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Riding for Fusion

MIT Cycling provides energy for the largest human-powered computation ever.
February 19, 2008

Before taking second place in its division at the 2007 USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships in ­December, the MIT Cycling team found time to do its part to advance fusion research. On December 11, in the Stata Center lobby, the team powered a ­supercomputer by ­bicycle energy alone, possibly setting a world record for the largest human-­powered computation. The supercomputer performed computations that model high-­temperature plasmas for simulations of tokamak machines, which are used for fusion experiments, explains Eric Edlund, one of several MIT cyclists who also research fusion.

One simulation was of a type required for the understanding and operation of a proposed fusion reactor called the ITER, according to John Wright, a research scientist at MIT’s plasma science and fusion center. “If we could chain down 10 MIT cyclists for a week and find a way to feed them, we might be able to get it all done on bicycle power alone,” he says.

The stunt was made possible in part by the low power requirements of the supercomputer, the SiCortex SC648, which is a Linux-based system built to be particularly energy efficient. The team submitted its results to Guinness and to Google’s Innovate or Die Pedal-­Powered Machine Contest.

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