Crowdsourcing is the new outsourcing for scientists

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Financial Post | Tony Wanless | May 11, 2015

crowdsourcing scienceA Vancouver-area high-tech company developing fusion energy is stepping out of the often cloistered world of fusion science to crowdsource difficult engineering problems.

General Fusion, a 65-person operation in the suburb of Burnaby, has allied with renowned U.S.-based innovation crowdsourcing company Innocentive to find a seal for its fusion creation system. The seal must withstand immense pressure, extreme, sun-like temperatures, and many colossal impacts. Innocentive crowdsources innovative solutions from “the world’s smartest people” who compete to provide solutions to business, social, policy, scientific and technical challenges.

View:  Scientists turn to crowdfunding to pay for research

The seal is to be part of a prototype for a system called Magnetized Target Fusion, which the company is developing. It requires that several giant “hammers,” or pistons in a sphere continually pound atoms together to create fusion energy — a clean, virtually endless, energy supply that promises to mitigate problems associated with today’s nuclear energy power plants. These create energy through nuclear fission, which is a splitting of atoms, while fusion is created when elements are “fused” together. Both systems release tremendous amounts of energy, but fission is far more destructive and results in radioactivity.

The winner of the challenge, formally titled “Method for Sealing Anvil under Repetitive Impacts Against Molten Metal,” will claim a $20,000 prize offered by General Fusion.

Nathan Gilliland, founder and chief executive of General Fusion said the company turned to outsourcing because it would take several years for it to develop the seal itself and it would be costly. Also, it is a “hardware” problem best left to engineers to develop, he said.

“In the past 10 years, the world has changed in its ability to access others’ expertise in a low-friction way. The idea was that we would draw on that outside expertise. There are some engineers out there who are probably working on similar situations who might be able to help us.”

Gilliland added that fusion energy development has been a “closed industry” that was quite insular, and which still requires the maintenance of some secrets. But, as the world of science becomes more collegial instead of competitive about discoveries, General Fusion hopes to change that.

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