MIT-trained mechanical engineer who “woke up many nights” to design innovative sealing method for fusion system claims $20,000 prize
VANCOUVER — (August 5, 2015) — A bold experiment in crowdsourcing elements of a highly sophisticated power plant has paid off for a man from Cleveland.
When it needed a solution to a thorny high-tech problem, General Fusion, a leader in developing commercial fusion energy, teamed up with InnoCentive of Waltham, MA and its roster of 355,000 registered “solvers” from nearly 200 countries, asking them to design for its fusion system a seal that will withstand withering impacts, pressure, heat and rapid repetition.
Kirby Meacham, an MIT-trained mechanical engineer from Cleveland OH with over 30 years’ experience, came up with the winning “Metallic Pressure-Balanced Anvil Seal” design and claimed the $20,000 winner’s prize. Running for 30 days this spring, the challenge attracted over 60 submissions originating from 17 different countries.
Invention is his passion: Meacham is listed as an inventor on 35 US issued patents and a number of published patent applications.
“As a mechanical engineer and inventor with a long interest in fusion power, working on a hard mechanical problem that could advance fusion technology was irresistible,” he said. “I was able to draw from my knowledge of high temperature seal technology gained by recent work on reduced friction piston rings for internal combustion engines. Not uncommon when tackling problems like this one, I started over once and woke up many nights thinking about molten metal and pressures that distort tool steel.”
Across the globe, progress toward the first commercial application of fusion power is accelerating. General Fusion is the leader in Magnetized Target Fusion (MTF), an approach which uses shock waves to compress hydrogen plasma to fusion temperatures and pressures. In General Fusion’s MTF power plant, hundreds of pistons will fire simultaneously and repetitively against a corresponding array of anvils to generate shock waves in molten metal.
“With a deep background of innovation and problem solving, Kirby Meacham is exactly the type of solver with whom we had hoped to engage in this challenge,” said General Fusion CEO Nathan Gilliland. “For future crowdsource challenges, we expect to work with equally talented solvers as we continue on our path to practical and commercial fusion energy.”
To date, InnoCentive has posted more than $40 million in awards for hopeful “seekers”. InnoCentive has given out 1500 awards to date and claims an 85 per cent success rate for its premium challenges.
What’s next? Mr. Gilliland hinted that an upcoming challenge will seek to find new insights into General Fusion’s experimental plasma physics data.