Plasma is considered the fourth state of matter. The other fundamental states of matter are liquids, solids, and gases. Typically, plasma is made by heating a gas until its electrons have sufficient energy to escape the hold of the positively charged nuclei. As molecular bonds break and atoms gain or lose electrons, ions form. Plasma can be made using a laser, microwave generator, or any strong electromagnetic field.
Although you may not hear much about plasma, it is the most common prevalent state of matter in the universe and it relatively common on Earth.
What Is Plasma Made Of?
Plasma is made of free electrons and positively charged ions (cations).
Properties of Plasma
- Because plasma consists of charged particles, plasma reacts to electromagnetic fields and conducts electricity. In contrast, most gases are electrical insulators.
- Like a gas, plasma has neither a defined shape nor volume.
- When plasma is exposed to a magnetic field, it may assume structures, including layers, filaments, and beams. A good example of some of these structures can be observed in a plasma ball.
What Is Plasma Used For?
Plasma is used in television, neon signs and fluorescent lights. Stars, lightning, the Aurora, and some flames consist of plasma.
Where Can You Find Plasma?
You probably encounter plasma more often than you think. More exotic sources of plasma include particles in nuclear fusion reactors and weapons, but everyday sources include the Sun, lightning, fire, and neon signs. Other examples of plasma include static electricity, plasma balls, St. Elmo's fire, and the ionosphere.