Thor’s hammer to crush materials at 1 million atmospheres

Jan 8, 2016

A new Sandia National Laboratories accelerator called Thor is expected to be 40 times more efficient than Sandia’s Z machine, the world’s largest and most powerful pulsed-power accelerator, in generating pressures to study materials under extreme conditions.

“Thor’s magnetic field will reach about one million atmospheres, about the pressures at Earth’s core,” said David Reisman, lead theoretical physicist of the project.

Though unable to match Z’s 5 million atmospheres, the completed Thor will be smaller — 2,000 rather than 10,000 square feet — and will be considerably more efficient due to design improvements that use hundreds of small capacitors instead of Z’s few large ones.

Remarkable structural transformation

This change resembles the transformation of computer architecture in which a single extremely powerful computer chip was replaced with many relatively simple chips working in unison, or to the evolution from several high-voltage vacuum tubes to computers powered by a much larger number of low-voltage solid-state switches.

A major benefit in efficiency is that while Z’s elephant-sized capacitors require large switches to shorten the machine’s electrical pulse from a microsecond to 100 nanoseconds, with its attendant greater impact, the small switches that service Thor’s capacitors discharge current in a 100-nanosecond pulse immediately, eliminating energy losses inevitable when compressing a long pulse.

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3 comments on “Thor’s hammer to crush materials at 1 million atmospheres

  • Don’t think it would change state the way you’re hoping it would. Especially in 100ns. 🙂
    Although it mentions pressure in the earths core maybe thats just a way of quantifying what’s going on and not a true analogy.

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  • @OP – link – Thor 144, when completed, should reach 1 million atmospheres of pressure.

    Sandia manager Bill Stygar said more powerful LTD versions of Z ultimately could bring about thermonuclear ignition and even high-yield fusion.

    Ignition would be achieved when the fusion target driven by the machine releases more energy in fusion than the electrical energy delivered by the machine to the target. High yield would be achieved when the fusion energy released exceeds the energy initially stored by the machine’s capacitors.

    We know fusion reactions take place in the massive pressures and temperatures in the cores of stars, so there is at least potential for producing a controlled version of these.

    There are also theories about alternative states of hydrogen in the cores of the larger planets.

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