The Plasma State of Matter
In order to understand plasma, one must first learn the atomic structure of matter. We know that matter consists of atoms. Atoms also consist of a nucleus and electrons orbiting this nucleus. The nucleus has two subatomic particles: Proton and Neutron. Neutrons have no electrical charge. Protons have a positive (+) charge and electrons have a negative (-) charge. Opposite poles attract each other in magnets, right? Similarly, protons attract electrons orbiting the nucleus. Otherwise, electrons would go away with the effect of rotation. The numbers of protons and electrons in an atom are equal. Such an atom is uncharged. But it can gain or lose electrons. In this case, they become ionized. We were suddenly immersed in chemistry, but knowing them is very important. Because in the plasma state of matter, atoms dissociate into free electrons and ions. It is the high temperature, high voltage, or high pressure that makes the substance like this. A temperature of millions of degrees accelerates electrons that travel around the nucleus. Electrons accelerate in such a way that they escape the attraction of protons.
These can be difficult to understand. Because plasma is not a state of matter that we can often see in our environment. However, you may have heard or seen something about plasma without realizing it. For example, a fluorescent lamp. In a burning fluorescent lamp, the substance contains the plasma state of the substance. When you press the electric button to turn on the lamp, you apply high electric voltage. As electricity flows through the elongated tube, it stimulates and charges the atoms of the gas inside the tube. This causes the formation of plasma, thus light, in the lamp. Another example of plasma are neon lamps. Similarly, electricity charges neon atoms, and the gas in a tube turns into plasma. Well, how about lightning strikes. The lightning you see in stormy weather causes the surrounding air to become plasma. Do you know the “northern lights” formed in the heavily radiated magnetosphere layer of the atmosphere?
Charged particles thrown into space by the solar winds are caught in the Earth’s magnetic field. The particles captured here travel along the magnetic field and some of them enter the atmosphere in polar regions. These particles collide with oxygen and nitrogen atoms and remove electrons, forming ions at exciting levels. These ions radiate as in fluorescent or neon lamps. This uniquely beautiful radiation is called the “northern lights” (Aurora). The source of these lights is plasma. It is possible to see the northern lights on some clear nights in areas such as Alaska, Scotland or northern Norway.
Many people think that space between the Sun and the planets is empty. However, plasma is also found in the Sun, stars, galaxies, interstellar, and intergalactic space. Scientists estimate that 99% of matter in the visible universe is plasma. They call the visible universe; because they think that 90% of the mass of the universe is “dark matter”, that is, in a form that we know nothing about its composition or state.
You may have wondered about the place of plasma in our daily life. Perhaps you’ve heard of plasma TVs. Plasma technology is starting to enter our home with lamps with high illumination efficiency, the production of semiconductors, and electronic equipment.
One of the reasons why plasma is used in many different fields is that it is a good conductor and therefore an effective source of radiation that responds to electric and magnetic fields. Experts add that this resource is not a risk of nuclear accidents. If used well, effectively and correctly, plasma seems to be a cheap energy source that can enter our lives in new areas.
Examples of Plasma
Although we do not see it very often in our daily life, the fourth state of matter can appear in various ways.
- Thunder and lightning
- Aurora – Aurora borealis (northern lights) and aurora australis (southern lights)
- Neon lamps
- Fluorescent lamps
- Solar winds
- Arcs produced by welding machines
- Earth’s ionosphere
- Stars (of course the Sun is also a star)
- The tail of the stars
- Interstellar gas clouds
- The fireball created by the nuclear explosion
- Tesla coil
Where is the plasma used?
In plasma televisions,
Cutting, melting, and welding in industry,
Pulstar spark plugs in automobiles allow the fuel-air mixture to burn more efficiently by making it plasma.
Origin of plasma
The word plasma means gel or formable material in Greek. In 1879, Sir William Crookes was the first scientist to notice the “luminescent matter” he saw in the Crookes cathode ray tube experiment. British physicist Sir J.J. Thomson’s experiments with the cathode tube led him to propose an atom model claiming that the atom consists of positive and negative charged particles. This term was first used by chemist Irving Langmuir in 1928, and for his invention he received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1932.