World’s Strangest

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Z Machine: Meet the X-Ray Generator That Can Melt Diamonds

Photo: Randy Montoya/Sandia National Laboratories/SPL

Diamond is one of the hardest material in nature, but it’s no match for
the Z Machine at the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New
Mexico. It can create electromagnetic pulse that is strong enough to light
100 million light bulbs and melt diamonds:

First the current is fired at hundreds of tiny tungsten wires,
vaporising them to form a cloud of charged particles, or plasma. The
plasma produces a magnetic field that forces the particles to line up
at the centre of the machine, so that they point out of the horizontal
plane of its surface, along the vertical or z-axis – hence the machine’s
name. This arrangement causes the particles to collide, producing exceptionally
powerful X-rays.

Z’s magnetic field can also be harnessed to accelerate metal plates
and squish materials. In fact, Sandia researcher Marcus Knudson was
able to apply over 5 million times atmospheric pressure to squeeze diamond,
turning the precious stone into a puddle.


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