Meet the Z-Machine

June 28, 2018


The Z Pulsed Power Facility at Sandia National Laboratories puts out an extraordinary amount of energy, which helps scientists understand the physics at the heart of nuclear fusion.
(Click image to enlarge)
Image Credit: Randy Montoya, Sandia National Labs (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

You're looking at the "Z Machine", officially known as the "Z Pulsed Power Facility", at Sandia National Labs in Albequerque, NM. The Z Machine was designed to help explore the physics behind nuclear fusion—the world's most powerful weapons technology, and hopefully the clean energy source of the future.

What's Going On Here?

Electricity and magnetism are two sides of the same coin: a changing electrical current creates a magnetic field, and a changing magnetic field creates an electric current. When an extremely powerful pulse of electric current travels through a tube of plasma, the magnetic field it creates "pinches" the plasma—a phenomenon that can help simulate the conditions of a thermonuclear explosion, or the fusion happening at the heart of the sun. 

Creating such a powerful pulse requires a huge bank of capacitors, which store electrical energy and then release it all at once—in a millionth of a second. The water in this image separates the capacitor banks at the outside from the plasma tube at the center, and amplifies the power of the pulse by concentrating it into a shorter period of time—less than one ten millionth of a second.