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The Story

(this starts playing) The reactor core room is coated in black inky sludge, dotted with glowing blotches of cyan, with black tendrils laced up the hydraulic shocks and all around the reactor torus. Above it hangs the red crystal, glowing idly as it syphons from the heart of the lab, like a parasite. What seem like rose buds appear embedded in the tendrils around it, opening to reveal skittish, blood red eyes. (beat drop)

Technician Kit, security guard Ash and test subject June cross the corridor, weapons ar the ready, the wall emblazon with 'Narinder Complex - Level 2', and above twin double doors 'Cargo Elevator - Ground Level Access'. As the doors slide open, one of the wolf-drones appears at the other end of the hall, followed by a pack of four more.

The reactor monitors turn from glowing blue to red, a hologram highlighting the core confinement magnets, the crystal flaring brighter. The dark, empty control room overlooking the core lay in disarray, evidence of the technicians having made a stand. And in one of the access compartments over the core, in a hefty padded case, sat a damaged thermo-fusion warhead, its control panel open and its dirty, red seven-segment display listing 4 minutes 43 seconds remaining.

The Design

If you didn't look at the links to know what I am talking about, this is the lab after the typhon, a rouge autonomous terraforming artificial life-form, has breached containment when the facility's reactor was sabotaged. To fight it, the few staff left to die by the elite research team had to get crafty with how to escape the lab, but they know the typhon's weakness, and can exploit it.

The typhon is like a computer, its a neuron-eletrical network comprised of tendrils and slime that corrupts and syphons energy from anywhere it can find it, but is vulnerable to a narrow band of directed EMF, which is effectively a tuned EMP attack. A big attack, like the thermo-fusion warhead over the crystal in the core room, which is sort of a computer, would kill the entire network and sterilize the lab.

The repair drones, the wolf-things, resembling earth wolves but huge, slimy and with blank cyan eyes, operate on the same principles and communicate with the crystal, and are just as vulnerable to EMPs, and not much else. Only electric weapons seem to do anything, like the K-10 railgun rifle or this weapon I am designing.

The Specs

I need a mechanism that a handheld weapon could use to create a directed EMP, without using nuclear explosives. Currently I am looking at using an Explosively-pumped Flux Compression Generator shell, but making more than a dozen of them very quickly, and building a gun to shoot them would be a long shot for some stranded survivors.

It needs to:

  • Be made of materials you'd probably find in a high-tech magnomics, physics and genetics research lab, which is basically anything reasonably related to it. What about a pre-made piece of lab equipment you could easily retrofit?

  • Be easily man portable, so Ash can actually use it without needing a cart to carry equipment with him, the lighter the better.

  • Reusability, requiring some kind of ammunition other than power cells is not ideal but doable.

  • Powerful enough to fry the average server rack from across a room, so not really that powerful as a weapon. (A room being maybe 30 meters or so.)

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  • $\begingroup$ Being that it's... the future, and all, you could just invent a future device, maybe a bit like this one, and give it the properties you need. It isn't as though most people really know what's in a laboratory anyway. $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Feb 12, 2023 at 3:29
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    $\begingroup$ Um... You're asking us what stuff might be laying around in a lab that can be (no offense, but of all things) McGyvered together into a weapon that doesn't exist in Real Life without destroying the tool that creates the EMP (because of the speed required to make an EMP of any sensible strength). Any answer that can meet the science-based expectation would be incredibly profitable and unlikely to be posted here. (I.E., it doesn't exist.) What are your expectations? Are you sure you want the science-based tag? (*Continued*) $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Feb 12, 2023 at 4:45
  • $\begingroup$ ... It might be less obvious to your readers that you're straining at the proverbial gnat if the lab your characters stumble into was one investigating the controlled uses of EMP and just so happened to have the device sitting on a table, needing only a portable power pack capable of providing the number of shots they need to win the day. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Feb 12, 2023 at 4:47
  • $\begingroup$ In a world where portable EMPs exist, redundant facilities seems an obvious and prudent risk management control for any high-value processing worth the trouble of destroying. As do assorted traps, surveillance devices, obstacles, deceptions, guards, and bounties to limit the freedom of such wanton vandals. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Feb 12, 2023 at 5:35
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    $\begingroup$ The lab is containing something very dangerous that is known to be vulnerable to EMP. Part of the emergency response equipment would therefore be an EMP weapon. A variant of what @JBH said, maybe it's like the Russian military - it was not maintained properly and/or the power supply has been sold on the black market, but the device should be there. (Note: Anyone who could give a good, technical answer to this question will lose their security clearance if they do.) $\endgroup$ Feb 12, 2023 at 8:06

4 Answers 4

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The only compact solution I know of is a one-off device that creates a voltage pulse using a slab of piezo crystal and a layer of plastic explosive. This has been used.

You asked for science-based, so you get other stuff. Most life is not particularly EMP sensitive. The Carrington event fried telegraph and telephone services over the whole world, but nobody noticed apart from the lights in the sky. Look for something else. If this life-form is artificial, maybe it was made with some 'backdoor' vulnerability to keep it safe in the lab, such as being sensitive to green light.

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Eazy-peazy. What lab, anywhere, doesn't have a microwave? A magnatron is a microwave gun in a box designed to direct the beam towards your food. I'm sure you can see how a screwdriver, hammer, and hacksaw could change the targeting.

The hard part would be powering it. You can blow a 15 amp circuit just by having two of them running at the same time. You'd need an extension cord or a backpack battery.

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    $\begingroup$ Magnetrons don't create magnetism per-se. They create microwaves (which are managed inside the magnetron via a generated magnetic field that isn't at all what you need for an EMP). There's a huge difference. An EMP is literally just a magnetic or electrical pulse where microwaves are actual photons. In other words, this doesn't work as advertised - unless you want to cook lunch. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Feb 12, 2023 at 4:50
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    $\begingroup$ @JBH, ieeexplore.ieee.org/abstract/document/9557276 $\endgroup$ Feb 12, 2023 at 8:31
  • $\begingroup$ HAH! I like it, I like it. It's not what I was thinking, but it would definitely kill typhon well enough. ...just how big of a magnetron could you build? $\endgroup$ Feb 12, 2023 at 15:05
  • $\begingroup$ @ Robert Rapplean "Based on the MILO system, it was possible to create an intentional EMP environment, which can analyze effectiveness through the radiated electromagnetic wave electric field and power density value, for an effective distance and area to target an electronic device. " I think the meaning lost a lot in the translation. This is just word salad. $\endgroup$ Feb 12, 2023 at 15:42
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    $\begingroup$ @JustinThymetheSecond, It means that, if you shoot a pulse of microwaves at something, microwaves are electromagnetic radiation, and that pulse is what we call an "EMP" or electromagnetic pulse. It damages things and breaks things like electronics and people, and the paper describes how much. $\endgroup$ Feb 12, 2023 at 19:19
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May I present to you, the Explosively-Pumped Flux Compression Generator powered Vircactor

Bomb-powered EMP stick

The best part? Not only does it sound like a Scifi-esque weapon, it's actually a real thing that exists in real life! (here's a paper about it)

I know you didn't want to use flux compression generators, but seeing as people have disrupted computers simply by playing Janet Jackson, I think you could get away with a MUCH* smaller explosive charge. Just wrap some kitchen foil around one of these and call it a day...

"small" explosive*

For such a complicated sounding device, it's actually a remarkably simple device that is little more than firecracker covered in foil wrapped in a coil of wire with one end hooked up to a glorified coffee can with and the other connected to basically a pie tin. Between the office kitchen and the janitor's closet, you'll probably find most of what you need (where the C4 comes from... that's up to you).

coffee-can EMP device

According to Wikipedia, Vircators have been used as [EMP] generators and for generating X-rays. Power levels on the order of [Tera]watts are possible so it'll certainly give your energy-sucking monster a hard time...

Admittedly, the one in the image at the top is a little bit big at a meter and half long and as thick as your leg, but you wouldn't need to shrink it by much to get it down to shotgun size. And as an added bonus, there'd be a massive explosion every time you fired it, I think the diagram on the Wikipedia page about flux-compression generators just about sums it up in this image...

helical flux-compression generator

But if you need a catchier name for them, well...

don't sell Jedi death sticks

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  • $\begingroup$ Snirk ...great answer! I'd guess my team could cook up something a little better than a coffee can and a pie tin, I was imagining something like it, but using a small plastic explosive, a coil of copper wire, a large steel pipe with a cap on each end and a copper pipe inside, sticking out on one end. The coil would wound over the copper pipe and fitted into the steel pipe with the explosive, then capped off, a hole on one cap letting the inner pipe stick out. Ideally the outer pipe wouldn't explode, only the copper one on the inside, and thus making my EMP. $\endgroup$ Feb 12, 2023 at 22:14
  • $\begingroup$ With a machine shop, they could cook up maybe twenty of them and build something to trigger and fire them. I mean, it wouldn't even need that much explosive, just enough to crush the copper pipe. $\endgroup$ Feb 12, 2023 at 22:15
  • $\begingroup$ @SamKitsune Seeing as people have been able to disrupt servers simply by jangling bags of coins in front of them (I couldn't find the link though), a firecracker wrapped in foil is probably sufficiently powerful for what you need. The crux of it is just dump a burst of energy into a coil of wire with lots of turns and then quickly make it not have lots of turns... the faster you do this, the more potent the pulse $\endgroup$
    – Samwise
    Feb 12, 2023 at 22:56
  • $\begingroup$ Well yes, but actually no. When I said it needed to mess with a server, thats enough to take one down, but you'd need one quite a bit larger to take down a dozen of them dashing at you. $\endgroup$ Feb 13, 2023 at 0:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Samwise, I've seen reports of a woman crashing 1950's era equipment by walking past them in nylon stockings. i think that was in "Surely Your Joking, Mr. Feynman". I have a poorly grounded USB3 dongle that losses HDMI connection to the monitor when my cat brushes past. $\endgroup$ Feb 15, 2023 at 7:06
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It really depends on how advanced the technology you want to make it

My instinct is if you wanted a repeatable shotgun I was thinking a phased array system but ultra high wattage and small enough to fit into a shotgun or shotgun-like form factor. (with supporting phased array antennas to clean up the wave that travels opposite and laterally to the shotgun direction I guess. Its going to have to be a very complicated song and dance but the closest tech we have is phased array radar) Edit: Comms antenna, proximity radar, etc. -- anything that could have a phased array antenna in it

down and dirty? Just have a emp coil shorting across a massive capacitor and hopefully a grounded shielding cone can eat some of the energy going in directions that weren't desired.

Granted this is conjecture and I will most likely be mistaken on how EMP's work.

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    $\begingroup$ Huh! Well take my +1, it would make sense for a space lab to have spare ultra-high-gain antenna for communicating with earth laying around, and they would need to be extremely high power. Only problem is how the hell you'd power something like that. $\endgroup$ Feb 12, 2023 at 15:01
  • $\begingroup$ I was thinking something more along the lines of an electronically scanned proximity radar. That kind of thing, while short ranged, isn't something to sneeze at in terms of output. Taking one and a controller and ripping through the code, it could reasonably cause enough disruption. At worst a couple battery banks screwed to a maintenance cart could power it, at best, some battery packs and a set of supercaps in a backpack could be the power supply. They could break apart the radar antenna and use part of it too, after modding the controls lol. (docking needs a radar, probably to see) $\endgroup$
    – Harry Mu
    Feb 15, 2023 at 6:35

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