The World's Largest X-Ray Generator, the Z Machine, Inspires Art

By Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg

Used to study the physical properties of dense stars like white dwarfs, Sandia National Laboratory's Z Machine looks like something straight out of a sci-fi movie. The technology became the muse of an artist, Leah Flippen, when she took an astronomy class with Don Winget, a professor working with the machine. This short documentary by Daniel Oppenheimer and Alex Wang explores the intersection of art and science in Flippen's painting and Winget's research.

The science is complex, but Oppenheimer breaks it down in an article for the University of Texas's Science News

For a few nanoseconds, the power and density of the current is so great — more than six times the total amount of energy released by all the power plants in the world — that it vaporizes the wires, generating a gas-like substance known as hydrogen plasma. It simultaneously produces a magnetic field powerful enough to cause the plasma to implode. For that brief nanomoment, as the magnetism “pinches” the plasma, generating a massive burst of X-radiation, Winget has a chunk of white dwarf star of his very own.

Don't miss the high resolution image (2,400 x 1,586 pixels) of the Z Machine available here, photographed by Randy Montoya for Sandia National Laboratories.

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