Want to do fusion research? Here’s your chance

Image: Brendan Cassidy at General Fusion
General Fusion’s Brendan Cassidy shows off a test reactor in Burnaby, B.C. (Photo by Alan Boyle)

It’s not clear when fusion power will pay off, but there’s a way to earn a cool $20,000 in fusion research. And you don’t even have to be a plasma physicist or an energy entrepreneur.

All you have to do is make perfect sense out of the data generated by the plasma experiments being conducted by General Fusion in Burnaby, B.C.

“The challenge is basically to come up with a metric for predicting the performance of a plasma shot,” Brendan Cassidy, the company’s crowdsourcing project leader, told GeekWire.

General Fusion is a private venture that’s attracted tens of millions of dollars in venture capital, including investments from Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos. Over the past five years or so, the company has conducted about 100,000 experiments. Those experiments, or shots, involve injecting blobs of super-heated hydrogen gas into plasma chambers and studying how they behave. A single shot lasts somewhere around a thousandth of a second.

“Our shot data includes signals from nearly 100 probes measuring things like magnetic field strength, plasma density and the spectral composition of plasma light,” Cassidy explained in a blog post outlining the challenge. “There are also configuration settings for each shot, and calculated single point, or scalar, metrics.”

The quality of the plasma varies from shot to shot, and General Fusion’s researchers don’t fully understand why. It’d be nice to distill the shot data into algorithms that predict which settings will produce the best shots.

Toward that end, hundreds of gigabytes of data from previous shots are being made available for a challenge titled “Data-Driven Prediction of Plasma Performance.” After signing up, competitors can download the data, look for correlations and patterns, devise their algorithms and send them in for evaluation by March 9.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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