Durham-based supercomputer helps tackle Covid

We’re proud to host a new 3.8m supercomputer that is being used to better understand Covid-19 and how to recover from the pandemic.

The computer, called Bede, is also playing a key role in areas like Artificial Intelligence (AI), energy storage and therapeutic drug design.

Based in Durham, Bede adds to our growing hub of High Performance Computing (HPC) technology, which includes the COSMA supercomputer used across particle physics, cosmology, astronomy and nuclear physics programmes. We’re also investing 1.2m in Hamilton 8, a CPU-based HPC to support research across all four of our Faculties, which will be commissioned later this year.

Covid-19 modelling

Bede is supporting research and discoveries across the North of England through the universities of the N8 Research Partnership and beyond.

It links the highest capability national and international supercomputers with local computers at individual research institutions.

Researchers are modelling the spread of Covid-19 around the UK, providing up-to-date information on disease risk and the effect of local lockdowns for the UK’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE).

Bede has been used in simulations to characterise the structural changes in the spike protein associated with the new SARS-CoV-2 UK strain. Researchers expect that these simulations will enable the development of a structure-based antibody discovery strategy for this strain and for potential new strains in the future.

Next generation X-ray instruments

In addition to its role in Covid-19 modelling, Bede is helping to advance imaging techniques needed to produce the next generation of X-ray instruments. Students working with algorithms and High Performance Computing are also benefiting from the supercomputer.

Professor Colin Bain, Vice-Provost (Research), said: “Durham has real strengths in High Performance Computing and we’re proud to add Bede to this hub and to host this facility on behalf of our partners in the N8.

“Bede will help researchers from across the UK and the wider world to tackle immediate issues like Covid-19, while supporting advances in the technologies of the future such as Artificial Intelligence.’

Dr Alan Real, Technical Director of the N8 Centre of Excellence in Computational Intensive Research and our Director of Advanced Research Computing, said: “Bede enables us to deal with data at a scale that other machines can’t. It’s not just far faster, it enables us to tackle problems that were simply beyond our capabilities before.’