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

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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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Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg's work in media spans documentary television, advertising, and print. As a producer in the Viewer Created Content division of Al Gore's Current TV, she acquired and produced short documentaries by independent filmmakers around the world. Post-Current, she worked as a producer and strategist at Urgent Content, developing consumer-created and branded nonfiction campaigns for clients including Cisco, Ford, and GOOD Magazine. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University, where she was co-creator and editor in chief of H BOMB Magazine.

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