Welcome to Austonia, a new, locally owned news company here to report on news, business, and politics in Austin, Texas. Like what you see? Sign up for our daily newsletter to get our latest stories in your inbox.
In early March, when experimental scientists released an important batch of information about the coronavirus, biophysicist Rommie Amaro sent an email to Dan Stanzione at Austin's Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC). She asked for time on Frontera, the fifth most powerful supercomputer in the world.
She and a team from her computational biology lab at the University of California, San Diego, together with scientists from other labs, were creating a model of the virus. Their goals included simulating its movements, which would provide information about how the virus interacted with human cells and provide structural insights for drug development.
Amaro and her team previously modeled and analyzed an influenza virus. The project, which was finished in 2019, took six years. Now, amid a global pandemic, they were hoping to create the coronavirus model in a matter of weeks. This could only be possible with collaboration in the global community and the use of one of the world's most powerful supercomputers. So she contacted Stanzione, TACC's executive director.
"It took me one email to Dan Stanzione," she says. "He said, 'I know what you guys do. Just go for it.' It turned out to be so critical for this work. It's unprecedented and impressive."
As researchers race to provide important information about the coronavirus and its spread, organizations from the federal government, industry and academia have come together to quickly get researchers free access to supercomputers. They joined forces to create the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium, which carries out a daily review of requests for computing capacity. When Amaro was modeling influenza, it took her a year to get her proposal for supercomputer time funded.
TACC is a member of the consortium. The Austin center is part of the University of Texas-Austin and is funded by the National Science Foundation. It has more than 10 supercomputers, and Frontera is the fastest academic computer in the world.
"We are supporting over 20 projects now that are in some way dealing with the coronavirus response," says Stanzione, "for probably a few hundred researchers around the country."
Some projects come in through the daily review process, while others have been green-lit even more quickly, using a discretionary process similar to that used in emergencies such as a hurricane threat in the Gulf of Mexico. The researchers now receiving this immediate approval are usually those who have worked with the center before. They are able to use elements of past projects to approach the new coronavirus threat.
"Existing capacity matters a lot," he says. "Software has been built. There are data sets you can use. The projects where we are already pushing out results that are helping come from existing relationships."
The supercomputers at TACC have hundreds of thousands of processors networked in such a way that the transmission time between the processors is extremely low. This allows for large, intricate calculations to be done. Stanzione says that in order to simulate the coronavirus over time, processors need to communicate with each other within fractions of a femtosecond, which is a millionth of a billionth of a second.
Amaro and her team, along with several groups from other labs, will create a three-dimensional model of the outside of the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, as well as a simulation of its movements. This should give information about how it interacts with human cells and provide insights for drug and vaccine development. The researchers expect the model to contain about 200 million atoms.
So far, the team has built a three-dimensional model of the spike proteins (which are the red "knobs" seen on coronavirus images), the tether that connects the spikes to the membrane on the outside of the virus, and some of that membrane. They have also been able to model the sugar-like molecules found on the proteins, which may be camouflaging the virus from our immune system.
The team will now apply the laws of physics to model how the virus moves.
"You have to have to understand how it is moving in order to understand its function," she says.
Amaro says that simulations of other viruses have revealed hidden aspects of the coronavirus, such as drug targets, that could not be seen experimentally. Simulation data such as hers is used to augment data collected in experimental labs around the world. It is part of a fast-moving, global effort to conquer coronavirus.
"The sharing and collaboration has been surprising and incredible," says Amaro.
- Two-thirds of Austin COVID-19 deaths are people over 70, but cases span all ages - austonia ›
- Copy of Two-thirds of Austin COVID-19 deaths are people over 70, but cases span all ages - austonia ›
- FBI: China may be trying to steal UT-Austin's COVID research - austonia ›
- UT Austin debuts new hologram program amid pandemic - austonia ›
- UT professor played role in Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID vaccines - austonia ›
- Austin's Colossal Biosciences resurrecting woolly mammoth - austonia ›
- UT admits the most diverse class in the school's history - austonia ›
Help us find our editor!
Austonia, a for-profit Austin digital media company, is looking for the right person for a new position as newsletter editor.
Are you an innovator who wants to work exclusively in digital media and push the boundaries? Do you have 3+ years in digital, broadcast, print or agency work? This could be the opportunity for you.
In two years we’ve created a place in the Austin media landscape, and we’re looking for people who can move us toward the front.
- AM email newsletter, 22,500+ daily subscribers
- Austonia.com, reaching 250,000+ users/month
- Social media, 50,000+ followers
Success in this role is based on skills: an excellent writer, editor, visual communicator and storyteller who builds compelling stories with digital and classic elements, who can recruit and mentor contributors in doing the same.
Austin is the most interesting city in the world, and we want to cover it that way. The people, issues, opportunities, challenges, companies and cultures that make Austin dynamic and successful.
Compensation depends on experience. Benefits include PTO and employee Blue Cross Blue Shield “Silver” health coverage, with 100% of the monthly premium paid by the company.
This is a hybrid, mostly remote position. Must live in Austin.
The position reports to Austonia’s CEO.
To apply, follow this link to become a candidate immediately:
Or send your contact info and a link to your LinkedIn profile to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Camp Fimfo Waco, a brand new camping resort, is kicking off football and fall camping season in style! With top-notch amenities, premium accommodations, and 10 weekends of fall fun, there’s no better place to have a fall camping getaway, especially if you’re a Baylor football fan!
Fall promises to be a one-of-a-kind camping experience. From Sept. 16 to Nov. 24, weekends will be packed with fall-themed activities, including special Halloween weekends in October. Campers can enjoy activities like fall crafts, campground trick-or-treating, costume contests, site decorating, outdoor movie nights, and more!
Packages and Ways to Stay
Camp Fimfo Waco
Located just 5 miles from McLane Stadium, Camp Fimfo Waco is the perfect place to stay during home game weekends. Skip the stuffy hotel room and embrace the great outdoors before cheering on the Baylor Bears! Campers can purchase a Baylor Tailgating Package that includes a pre-game meal from Executive Chef Sean Kelley and transportation to and from the game! Chef Kelley will also be cooking up delicious, elevated tailgating meals near the stadium so make sure to check out The Plaid Plate food truck before the game.
Stay in style and comfort, no matter your camping preference! At Camp Fimfo Waco, there are multiple ways to stay. Red Carpet RV sites come with a concrete pad and patio, full hook-ups, cable hook-up, a charcoal grill, fire ring and fire pit. Back-in or pull-thru options are available, as well as coveted spots tucked along the Bosque River!
Don’t have an RV? Not a problem, Camp Fimfo Waco has cabins too! Book a Riverview Firewheel Cabin if you’re looking for an air-conditioned oasis for the whole family. Complete with a kitchen and private bathroom, this cabin can fit up to 10 people. Elevate your stay by adding on a golf cart or snag a private cabana by the pool for guaranteed shade. With wifi available throughout the park, you can stay connected during your stay!
Amenities and Activities
Camp Fimfo Waco
Camp Fimfo Waco features lots of amenities to fill your days with fun, whether you’re a kid or kid at heart. After challenging your friends to a game of pickleball, basketball, or mini golf, go for a dip in the resort-style, heated pool - open daily through October! Stay on the weekends through October to enjoy the interactive splash playground. With plenty of ways to burn off energy, like the jumping pillow or playground, you can be sure to end the day with a peaceful night around the campfire!
Right now, you can get the fourth night FREE when you book three nights with the promo code BONUS! Check out the Offers page for full details and more promo codes!