Feature Article

28-Dec-2020

Mobilizing science to tackle COVID-19

The Office of Science has led the Department of Energy's research and development efforts to respond to COVID-19

DOE/US Department of Energy

Researchers at DOE's national laboratories work to understand how the virus responsible for COVID-19 functions in the body. This shows the surface of the virus binding to a cell's membrane. (Credit: Oak Ridge National Laboratory)

The COVID crisis is unlike any other event the nation and the world have faced in nearly a century. The Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science has not only invested in areas that support our laboratories and researchers, we lead the Department’s research and development response to COVID. This effort is ensuring that our 17 national labs are working in tandem to support the nation. The ability of researchers across the country at national labs, at universities, and in industry to work together is crucial to fighting this pandemic. 

For many of us, moments like this are why we became scientists and engineers. We are here to take on problems that we could not have predicted, but that we can solve with our collective unique knowledge, skills, and effort.

With this in mind, the Office of Science swiftly took action. We created the National Virtual Biotechnology Laboratory (NVBL) and joined the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP)-led COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium. These are two incredible initiatives that have allowed cooperative research and development across government agencies, national labs, universities, industry leaders, and our international allies.

The National Virtual Biotechnology Laboratory is a consortium of 17 national laboratories, all of which have core capabilities relevant to the threats posed by COVID-19. NVBL is taking advantage of DOE Office of Science user facilities to address key challenges in responding to the COVID-19 threat. These facilities include light and neutron sources, nanoscale science centers, sequencing and bio-characterization facilities, and high-performance computer facilities. The NVBL is working in six different areas:

  • Addressing supply chain bottlenecks by harnessing extensive additive manufacturing capabilities
  • Developing innovations in testing capabilities
  • Identifying new targets for medical therapeutics
  • Providing epidemiological and logistical support
  • Determining the fate and transport of the virus in the environment, and
  • Participating in the High Performance Computing (HPC) Consortium.

But where the NVBL really shines is the extensive collaboration with researchers, both in academia and the private sector. The DOE user facilities are available to users in all sectors of the research community. In fact, the idea of a virtual and connected biotechnology laboratory has been an interest of the Office of Science for a while, and COVID-19 provided the perfect opportunity to test out this idea. This current success will enable future cooperation, even after work focused on the pandemic fades and we return to business as usual.

The Office of Science labs are also part of the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium. This consortium is spearheaded by OSTP and involves the nation’s top computing companies. Separate from NVBL, the HPC Consortium brings together supercomputing resources within the government and industry and makes them available to researchers who apply. So far, the Consortium has approved more than 90 projects, including ones from universities, companies, and other research and medical organizations.

The Office of Science has been a critical part of our nation’s response to COVID-19. From addressing supply chain issues for test kits to testing R&D to modeling virus transmission, we are proud to serve this county in a time of incredible need.

 

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The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information please visit https://www.energy.gov/science