The microchip manufacture AMD has made a $1 million gift to the University of Vermont to boost its high performance computing capacity and enhance the university’s COVID-19 research efforts. UVM is among the first 21 schools the company has supported through its AMD HPC Fund for COVID-19 Research program, designed to accelerate COVID research at universities around the country.  

UVM will use the funds in two ways. Researchers will be able to use the equivalent of $500,000 in market-based fees for access to AMD’s unique cloud-based high performance computing platform, a remote supercomputing facility used by researchers around the world. Faculty will receive special training in the cloud-based system, which will substantially expand the high performance computing capacity available to UVM researchers for a period of years.

In addition, the company has given the university $500,000 to acquire new high performance processing units for the Vermont Advanced Computing Core, the university’s supercomputing facility. The new processors will boost the computer power of the VACC, already one of the fastest supercomputers in New England and one of the 100 fastest academic supercomputers in the country, by 25%.

“In response to the pandemic, many UVM faculty are pursuing research projects related to understanding the transmission and prevalence of COVID-19 and potential treatments for the disease,” said Kirk Dombrowski, vice president for research at the University of Vermont. “Since virtually all of this work requires high performance computing, we are very grateful to AMD for its generous gift. The work it funds will enable to us to advance one the three pillars of the university’s strategic plan—using our distinctive research strengths to create healthy societies—and make a real contribution to ending this pandemic and preparing for future outbreaks.”

“AMD is proud to be working with UVM to bring the power of high performance computing technology to the fight against the coronavirus pandemic,” said Mark Papermaster, executive vice president and chief technology officer at AMD. “These donations of AMD EPYC and Radeon Instinct processors will help researchers both deepen their understanding of COVID-19 and improve the ability to respond to future potential threats to global health.”

VACC director Chris Danforth welcomes the resources for COVID-19 related work. “We’re thrilled to join other universities in receiving this tremendous gift from AMD,” he said. “Scientific computation is a critical component of the research enterprise—all the more so when we’re fighting a monstrous global crisis—and the new hardware will accelerate UVM’s creative contributions.”

The university will use its enhanced computing power on a range of COVID-19 projects in an array of academic disciplines, Dombrowski said, from plant biology to computational chemistry. They include:

  • Analyzing the structure and behavior of the spike protein in the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Research team: the Jianing Li group in Chemistry and the Juan Vanegas group in Physics.
  • Creating large scale fluid dynamics simulations of COVID-19 droplets as they travel through the air to better understand how the disease is spread. Research team: the Yves Dubief group in Mechanical Engineering working in partnership with the French government.
  • Real-time analysis of billions of tweets to quantify the pandemic’s emotional impact on society. Research team: the Computational Story Lab and the Vermont Complex Systems Center.
  • Modeling the interaction between social distancing behavior and PPE use in stemming transmission of the virus on college campuses. Research team: the Jane Molofsky group in Plant Biology.
  • Analyzing the interplay between contact structure, interventions and behavior on pandemic dynamics with the goal of preventing a second wave. Research team led by Laurent Hébert-Dufresne in Computer Science.

The UVM Vermont Advanced Computing Core facilitates discovery by providing faculty researchers with rapid access to large-scale advanced computing infrastructure and responsive technical support. It also provides tools and instruction allowing for the inclusion of high-performance computing in the classroom.

The AMD COVID-19 HPC fund was established to provide research institutions with computing resources to accelerate medical research on COVID-19 and other diseases. In addition to the initial donations of $15 million of high-performance computing systems, AMD has contributed technology and technical resources to nearly double the peak system  of the “Corona” system at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory which is being used to provide additional computing power for molecular modeling in support of COVID-19 research.


Jeffrey R. Wakefield