MIT Cycling Team Sets World Record in Human Powered Competition

December 20, 2007 by Jeff Shepard

A team of 10 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) cyclists highlighted the range of energy activities at MIT in a unique way by using bicycles to power a supercomputer conducting research on nuclear fusion. The computer run was 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 a clean, environmentally-friendly alternative 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 MIT Cycling Team joined forces with SiCortex, a Massachusetts company specializing in energy-efficient supercomputing. The MIT cyclists powered a SiCortex supercomputer drawing 1.2kW 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. "But we still need to do our parts individually, such as by using energy-efficient computers in our research."