Physicists crush diamonds with world’s largest laser in record-setting research
Huffington Post wrote about how the world’s largest laser has squeezed a diamond.
The world’s largest laser, a machine that appeared in a Star Trek movie, has attained a powerful result: It’s squeezed diamond, the least compressible substance known, 50 million times harder than Earth’s atmosphere presses down on us. The finding should help scientists better understand how material behaves at the great pressures that prevail deep inside giant planets.
Physicist Ray Smith of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California, and his colleagues achieved the feat at the National Ignition Facility (NIF), also in Livermore. Spanning 10 meters and armed with scores of lasers, the instrument is so sci-fi–looking that it appeared as the “warp core” of the starship Enterprise in the 2013 movie Star Trek Into Darkness. NIF has a practical purpose, however: to trigger nuclear fusion, the same type of reaction that powers the sun, in the hope of someday solving our energy needs. Scientists also use it for basic research, such as investigating how various materials respond when compressed—data relevant to the interiors of planets.
In the new study, Smith’s team fired 176 lasers at a small gold cylinder measuring 1.1 centimeters long and 0.6 centimeters in diameter. The lasers heated the gold so that it emitted x-rays, which squeezed a tiny diamond attached over a hole in the cylinder’s outer wall. The diamond reached a pressure of 50 million atmospheres—14 times greater than the pressure at Earth’s center.
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