Marti Head, the director of the Joint Institute for Biological Sciences who leads the lab’s COVID-19 Molecular Design team.

Researchers rely on Summit to investigate otherwise inaccessible global problems, such as designing new materials and exploring energy sources and treatments for disease. Each year, ORNL provides more than 30 million hours of computer time to scientists and engineers, says Justin Whitt, project director for the supercomputing facility.

As the pandemic took hold, Summit was in constant operation, and the lab in Oak Ridge provided over 2 million computer hours to 21 projects investigating the coronavirus.

“The impacts these large computers have on the nation’s science and engineering efforts are tremendous. Later this year, we will debut the Frontier supercomputer," Whitt says. "When it comes online, Frontier will be the nation’s first exascale computer and likely the fastest in the world at five to 10 times the speed of Summit.”

Oak Ridge, TN
Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Forget Oracle. Meet ORNL.

When the ancient Greeks had a question about the world, they asked the Oracle. Today, we have Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), the largest U.S. Department of Energy science and energy laboratory.

With a budget of $2 billion, ORNL conducts basic and applied research to deliver transformative solutions to compelling questions in energy and security. That research has resulted in 818 patents since 2007.

To advance scientific discovery, the lab assembles teams of experts from diverse backgrounds, equips them with powerful instruments and research facilities, and addresses compelling national problems. To enhance security, ORNL develops and deploys “first-of-a-kind” science-based technologies. ORNL supports these missions through leadership in four major areas of science and technology:

  • Neutrons: The lab operates two of the world’s leading neutron sources, which offer insight into materials and biological systems.
  • Computing: ORNL accelerates discovery with powerful supercomputers, advances data-intensive science and sustains U.S. leadership in high-performance computing.
  • Materials: ORNL integrates basic and applied research to develop advanced materials for energy applications.
  • Nuclear: The lab advances the scientific basis for 21st century nuclear fission and fusion technologies and systems and produces isotopes for research, industry and medicine.

ORNL’s staff of 5,100 includes scientists and engineers in more than 100 disciplines. 

Want to learn more about living and working in Oak Ridge? Check out the latest edition of Livability Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bill Lewis is an award-winning business journalist whose work has appeared in publications across the United States.