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We visit the Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC-CNS)

We visit the Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC-CNS)

A chapel more than a century old houses the most powerful supercomputer in Spain and the sixth in Europe.

Supercomputers, which transform huge amounts of data into knowledge, have become essential resources for the information age, This is where the leading center in Spain, the Barcelona Supercomputing Center-Centro Nacional de Supercomputación (BSC-CNS) comes in. One of its most important acquisitions is the MareNostrum 4, one of the most powerful supercomputers in Europe.

This center of innovation gathers, processes, and analyses data using supercomputing, which acts as a tool for advanced scientific work and is employed, for example, in the daily interpretation of medical images and analysis of clinical records. The Catalan government announced at the end of October that it would be investing 59 million euros in the BSC-CNS, ensuring it remains a pioneer in its sector and enabling Barcelona to acquire one of the most powerful computers in the world, the MareNostrum 5.

For the first time since BSC-CNS was launched in Barcelona, however, the new computer will not be located in the century-old Romanesque chapel of the Torre Girona, where the MareNostrum 4 is located. MareNostrum 5, which will arrive in Barcelona in 2021, will be housed in a refurbished space in an adjacent building.

Work in many areas

Since 2004, when the Ministry of Education, the Catalan government and the UPC took the initiative to create a National Supercomputing Centre in Barcelona, the BSC has focused on advancing scientific knowledge for the benefit for citizens. The BSC works in disciplines as varied as Computer Science, Life Sciences, Earth Sciences, Computer Applications in Science and Engineering, to mention a few.

With a team of more than 650 researchers and professionals from both Spain and around the world, the mission of this international center of excellence in e-Science is to take a multidisciplinary approach to the research, management and transfer of knowledge in order to facilitate progress in a range of scientific fields.

The BSC is currently a public consortium supported by the Ministry of Science and Innovation, the Catalan Department of Enterprise and Knowledge, and the UPC. It is financed by public funds and private companies, as well as by means of competitive tenders.

"With more than 50 research groups and many projects underway, the BSC has also promoted the creation of 10 startups in the last five years."

In the last five years, the pioneering supercomputing center has been behind the creation of 10 new companies in areas as diverse as biomedicine, aerospace and automotive security, and quantum computing.  These spin-offs are a result of its state-of-the-art technology and the importance that the BSC gives to scientific research. 2.5 million euros was invested in the projects and 93 jobs have been created.

The ten spin-offs—EAS, Frontwave Imaging, Nostrum Biodiscovery, Mitiga Solutions, ELEM Biotech, Nearby Computing, Maspatechnologies, Qbeast, Nextmol and Qilimanjaro—  have all benefited from the collaboration of other Spanish and international research institutions such as the UPC, UB, IRB, ICREA, CSIC, and Imperial College London.

Research to combat COVID-19

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 health crisis, many of the country's scientific institutions have joined in the fight against the virus. The BSC-CNS has participated in various scientific research projects that aim to find out more about how the virus acts and how to combat it. These include an important study supported by IrsiCaixa and CReSA and published in Science Advances on the effectiveness of plitidepsin as an antiviral.

Furthermore, BSC-CNS and the Hospital Clínic de Barcelona are also working together to create a system based on artificial intelligence (AI) for predicting the evolution of COVID-19 patients. This will help healthcare staff and health authorities to predict any new outbreaks and plan the logistical response. The AI model is based on the information from more than three thousand clinical reports and will be trained on the MareNostrum 4 supercomputer.

The BSC in figures

With more than 50 research groups, the center has 6 projects funded by the European Research Council, 8 ICREA researchers, and 80 researchers in receipt of personal grants. Researchers are working on more than 160 ongoing projects, 36 of which started in 2019. Furthermore, the BSC CNS is one of the 10 European centers of excellence for high performance computing (HPC) applications and is the Spanish body that receives the third-highest funding from the Horizon 2020 research and innovation program.

The BSC CNS has proved to be a pioneer in its sector and has established itself as a renowned institution both in Spain and around the world, demonstrating the importance of scientific research and the need to ensure it is well-funded.

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