• <More on Intel.com
Masthead Light

Fighting Super Flu with Supercomputing

Did you know the Spanish Flu of 1918 killed an estimated 50 million people, and, even with modern medicine, the swine flu of 2009 killed an estimated 575,000?1 Recognizing the need for new influenza medications in the event of a future pandemic, Eric Chen, first place winner of the Intel Science Talent Search2 (Intel STS) 2014, used supercomputers to isolate potential new drugs to fight the flu and save lives.

When the swine flu pandemic hit in 2009, many of the first U.S. cases occurred in Eric Chen’s hometown of San Diego. Then 13, Chen was perplexed, wondering why an illness he'd considered fairly benign was taking lives around the globe.

Chen’s curiosity led him to research other flu pandemics, including the Spanish Flu of 1918, and to consider the possibility that another catastrophic pandemic could strike at any time. He also learned that current vaccines and antivirals are insufficient, creating an urgent need for new medications.

To speed up the process of finding a solution to this complex problem, Chen turned to supercomputing.

Using TACC’s “Ranger,” a supercomputer with thousands of processors working simultaneously, Chen input data on chemicals known to have some effect on a specific influenza protein but which were not viable as drug treatments. He then sifted through a library of 500,000 chemicals to find similar compounds with potential as anti-flu medications and identified several new leads that could be used to control outbreaks in a pandemic while vaccines are developed. This approach can also be used to find drug treatments for other diseases.

For this work, Chen, 17, won a First Place Grand Award at the 2013 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair2, as well as the most coveted pre-college science award: first place in the 2014 Intel STS.

“Intel STS was a platform for me and the other finalists to share our work with the world and demonstrate what high school students are capable of doing,” he says. “Intel STS inspires future scientists, and that is incredibly important when we are facing daunting problems like overpopulation and global warming."

An active STEM education advocate, Chen is the founder of Club Intrigue, a program that promotes student involvement in STEM activities in five California school districts.

Chen plans to pursue a career as a professor, researcher, and/or entrepreneur. His ultimate goal: to improve the lives of a billion people.

Intel Across Healthcare

Intel across healthcare

Working with governments, organizations, the industry, and tech innovators worldwide to streamline and secure the life sciences workflow.

Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)

Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)

Intel is helping to transform the lives of millions worldwide through education, technology, and programs that challenge and inspire.

Winners of Intel STS

Intel STS

The Intel Science Talent Search is the nation's most prestigious pre-college science competition. Learn more about Intel STS and how to participate.

Videos from Intel Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF)

Product and Performance Information


1. Sources: http://www.history.com/topics/1918-flu-pandemic and http://www.cdc.gov/flu/spotlights/pandemic-global-estimates.htm

2. A program of the Society for Science & the Public.