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Pedal-powered supercomputer: MIT Cycling team sets new record

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December 14, 2007

Bicycle Powered Supercomputer
 Photo: Joe Sousa/SiCortex

Bicycle Powered Supercomputer Photo: Joe Sousa/SiCortex

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December 15, 2007 Cyclists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have set a new world record in Human Powered Computation (HPC). The team of 10 used bicycles to power a SiCortex SC648 supercomputer drawing 1.2 kilowatts of electricity, riding non-stop for 20 minutes to achieve the feat of the largest HPC in history.

The idea behind the event was to highlight the range of energy activities being conducted at MIT. By riding bicycles attached to electrical generators, the students not only saved energy by using human power to run the SiCortex SC648 supercomputer, they also used the computer to conduct research promoting alternative energy. Several students on the MIT Cycling Team are involved in research into nuclear fusion, a potentially promising and safe alternative to fission power.

The computer was supplied by Massachusetts-based SiCortex, a 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. While being powered by bicycles, the SiCortex computer ran a modeling application written by Greg Wallace, a graduate student at MIT and an avid mountain biker.

“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.”

The MIT cycling team is known for its creativity, constructing personalized aerobars and fabricating lightweight collapsible barriers to use at cyclocross practice and applying wind-tunnel research to excel at team time trials.

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