Marx Generator, Knocks Our Rocks Off

What weighs more than 500 pounds, produces 500 kilovolts, and we don’t recommend you try at home in any way shape or form? If you guessed a rock disaggregation device, you’re correct! We also accepted lightning generators as correct answers. Using high voltage electricity, a rock can be split apart down to its grains without destroying the precious minerals inside; unlike traditional grinding and mechanical techniques that often ruin the sample. All it takes is a massive hydro pole transformer, five 1uf 100 kilovolt capacitors, eight hand wound inductors, and two massive cojones to stand within 20 feet of the thing while it’s going off. Video after the divide.


52 thoughts on “Marx Generator, Knocks Our Rocks Off

  1. Hey thanks for the post again!

    I really miss that beast, but as garage space became tight, I had to dismember the machine to make room when the lease on my secret lab was done. I didn’t want to fire off this thing in my urban garage since the sonic boom was more than enough to crack nearby windows and send “the man” for a visit!

    I am going to make a smaller table top Marx Generator soon, using a pile of HV caps I found at a salvage shop.


  2. It would be awesome is some place like De Beers contacted you to get one for diamond extraction. Also to see more cool stuff with marx generators, which are a very cool concept. Good work!

    Oh, and the mexican military surplus capacitors story made my day. All great hacks start with great cheap gear. :)

  3. 1) So you’re saying that if you blast a rock with a shit-ton of electricity that it will split as such? Cool.

    2) I’ll be those rocks are hella-hot when they come out of there.

  4. @John Avitable…

    Actually, no heat at all is generated in the liquid or material! And even stranger is that the pressure seems to be concentrated all at the bottom of the liquid. Vessels that failed only seemed to break at the bottom, even when the top lid was only held on by a few elastic ties.


  5. How far out it would be to have a video of what is happening in the chamber. I’m sending the LS link to my friends. Telling them the next time some on calls them crazy to send them to this project. The probable cost of this project alone would keep me from ever trying to duplicate it While I give HV respect, I don’t fear it, so that wouldn’t be a deterring factor. This has to be one of the most interesting hacks ever featured on hackaday.

  6. Very Impressive and practical project!
    It might be possible to capture the action in the tank as video by using a fiber optic connection. I have no idea if the process generates a “flash” or not so it’s possible that additional fiber cabling may be needed to provide controllable light source. Make sure the fiber optic cable has no metallic threads in the wrapping…

  7. Brad has lately become my hacker hero of sorts. His projects seriously blow me away. The Lazarus 64 project blew my mind and yet he is SOOO modest about it like it ain’t no thang! Now this beautiful 500 kilovolt Rock Disaggregation tool?!

    RadBrad you sir have earned my personal “Badass Dude of the Year Award”. I look forward to your future work with the Lazarus 64 project, your bicycle projects, and basically everything else you do! You inspire me get off my ass and monkey around with stuff more. Thanks man.

  8. I would love to see the inside of the chamber in slow motion. What’s causing the actual disaggregation — is it an electromagnetic force? Are the different mineral junctions operating as dipoles or something? Or is the EM discharge causing some sort of mechanical force to be generated in the liquid, shattering the grains in the process?

    How dense and homogenous a rock can be ripped apart? I assume this works well for brittle conglomerates, but would you be able to extract minerals that are more tightly fused?

  9. The very best science always has a mad-man attached to it.

    This is an interesting way to do plasma blasting – using nylon for the containment and blast chamber is a cool idea. I’ve seen small scale gun stuff (basically, you replace gunpowder with air and high voltage) but never anything of this size. My hat is off to you.

    Once upon a time, this was one of the methods used to extract certain necessary elements from
    rock, but there was war and a certain amount of secrecy involved. It was rediscovered a couple of times in the 70s, but certain folks bought the companies out and put a blanket on it… you can automate the process so that dull rock and sand goes in and glowing powder comes out.

    By the mid 90s it had been invented so many times that the cat was obviously out of the bag, and a canadian company started to run with it. It was invented in Korea and Germany as well.

    There is a reverse version of this used to coat materials, mix alloys of weird materials and create all kinds of things, which I suppose is still a hush kind of thing. Rather than using the 1930’s style 12 times a minute, they dump current at audio range and higher frequencies, and sometimes modulate it. No snapping, more of a squeal.

    This is easily the coolest thing I’ve seen on hackaday, Brad. Mad Props!

    Professor, be careful about showing off high energy devices. You might talk to burt swank about his run-ins with the folks who don’t like physics and worry for a living, or a guy I know who was playing with laser ionization (make a path in the air, shoot tungstein particles down it with HV, typical Tesla crap) and came very close to a visit.

    I expect amateur fusion experiments to be illegal within 10 years.

  10. Hey, did you happen to plot your current and voltage for each run? I’d be pretty curious about your charge cycle cost, and if you’ve done the math to look at the dv/dt field from your observation point. Regular exposure to strong HV and resulting fields = greatly increased risk of various issues that smell like leukemia. You should consider treating it like working on X rays. I know 5 people will shout me down, but they’re likely to be pack-a-day smokers. :)

    Let me throw in my two cents about the blowouts.
    Basically, there’s a reason why spherical chambers get used for high pressure physics. Your vessel was much weaker than it needed to be because you didn’t provide a curved surface on the bottom.

    The punchline is that you were using a single anode point – and so the blast was basically a acting like a shaped charge. I won’t discuss that aspect any further. Just look at the geometry. A circle will stretch.

  11. @Macw & @Radbrad:

    I’ve been reading up on and considering the possibility of building an EDM machine and in my readings in the machinist handbook I learned that the electronic discharge asymetrically destroys the two electrodes depending on polarity. Pg 1298 Machinists handbook 28th edition. A similar process could be causing your shockwave to only move in one direction inside your containment vessel.

    In EDM the workpiece is immersed in a dielectric fluid which arcs when a certain voltage is reached. Taking micro-craters out of superhard materials is slightly different different goal than your machine but EDM seems to work on the same principle except in an extremely controlled environment.

  12. …”a massive hydro pole transformer…” You, Sir, have just outed yourself as a Canadian. :)

    I second the suggestion that “Will it disaggregate?” become the new “Will it blend?”, though. Though I suspect pretty much everything will, if you eventually throw enough joules at it.

  13. You had me at “it was the only material found to contain the intense blast” I must build one now! I have absolutely no use for it what so ever, but i would love to piss off my neighbors my exploding some rocks in my garage.

  14. AWESOME! It would be even better to get a hi-fi recording of the sound so one can feel the ‘deep bass’ as describe… that will be next best thing to visit the secret workshop.

  15. I have also seen systems like this with only a fraction of the size. To get them more compact you obviously need to contain them in a pressure vessel holding some pressurized SF6 or in an oil tank of some kind.

  16. As for watching the blast/getting video;

    would you not be able to make a clear lid for this thing? If there’s not much force going upwards, just make a clear lid and watch thru the top :)

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