Technology company donates equipment to UT labs to aid with COVID-19 research

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Sean Provost | Daily Texan Staff

A technology company donated high-performance computing equipment to two UT labs in the College of Natural Sciences to support the labs’ COVID-19 research. 

Advanced Micro Devices, an American company that develops computer processors and related technologies, initially donated similar equipment to other universities such as New York University and Rice University in June. Company spokesperson Gary Silcott said in an email to the Austin American-Statesman that the company chose universities based on who could best use the new equipment.

“The selection process was based on an assessment of the likelihood that access to increased computing resources could accelerate time to findings,” Silcott said in the email. “The selected universities had ongoing work that would benefit nearly immediately.”  

Mandi Argo, the assistant director of corporate and foundation relations for the College of Natural Sciences, helped send COVID-19 research proposals to Advanced Micro Devices after the company called for submissions to determine where to send the donations.  

The Andrew Ellington Lab and Lauren Ehrlich Lab in the Department of Molecular Biosciences, as well as the electrical and computer engineering professor Haris Vikalo’s research group, received the donations.

 

Lauren Ehrlich, Molecular biosciences associate professor, said she and her colleagues are working on understanding why different immune systems have different reactions to the coronavirus. 

“One of the things that you notice with COVID is that up to 20% of COVID patients end up with severe diseases,” Ehrlich said. “SARS-CoV-2 is so new that we’re learning every day what it means to have an immune response to the virus.”

The equipment will arrive at UT in October, Ehrlich said. She said she is thrilled about the equipment as she knows it will allow the lab to sort large amounts of data.

“If you’re talking about (COVID-19) patients where we’re trying to understand how immune response differs across age groups and genetics … this becomes a big data problem,” Ehrlich said. “So that’s why we need this big computational power to put all of this big data together.” 

Molecular biosciences professor Andrew Ellington said his lab has been working with Kevin Dalby, a chemical biology and medicinal chemistry professor, on studying COVID-19 for vaccine efforts.

“The Ellington Lab has been working on identifying mutations in the viral spike protein that would lead to improvements for vaccine development,” Ellington said. “We are in need of local, high end computation support in particular to help with molecular dynamics and docking simulations.”