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Gaming Graphics Card Allows Faster, More Precise Control of Fusion Energy Experiments


Nuclear fusion is supposed to be leveraged for a safer, cleaner, and more efficient source of energy in the near future. All of this is thanks to its great properties, like no long-lived nuclear waste, no CO2, no risk of meltdown, or its predicted lower future price. Fusion reactors are still in an experimental state, as the involved plasma requires extreme conditions so that the atoms fuse together, releasing abundant energy.

Modern gaming graphics cards now allows faster, more precise control of fusion energy experiments.

Gaming graphics cards have been used for other purposes than gaming for some time now, mainly for the mining of several cryptocurrencies. Now researchers at the University of Washington have developed a method that harnesses advances in the computer gaming industry: It uses GPUs to run the control system for their prototype fusion reactor.

The team published these results May 11 in Review of Scientific Instruments.

"You need this level of speed and precision with plasmas because they have such complex dynamics that evolve at very high speeds. If you cannot keep up with them, or if you mispredict how plasmas will react, they have a nasty habit of going in the totally wrong direction very quickly," said co-author Chris Hansen, a UW senior research scientist in the aeronautics and astronautics department."

The UW team's prototype reactor heats plasma to about 1 million degrees Celsius. We need at least 150 million degrees to achieve fusion, but this is hot enough to study the concept. The plasmas that are being created in current reactors last only a few thousandths of a second, which is why the team needed to have a high-speed method for controlling what's happening. That led them to leverage an NVIDIA Tesla GPU, which is designed for machine learning applications. 

"The GPU gives us access to a huge amount of computing power," said lead author Kyle Morgan, a UW research scientist in the aeronautics and astronautics department. "This level of performance was driven by the computer gaming industry and, more recently, machine learning, but this graphics card provides a really great platform for controlling plasmas as well."

Because of the new system that runs on top of gaming GPUs, the team can now perfectly define how plasmas enter the reactor, giving the researchers a more precise view of what's happening inside -- and potentially allowing the team to create longer-living plasmas that will get us even closer the sustainable fusion energy.

What do you think? Are there going to be even more usages of gaming chips in the future? 

Sources and further reading:

  1. Washington University News

  2. ScienceDaily, 22 July 2021

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