By ucjtlmv, on 8 June 2011
Did you know that 99% of the known universe is made up of plasma? This fact was only one of the surprising and thought-provoking facts revealed in Exploring the Plasma Universe at the Cheltenham Science Festival yesterday. Flanked by some exciting experiments involving fire and the simulation of lightning, Kate Lancaster, Melanie Windridge and UCL researcher Lucie Green explained the physics behind plasma, including how it might be used to power spacecraft and provide energy, as well as future directions in plasma research.
But what is plasma? Good question. I have to admit, my first thought on seeing the title of the talk was blood plasma and none too irrelevantly either – it is sometimes thought that this substance was named after blood plasma. Plasma is a state of matter produced by heating a gas until some of the particles are ionised. The molecular bonds break apart into atoms and you are left with a matter containing positive ions and negative electrons. It conducts electricity thanks to the charged atoms which respond to electromagnetic fields, and produces photons, which creates the iconic flashes of colour that you see in lightning, plasma television screens and plasma lamps.
Watch Dr Lucie Green in action at the festival (2 minutes)