Sunday, October 16, 2005

Miracle Plasma Pencil

News of a “plasma pencil” developed by Old Dominion University researcher Mounir Laroussi was flashing through the World Wide Web in late September, adding to his reputation as a pioneer in the field of cold plasmas.

PhysicsWeb noted Laroussi’s creation of a “hand-held device that can produce room-temperature plasmas … to kill bacteria, heal wounds and treat plaque.”...
Plasmas, sometime called the fourth state of matter along with solids, liquids and gases, are generated anywhere atoms are stripped of electrons, creating soups of neutral particles, charged ions and electrons. Plasmas can be found in solar flares and around lightning bolts, and, in fact, make up 99 percent of the known universe because of their common presence in interstellar space. In the denser Earth’s atmosphere, most plasmas are super hot and hard to control.

During the last decade numerous researchers have produced low-temperature plasmas, but Laroussi, since the mid-1990s, has been at the forefront of the research. His focus has been on ease of use and low-cost generation of plasmas. Business Week magazine named him an “expert” in cold plasmas, and gave the same designation to Karl H. Schoenbach, ODU’s eminent scholar of electrical and computer engineering, who is director of the Reidy Center and holds the Batten Endowed Chair of Bioelectric Engineering.

Cold plasmas are generated when an electrical source is tailored to kick lighter electrons into high speeds without doing the same for heavier ions. This can be done with electricity that is turned on and off—or pulsed—thousands of times a second. The relative inactivity of the ions eliminates the high heat that plasmas can develop in the Earth’s atmosphere and gives researchers the more manageable cold plasmas.
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