This is a guest article by Yashika Ghai, a PhD scholar at Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar. She is a researcher in the field of theoretical plasma physics.
Whenever I tell someone that I work in the field of Plasma Physics, another question that pops up is –Is it something related to Plasma Televisions ? Well, plasmas are much more than that and here are some interesting facts about plasmas that would give you an insight about the beauty of the fourth state of matter:
1. Plasma comprises 99% of universe: Believe it or not, but 99% of the matter in the universe is in the form of an ionized gas called plasma. In fact, the surface of Earth is probably the only place devoid of plasma and as soon as one leaves the Earth, there you find plasma again!!
2. Even high temperature plasmas may not feel hot: Yes, that's true. The temperature of plasma inside the fluorescent tube-lights at our homes is around 20,000 K (whereas the temperature of Sun’s surface is 5778 K), but hey, it doesn’t feel so hot !! and that is because of a lower number density of ionized gas inside the tube as compared to the density of gas at the atmospheric pressure and hence, less heat transferred to the glass tube.
3. Cancer treatment: From waste management to medicine and textile industry, plasmas have astonishing applications in all branches of science. The applications of plasma in the field of cancer therapy sets revolutionary pioneers in the field of medicine.
4. Table-top particle accelerators: As compared to the Large Hadron Collider (LHC-27 km in circumference) at CERN, Geneva- that was used to discover God particle, certain plasma phenomenon are exploited to be used for building table top particle accelerators that may accelerate charged particles to energies of the order of Gev (Giga electron Volts)) in just a few cms distance. Just imagine- particles of such huge energies produced in an accelerator that can just be put on a table and this is possible using plasmas.
5. Potential energy source: Now a days, nuclear fusion is seen as a prospective source of energy because of least or no residual radioactive wastes produced as well as much higher amount of energy released (about three to four times) as compared to nuclear fission. It is noteworthy that the nuclear fusion requires the reactants be in the form of plasma and having extremely high temperatures.
6. Source of Sun’s energy: We all know that the Sun is an ultimate source of energy for sustaining life on Earth, but, very few know that the source of Sun’s energy are nuclear fusion reactions that occur inside the core of sun or any other star. So, hadn’t there been plasma inside the sun – there would have been no light and no life.
7. Plasmas have a mind of their own: Due to the electromagnetic forces that govern the interaction of charged particles, plasmas show collective behaviour. When the charged particles move around, they give rise to current, generate charge concentration gradients and hence give rise to electric and magnetic fields of their own. Therefore, plasma particles do not simply adapt to the externally applied electric and magnetic fields, rather under the influence of external fields as well as self-generated electric and magnetic fields, plasma behaves as if it has a mind of its own.
Wow!! This makes me feel that plasmas are omnipresent- from our homes to the Sun and the stars, and I am glad to be one of the researchers investigating the properties of plasmas.