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I attended the Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles this week – a gathering of top business leaders, finance executives, innovators and politicians. The profile of fusion energy at conferences like this continues to grow – from TED to GLOBE to Milken and many more. For the first time in the conference’s history fusion energy had its own panel, with Michel Laberge (General Fusion), Dennis Whyte (MIT), Michl Binderbauer (Tri-Alpha Energy), and Tom McGuire (Lockheed Martin) discussing the progress in fusion energy and the barriers that remain (you can watch the full panel discussion in the video at the end of this post).  Key themes from this panel included:

In the last 24 hours we’ve wrapped up two big crowdsourcing challenges, tapping in to the global wealth of knowledge and inviting solvers all over the world to tackle some tough problems. In our challenge “Data-Driven Prediction of Plasma Performance” we asked participants to apply statistical techniques and/or computational tools to identify new patterns in plasma data from our best performing plasma injector, PROSPECTOR. If you’ve been watching the leaderboards over the past few weeks you’ll know that competition has been fierce, with the final submissions due April 13.

The momentum is building. In December, the eyes of the world were on Paris and the COP21 climate summit, the landmark agreement, and the important global goals for mitigating climate change.  Fast forward a few months, and we saw the impact of that agreement landing in Canada, with the GLOBE Conference, and the First Ministers’ Meeting on Climate Change taking place at the same time in Vancouver. The scale of the challenge we have set ourselves is incredibly daunting.  In order to limit temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial values and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, we need to act decisively with all the tools available to us today and make major investments in innovation for tomorrow.  The world needs to get to zero GHGs in a hurry, and as we make progress, the challenge only becomes more and more difficult.

We’re at it again – this time with an “electrifying” challenge! Last week we launched our third crowdsourced challenge, where we describe a technical problem for which we need an innovative solution, put out a cash prize for the best solution(s), and send it out to the entire world. Things are a little different this time around, though. Think of this challenge as a world-wide brainstorming session. We’re virtually gathering together hundreds of thousands of engineers, scientists, and garage tinkerers from around the world and asking them all what they think. Imagine how difficult that would be to accomplish in person! (“How about next Thursday? Can you all do next Thursday?!”)

Earlier this year we at General Fusion ran our first crowdsourced challenge. The hope was to find a clever new way to seal components of our fusion system in a manner that better survives extreme impacts, pressure and heat. Kirby Meacham, an MIT-trained mechanical engineer with his name on 35 US patents and about as many years of experience, claimed the $20,000 prize for his “Metallic Pressure-Balanced Anvil Seal” design.

Fusion is hot: tens of millions of degrees hot.  ­Maybe it’s a bit ironic that fusion technology is also pretty "cool".  The challenge of creating the extreme conditions for fusion – the fundamental science, the power and energy required, the sophisticated controls, the advanced diagnostic systems – all push the boundaries of human capability.  That’s inspiring, and it inspires people to come up with some wonderfully cool and creative names for their fusion machines.

We have a winner! In April, General Fusion launched our first crowdsourced engineering challenge in hopes of finding a clever new way to seal components of our fusion system in a manner that will better survive extreme impacts, pressure and heat. We’re pleased to announce that Kirby Meacham of Cleveland, OH has claimed the $20,000 prize for his “Metallic Pressure-Balanced Anvil Seal” design. Kirby is an MIT-trained mechanical engineer with over 30 years of design experience and quite a reputation as an inventor: he has his name on 35 US patents.