Sandia's Z Machine is the world's most powerful radiation source and its most powerful pulsed power machine. Experiments create the extreme radiation, pressure and temperatures produced in a nuclear blast. The energy Z generates and releases on a target can simulate conditions at the center of the Earth or of the Sun.

Operating primarily in support of Sandia's nuclear weapons mission, Z's program includes three major experimental areas:

  • Dynamic material properties experiments, in which materials are squeezed to see how they react to high pressures and temperatures;
  • Radiation effects sciences, in which the world's most powerful burst of X-rays is used to test the effects of radiation on materials; and
  • Inertial confinement fusion experiments, in which the energy hitting the target at Z's core forms plasma that is squeezed and held in place to create a series of fusion events.

The first two are primarily devoted to materials testing for nuclear weapons designs and the last is in pursuit of sustainable fusion energy. All three contribute to the understanding of how materials behave while also feeding insights into astrophysics and planetary science. Approximately 10% of the shots at Z every year are done in conjunction with academic researchers.


Z Beamlet

The Art and Science of Making White Dwarfs in the Desert

Fact Sheets/Publications

How Does the Z Machine Work? offers an overview of the key components in Z and what they do, nicely illustrating the flow of energy in the machine.

For an overview of recent designs, achievements, and concepts within pulsed power at Sandia, see Sandia Research, vol. 12, issue 2 (July 2014).

Sandia's external web offers a more detailed discussion of Inertial Confinement Fusion.

For more information on the origin and evolution of Sandia's pulsed power program, see Anne Van Arsdall, Pulsed Power at Sandia National Laboratories: the First 40 Years.