Technology has been moving forward at dazzling speeds in the last few decades. It wasn’t a full century ago that industrial production really started to become the norm, and most people alive today were born when things like cellphones and the internet seemed like bad science fiction. It’s hard to imagine what the world looked like a few generations ago, since technology has all but taken over our entire lives. But it’s not just in personal applications where technology has started to shine. We’ve been building machines that are more complex and powerful than ever before to help us understand and manipulate more of this world.
Let’s take a look at some of the most insane machines we’ve built over the years and why we built them in the first place. Strap up, science nerds!
The Z Machine is capable of replicating plasma that’s found within white dwarf stars. That’s about the equivalent of a thousand lightning bolts all at once, converging at a tiny point. The machine was initially built to simulate the fusion reaction created by thermonuclear bombs without having to actually blow up a nuclear bomb. If you want to be even more impressed by it, though, it’s basically something that generates more energy than is put into it, which could help us a lot in creating sustainable energy. Or Iron Man suits. I’m honestly happy with either.
James Webb Space Telescope
If you’re going to create a complex and technically impressive machine, you might as well send it into space. While the Hubble Space Telescope that came before it was already impressive, the James Webb version is about 100 times as good. The biggest engineering challenge came when they had to make this huge telescope function of the freezing temperatures in space, but at this point, we can pretty much confirm that it works.
Okay, so the science behind this is kind of difficult to explain, but the biggest difference between a quantum computer and a regular computer is that your trusty old laptop will basically make all its calculations one after another (at ridiculous speeds, naturally). Quantum computers have the capacity to do all those calculations at the same time. They can also link their so-called qubits (quantum bits, get it?) together to speed up complex problems. Sadly, it’ll be a long time before we can get quantum computers in our house since they currently pretty much require extreme cold or a vacuum chamber.
Large Hadron Collider
You’ve heard of this one, haven’t you? It’s the most powerful particle accelerator on the planet and is currently part of CERN. It helped us discover the Higgs Boson particle in 2012, and it basically tries to blast two particle beams into each other over a distance of 27 km. But that’s not all—the structure is made in the shape of a ring. So the particle beams have to be bent for several kilometers on end and somehow hit each other. Eventually, it should help us figure out everything there is to know about dark matter, antimatter, and supersymmetry.
Not all impressively complex machines were built in recent history. The Antikythera mechanism was built in ancient Greece in the first century, before the birth of Jesus Christ. The tool is basically capable of predicting astronomical cycles and the position of the stars and planets in the sky. Recently, the tool was fully analyzed and it has challenged our knowledge about what we thought the Greeks were capable of at the time.
One of the big technological problems currently on our planet is having equipment that can withstand the pressure of being deep underwater in the ocean. The Deepwater Horizon is a platform that’s supposed to be able to drill slightly over 3 kilometres deep. While the rig was certainly impressive, it also eventually blew up and caused a huge oil spill. Don’t worry, I’m sure we’ll find other ways to drill up all that deep sea oil sooner or later. We always do. And if nothing else, it gave us that Mark Wahlberg movie.