Students use legs to power supercomputer

In an effort to make the Guinness Book of World Records, students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have used bicycle-powered generators to conduct research on nuclear fusion. Last month, a team of 10 MIT students powered a supercomputer for 20 minutes as part of a contest.

The SC648 machine, manufactured by Maynard, Mass.-based SiCortext Inc., ran a calculation program on nuclear fusion for nearly 20 minutes last month The university claimed that it was the largest human-powered computation in history.

Students from the MIT Cycling Team, who are conducting research on fusion as an energy source, rode bicycles attached to electrical generators, according to MIT. The school noted that a large portion of the research is done using supercomputers that can model plasmas at nearly 10 million degrees.

The students, riding nonstop, powered the supercomputer, which drew 1.2 kilowatts of electricity. According to the researchers, a conventional supercomputer might demand 10 times the power to run the same program.

A spokesperson said that the human-powered session produced more computations than took place in the first 3,000 years of civilization. He also said that more arithmetic calculations were computed than were done on the entire earth up to 1960.

The MIT team was highlighting the need for sustainable energy supplies, competing for prizes and an entry in the Guinness World Records. Google Inc. and a bike company have sponsored a contest called “Innovate or Die,” with contestants having to use bike power and post a video of their submission on Google Inc. unit YouTube. The prize is US$5,000 for the team and a bike for each member.

Winners will be announced on Jan. 15, 2008.

Five members pedaled for the Google prize, and a 10-member team pedaled for the Guinness World Records entry.