[ExI] COVID-19 needs a Manhattan Project

robot at ultimax.com robot at ultimax.com
Wed Apr 8 16:54:15 UTC 2020

The subject line was well-chosen.  This is exactly what General Groves 
decided to do in 1942.  He didn't know which path to producing enough 
fissionable fuel for The Bomb would work, but felt sure that one of them 
would.  So he covered all four bets simultaneously:

for uranium-235 gun-type weapon, which they were so sure would work that 
they never bothered testing it:
. calutrons (electromagnetic separation), aka "Y-12"
. gaseous diffusion aka "K-25"
. thermal diffusion aka "S-50".

and also a completely separate path to a much trickier weapon, one based 
on the implosion of plutonium-239, aka "X-10".  The pilot for 
transmuting U into Pu was in Oak Ridge, Tenn. at the Graphite Reactor; 
the giant plute production reactors were at Hanford, Wash.

Both atomic weapon themselves were designed and fabricated at Los 
Alamos, New Mex.

In the fullness of time, three of the four methods worked out.  S-50 was 
dropped for being an energy hog once they realized that gaseous 
separation of U-235 to low enrichment would work for heavy lifting bulk 
separation, with the calutrons @ Y-12 taking the stuff the rest of the 
way to weapons grade in two stages.

I always wondered why Groves wasn't more lauded than he was for such 
bold visionary decision-making early in the War when it really made a 

Anyway, that's why the subject line is a good analogy.  Apparently the 
founder of Microsoft has cracked a history book or two.

However, this pandemic is beyond war.
People who cite the Apollo program or the Manhattan project are 
under-scaling the "all of society" (as the WHO terms it) "all hands on 
deck" (as we say) response that will be required.

Robert G. Kennedy III, PE (resident of Oak Ridge, Tenn.)
1994 AAAS/ASME Congressional Fellow
U.S. House Subcommittee on Space

On 2020-04-08 11:24, extropy-chat-request at lists.extropy.org wrote:

> Message: 7
> Date: Tue, 7 Apr 2020 18:30:07 -0400
> From: John Clark <johnkclark at gmail.com>
> To: ExI chat list <extropy-chat at lists.extropy.org>
> Subject: [ExI] COVID-19 needs a Manhattan Project
> A single vaccine factory can cost half a billion dollars and 44
> vaccines are in early stage development, and even after you find one 
> that
> works and is safe you're going to need billions of doses to vaccinate
> everybody. Because nobody else is doing anything Bill Gates picked 7 
> out of
> those 44 that he thought were most promising and decided to build 
> factories
> right now for all 7 with full knowledge that he will end up wasting
> billions of dollars. Gates said:
> "*Even though we?ll end up picking at most two of them, we?re going to 
> fund
> factories for all seven, just so that we don?t waste time in serially
> saying, ?OK, which vaccine works?? and then building the factory. We 
> can
> start now by building the facilities where these vaccines will be made.
> Because many of the top candidates are made using unique equipment, 
> we?ll
> have to build facilities for each of them, knowing that some won?t get
> used. Private companies can?t take that kind of risk, but the federal
> government can.*"
> Gates can take the risk but so can the federal government, and they can 
> do
> things on an even larger scale than he can. And we're not going to get 
> back
> to normal until a vaccine is found and we're mass producing it. The
> following is from an editorial in the March 27 2020 issue of the 
> journal
> Science:
> *"There is an unprecedented race to develop a vaccine against severe 
> acute
> respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). With at least 44 
> vaccines
> in early-stage development, what outcome can we expect? Will the first
> vaccine to cross the finish line be the safest and most effective? Or 
> will
> it be the most well-funded vaccines that first become available, or 
> perhaps
> those using vaccine technologies with the fewest regulatory hurdles? 
> The
> answer could be a vaccine that ticks all these boxes. If we want to
> maximize the chances for success, however, and have enough doses to end 
> the
> coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, current piecemeal efforts
> won't be enough. If ever there was a case for a coordinated global 
> vaccine
> development effort using a ?big science? approach, it is now.There is a
> strong track record for publicly funded, large-scale scientific 
> endeavors
> that bring together global expertise and resources toward a common 
> goal.
> The Manhattan Project brought about nuclear weapons quickly (although 
> with
> terrible implications for humanity) through an approach that led to
> countless changes in how scientists from many countries work together. 
> The
> Human Genome Project and CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear
> Research) engaged scientists from around the world to drive basic 
> research
> from their home labs through local and virtual teamwork. Taking this 
> big,
> coordinated approach to developing a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine will not only
> potentially save hundreds of thousands of lives, but will also help the
> world be better prepared for the next pandemic.An initiative of this 
> scale
> won't be easy. Extraordinary sharing of information and resources will 
> be
> critical, including data on the virus, the various vaccine candidates,
> vaccine adjuvants, cell lines, and manufacturing advances. Allowing
> different efforts to follow their own leads during the early stages 
> will
> take advantage of healthy competition that is vital to the scientific
> endeavor. We must then decide which vaccine candidates warrant further
> exploration purely on the basis of scientific merit. This will require
> drawing on work already supported by many government agencies, 
> independent
> organizations like the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, 
> and
> pharmaceutical and biotech companies to ensure that no potentially
> important candidate vaccines are missed. Only then can we start to 
> narrow
> in on those candidates to be advanced through all clinical trial 
> phases.
> This shortlist also needs to be based on which candidates can be 
> developed,
> approved, and manufactured most efficiently.Trials need to be carried 
> out
> in parallel, not sequentially, using adaptive trial designs, optimized 
> for
> speed and tested in different populations?rich and developing 
> countries,
> from children to the elderly?so that we can ultimately protect 
> everyone.
> Because the virus is spreading quickly, testing will be needed in
> communities where we can get answers fast?that means running trials
> anywhere in the world, not just in preset testing locations. Working 
> with
> regulators early in the process will increase the likelihood of rapid
> approvals, and then once approved, a coordinated effort will ensure 
> that
> sufficient quantities are available to all who need the vaccine, not 
> just
> to the highest bidder.All of this will require substantial funding, 
> which
> is the big ask of big science. Late-stage clinical trials are not 
> cheap,
> nor is vaccine manufacturing. Although new modular manufacturing 
> methods
> may speed up the process and cut costs, a single vaccine facility can 
> cost
> half a billion dollars. Distribution comes at a cost, too. So, to 
> guarantee
> sufficient production of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines, incentives are needed to
> engage manufacturers for large-scale capacity. As for dissemination, 
> those
> organizations with experience in global vaccine distribution, like 
> Gavi,
> will be at the ready.Ideally, this effort would be led by a team with a
> scientific advisory mechanism of the highest quality that could operate
> under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WHO), for example. 
> But
> none of this will be possible without political will and a global
> commitment from leaders of the G7 and G20 countries and multilateral
> organizations, like the WHO and the World Bank. A pandemic of this
> magnitude, affecting so many lives, livelihoods, and economies, demands
> this.In many ways, COVID-19 is more like the Manhattan Project than 
> other
> big science efforts, not just because it involves the application of
> science and not just in terms of scale, but because it is a global 
> security
> issue. In the race to develop a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, everyone must 
> win."*

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