All the time spent in front of monitors has paid off. Our collective gaming passion brought powerful and effective graphic cards. And it is no secret that scientists love their computational power as well. So, why not connect them to a fusion reactor as well?
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Fusion energy is still that thing humanity dreams of. But not everybody is just dreaming as many research teams, engineers, state agencies, and even private companies are working hard on achieving this dream. Every day we see the Sun, burning with fusion and filling the surrounding space with gigantic amounts of energy. But utilizing fusion is not easy.
One of the main obstacles fusion scientists need to get over is the restlessness of the plasma that needs to be tamed. Otherwise, we won’t be able to use fusion energy in any sensible way. That requires intense research, simulations, and experiments all extremely computationally demanding.
Experts from the University of Washington decided to use hardware that has proven time after time that it is computationally powerful. Hardware that was created first of all for gamers. The insatiable need of millions (perhaps billions) of gamers around the world for more and more amazing experiences forced electronics manufacturers to create very effective and powerful graphic cards. Over time, we found out that they can also be used in other human activities. Even in top-notch research.
The dynamics of plasma in fusion experiments are crazy. And if the fusion device isn’t capable of monitoring and controlling it in real-time it could end very badly. Thus, most currently used applications of plasma energy assume its fusion system will be quite static. But Chris Hansen and his team are developing methods that will keep the plasma in check while considering its naturally dynamic nature.
Hansen and his colleagues built an experimental fusion reactor that creates magnetic fields inside of the plasma. The benefit of this approach is the fact that such a fusion reactor should be smaller and cheaper in comparison with fusion reactors that use external magnetic fields. On top of that, it allows to effectively control the plasma.
The prototype is currently achieving temperatures of around 1,000,000° Celsius. That is much less than the 150,000,000° Celsius needed to get a fusion reaction but it is enough to allow the scientists to develop and test new technologies. The reactor uses three injectors that create a doughnut-shaped cloud of plasma. The plasma is held only for a few thousandths of a second during which the researchers monitor the plasma and gather data.
Previously, scientists used slow and not exactly user-friendly technologies to control the reactor. Then they decided to use NVIDIA Tesla graphic cards that were designed for machine-learning applications. This gave them a lot of user-friendly computational power. Now, thanks to gamers they can test advanced algorithms for controlling plasma.
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