About the Zebra Pulsed Power Lab


The mission of the Zebra Pulsed Power Lab (ZPPL) is to perform high-quality basic research in the area of high-energy-density (HED) physics, the study of matter under extreme conditions of temperature and density.


Before the HED facility was transitioned to the ZPPL, it was known as the Nevada Terawatt Facility (NTF).

The Nevada Terawatt Facility (NTF) was established by the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) and dedicated in 2000. Supported primarily by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), its mission was to conduct research and to train students in the field of high-energy-density (HED) science, the study of the behavior of matter subject to conditions of extreme temperature and density.

This rapidly developing field explores the fourth state of matter, called plasma, under conditions similar to those occurring in the interiors of stars, nuclear fusion reactors, and lightning bolts.

Special research equipment is needed to produce such extreme conditions in the laboratory.

SAGE Building

The Zebra Pulsed Power Lab is housed in the SAGE building, a massive 153,000 square foot, four-story concrete building located 10 miles north of the University campus in Stead, NV.

SAGE is an acronym for Semi-Automatic Ground Environment, and the building is a product of the Cold War period. It is one of 22 identical structures built throughout the United States in the 1950's to serve the strategic air defense of North America in the burgeoning era of nuclear weapons and inter-continental ballistic missiles. Because the SAGE buildings housed the earliest vacuum-tube computers, they have massive air conditioning and ducting systems. Each also has a "war room" where air defense strategies were developed. Parts of the movie "Dr. Strangelove" were filmed in one of them.

The Zebra is a large, two-story device and its installation in the SAGE building required enlarging an entry door and cutting away significant portions of two thick concrete floors to create a high-bay research area. An engineering analysis determined that such major modifications created no structural problems because the SAGE buildings had been designed with thick concrete walls and a superstructure considered sufficient to withstand a nuclear attack!

Today the SAGE building in Stead houses ultra-modern research equipment devoted to large-scale science projects, giving the University of Nevada, Reno a significant advantage among universities in training student-researchers.

Relation of Institute's mission to the missions of the Physics Department, the College of Science, and the University

As part of a major university, the Zebra Pulsed Power Lab (ZPPL), formerly, the Nevada Terawatt Facility, also has a mission to train and graduate students at all levels: Ph.D. and MS graduate students, and BS undergraduate students.

Within its HED research focus, theZPPL emphasizes Z-pinch physics and high-intensity laser-plasma interactions. These advanced areas of research are magnets for students coming into the UNR Department of Physics. Students have the opportunity to work and receive training on scaled-down versions of the largest research facilities in the country, such as the Z-Accelerator at Sandia National Laboratory and the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at the Livermore National Laboratory.

The Zebra Pulsed-Power Generator

The heart of theZPPL is a two terawatt (2x10 12 watt), pulsed electrical discharge device called Zebra, in which two million volts drive an electric current of one million amperes through a fine wire or array of wires (or a solid/gas-filled target)during a very short period of time (10 -7 seconds). The wire (or other target) is converted into a hot, dense plasma whose properties can then be studied via a number of diagnostic techniques.

The Zebra device is capable of creating temperatures in the millions of degrees. It was donated to the University by the Los Alamos National Laboratory to serve as a research and educational facility. The Zebra was installed under the expert guidance of engineers from Sandia National Laboratories and remains the highest-power electrical device operated by any university in the United States.

The Leopard Laser

To support and expand the capabilities of Zebra for research, a 50-terawatt short-pulse laser named Leopardwas developed on-site. The Leopard laser can be used to create hot, dense plasmas on its own, or it can be coupled with the Zebra to probe the Zebra's electrical discharge for diagnostic purposes, or interrogate the Zebra-produced plasma with charged particles, a unique capability that exists nowhere else in the country.