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MIT Team sets world record in human-powered computation

MIT Cycling Team

MIT Cycling Team (Image credit:

A team of 10 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) cyclists used bicycles to power a supercomputer conducting research on nuclear fusion Tuesday in order to complete the largest human-powered computation in history.

Riding bicycles attached to electrical generators, the students not only saved energy by using human power to run the SiCortex SC648 supercomputer, they used the computer to conduct research promoting alternative energy, as well. Several students on the MIT Cycling Team research nuclear fusion, a potentially promising source of energy that would provide an environmentally-friendly alternative relative to currently used nuclear fission power that produces dangerous radioactive waste.

A large part of their research is conducted using supercomputers that can model plasmas at nearly 10 million degrees centigrade. The bicycle powered computer ran a modeling application written by Greg Wallace, a graduate student at MIT and an avid mountain biker.

The MIT Cycling Team joined forces with the Massachusetts company specializing in energy-efficient supercomputing. The MIT cyclists powered the supercomputer drawing 1.2 kilowatts of electricity, riding non-stop for almost 20 minutes. A conventional supercomputer might require ten times as much power to perform the same calculations.

"By harnessing the energy creation processes of the sun, our research opens the possibility of limitless energy," said John Wright, a member of MIT's Plasma Science & Fusion Center and an avid cyclist. "But we still need to do our parts individually, such as by using energy-efficient computers in our research."

The team will head to Kansas City, Kansas, this weekend to defend their 2006 USA Cycling Cyclo-cross National Championship title.

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