This Machine Melts Diamonds For Fun

Pressure that can melt diamond, an electromagnetic pulse that can kill, and enough current to light 100 million light bulbs. Such are the extremes within the Z machine at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In this image, artificial lightning spread like a wave through Z's 33-metre-wide interior.

Designed to research nuclear fusion, Z can also help explore the behaviour of materials at ultra-high pressures and temperatures, and act as a source of intense X-rays. These abilities spring from the machine's massive pulses of current.

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.

The magnetic field is invisible, of course. Shown here is lightning that sparks out of metal protrusions inside Z when the current is switched on. Blink and you'll miss it: this image was taken within a split second of the machine's firing.

If you are thinking about visiting Sandia to see the light show in person, you are out of luck. The top of the machine is now almost completely covered with instruments.

In any case, Z is dangerous. "There is a huge electromagnetic pulse produced that would likely kill anyone that was trying to observe a firing of the accelerator," says Knudson. "So I have only seen this in pictures."

Image by Sandia National Laboratories/SPL

This Machine Melts Diamonds For FunNew Scientist reports, explores and interprets the results of human endeavour set in the context of society and culture, providing comprehensive coverage of science and technology news.


    The title is a bit misleading, all carbon allotrope's sublime (Go straight from solid to gas) as the energy required to break some bonds breaks them all. Any chemistry student could tell you that.

      does that mean i cant drink dimonds?

        Correct - but you /can/ smoke them.

      What happens to carbon gas at 5 million atmospheres? Does it, by any chance, liquefy?

        I'm not 100% sure but a substance that sublimes (goes from solid straight to gas), can still be liquefied when going from gas back to solid. Depends on the material, I'd have to dig around to be sure.

    Puddles or not, this machine is bad ass.

    Actual it was liquefied go to

    both explains a lot better than the article here does. And has alot truer facts in it as well the purpose of the experiment was to see if they could use it as capsule for nuclear fusion fuel. I also think the author was wrong to say it was 5 million times atm pressure actually it was 10 million times. People must understand that in science one thing might be thought as universal fact but can be disputed or challenged since science, no matter what field, seems to always discover something new that challenges what we thought was true for nature. They also might believe there might be liquid diamond/carbon in the planets of Uranus and Neptune. There is still some more investigations to do but with the experiment at Z-machine, which is actually now known as ZR-machine, has proven that at the right pressure and temperature diamond acts like water when freezing and melting.

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