Deakin Communicating Science 2016

EES 200/101

PLASMA. What is it?

If someone asked you about “what is plasma?” generally the response is plasma in the body. Well what about the other plasma?

Just clicked? If not there is plasma in reference to the basic elemental groups (liquid, gas, solid and plasma).

This will be a three part series looking into plasma. Starting off with the background and history of plasma then looking into the current day research in plasma, with examples from the German Wendelstein 7-X fusion device. Lastly finishing off with possible futuristic advancements in the field and for society (lightsabers?). 


Where to begin? First of all we need to look at the work of Irving Langmuir, which in 1927 he referred to the work of a Czech medical scientist Johannes Purkinje. Johannes came up with the term of plasma in the body that carries the blood.

When Langmuir was looking at the tungsten light bulb and to extend its use. He observed different layers forming in the bulb. Which soon was discovered as ionized plasma.



Simple model of atom. Image source from: Pixabay

So what is ionized plasma? For that to be answered we need to look at the atom. The atom is constructed of a nucleus that contains protons and neutrons, with electrons orbiting the nucleus. 

So to initially cause an element to achieve a plasma state we need to raise the temperature, using the example of gas.

What occurs is once the gas reaches a certain limit in temperature the energy from this temperature is so great that it overcomes the force of the electrons orbiting.

Then electrons are stripped off the atom and are able to freely move. This also creates a pair of equally charged particles, which people may reference as quasi-neutral (definition: same number of positive charges to that of negative charges in the same volume).

So this is how plasma is ionized. It is due to the extremely high temperatures that the atom enters a state that is not of gas, liquid or solid and due to the energy the electrons break off causing ionisation.


Diagram of different physical states. Source

Observation and research

Plasma can easily be seen in space and a lot of astrophysicists have now understood many aspects of space with the idea of plasma.

As the sun is made up of plasma and many other stars. Plus the northern lights are due to plasma and the high temperatures of atoms hitting the earth, giving it different colours.

Plasma cannot be found under normal circumstances on earth, so the only way to create plasma is under laboratory or different conditions.

Through the discovery of plasma, scientists managed to find that it was great at electrical conductivity, which has lead to research in fields regarding magnetism.

With further research and advancement in physics and applications on earth and society:

  • Lighting Sources
  • Current interrupters
  • Thermonuclear fusion (Next blog post).
  • Plasma accelerators.
  • And much, much more.

Unsplash 2015, Northern Lights, Photograph, Pixabay, retrieved 13 April 2016, <>

Peggy_Marco 2015, Atom, Photograph, Pixabay, retrieved 13 April 2016, <>

Fitzpatrick R. 2011, Plasma Physics, The University of Texas at Austin, retrieved 7 April 2016, <>

Dendy R. 1996, Plasma Physics: An Introductory Course, 2nd edn, Cambridge University Press, New York.

Somov B. 2013, Plasma Astrophysics, Part 1: Fundamentals and Practice, 2nd edn, Springer, Virginia .

Woods, LC 2004, Physics Of Plasmas. [Electronic Resource], Weinheim : Wiley-VCH, Germany.

Beilies I. & Keidar M. 2013, Plasma Engineering: Applications from Aerospace to Bio- and Nanotechnology, Academic Press, Tokyo.


4 comments on “PLASMA. What is it?

  1. Pingback: Modern day uses for PLASMA. | Deakin Communicating Science 2016

  2. Pingback: Future for PLASMA? | Deakin Communicating Science 2016

  3. captainrory
    May 8, 2016

    Great post, particularly in terms of how informative it was. The scientific description of what plasma is was very deep and well structured. The only critique I have is that a lot of the blog was describing the history and structure of plasma. As informative as it was, you didn’t mention much about what uses plasma could have in society or whether it could be used at all. On top of that you could have mentioned whether the process of creating plasma in a lab for magnetism purposes was worth the cost and effort of doing it in the first place, as it is obviously not the only way to study magnetism and conductivity.
    Overall it was a great blog, well structured and definitely a very engaging topic.
    Great job!


  4. jasmanpotra
    May 16, 2016

    I particularly enjoyed this post. It was interesting to understand the science behind the formation of plasma and the general history surrounding plasma. I agree with captainrory however, in that it would be good to see a little more information describing the uses of plasma and its future in the scienctific and engineering community. Particulary in reference to any upcoming or even past projects in which plasma was integral. Overall, a great and informative read.


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This entry was posted on April 13, 2016 by in Geelong - Wednesday 3pm and tagged , , , , , , , .

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