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Verónica Melesse Vergara speaks with third and fourth graders at East Side Intermediate School in Brownsville. Credit: ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Twenty-seven ORNL researchers Zoomed into 11 middle schools across Tennessee during the annual Engineers Week in February. East Tennessee schools throughout Oak Ridge and Roane, Sevier, Blount and Loudon counties participated, with three West Tennessee schools joining in.

ORNL has modeled the spike protein that binds the novel coronavirus to a human cell for better understanding of the dynamics of COVID-19. Credit: Stephan Irle/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

To better understand the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers have harnessed the power of supercomputers to accurately model the spike protein that binds the novel coronavirus to a human cell receptor.

Paul Kent, shown above posing with Summit in April 2018, received the 2020 ORNL Director’s Award for Outstanding Individual Accomplishment in Science and Technology. Credit: ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

The annual Director's Awards recognized four individuals and teams including awards for leadership in quantum simulation development and application on high-performance computing platforms, and revolutionary advancements in the area of microbial isolation techniques. Two awards were specific to the COVID-19 pandemic: one given in recognition for ensuring the safety for ORNL staff during the COVID-19 pandemic and another for the rapid development and deployment of melt blowing and charging technology to enable domestic production of N95 media.


A multi-institutional team, led by a group of investigators at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, has been studying various SARS-CoV-2 protein targets, including the virus’s main protease. The feat has earned the team a finalist nomination for the Association of Computing Machinery, or ACM, Gordon Bell Special Prize for High Performance Computing-Based COVID-19 Research.

An organic solvent and water separate and form nanoclusters on the hydrophobic and hydrophilic sections of plant material, driving the efficient deconstruction of biomass. Credit: Michelle Lehman/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Experiments led by researchers at ORNL have determined that several hepatitis C drugs can inhibit the SARS-CoV-2 main protease, a crucial protein enzyme that enables the novel coronavirus to reproduce.

The first neutron structure of the SARS-CoV-2 main protease enzyme revealed unexpected electrical charges in the amino acids cysteine (negative) and histidine (positive), providing key data about the virus’s replication. Credit: Jill Hemman/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

To better understand how the novel coronavirus behaves and how it can be stopped, scientists have completed a three-dimensional map that reveals the location of every atom in an enzyme molecule critical to SARS-CoV-2 reproduction.

Analyses of lung fluid cells from COVID-19 patients conducted on the nation’s fastest supercomputer point to gene expression patterns that may explain the runaway symptoms produced by the body’s response to SARS-CoV-2. Credit: Jason B. Smith/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

A team led by Dan Jacobson of Oak Ridge National Laboratory used the Summit supercomputer at ORNL to analyze genes from cells in the lung fluid of nine COVID-19 patients compared with 40 control patients.

The protease protein is both shaped like a heart and functions as one, allowing the virus replicate and spread. Inhibiting the protease would block virus reproduction. Credit: Andrey Kovalevsky/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

A team of researchers has performed the first room-temperature X-ray measurements on the SARS-CoV-2 main protease — the enzyme that enables the virus to reproduce.

ORNL researchers are leading virtual STEM outreach activities, such as an Internet of Things demonstration in which participants in ORCSGirls control an LED board remotely.

COVID-19 has upended nearly every aspect of our daily lives and forced us all to rethink how we can continue our work in a more physically isolated world.

Computing – Mining for COVID-19 connections

Scientists have tapped the immense power of the Summit supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory to comb through millions of medical journal articles to identify potential vaccines, drugs and effective measures that could suppress or stop the spread of COVID-19.