Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Breakthrough Technique Unlocks Secret Of Plasmas

Date:
November 23, 2008
Source:
University of British Columbia
Summary:
Researchers have developed a technique that brings scientists a big step closer to unlocking the secrets of the most abundant form of matter in the universe.

The Earth's upper atmosphere is a plasma, as are lightning bolts and virtually all stars that light up the night sky.
Credit: iStockphoto/Chee Ming Wong

University of British Columbia researchers have developed a technique that brings scientists a big step closer to unlocking the secrets of the most abundant form of matter in the universe.

A plasma – or ionized gas – can be as commonplace as in fluorescent light bulbs, or exotic in the extreme, as a thermonuclear explosion. The Earth's upper atmosphere is a plasma, as are lightning bolts and virtually all stars that light up the night sky.

For nearly a hundred years, physicists have worked to develop intricate mathematical theories for dealing with the plasma state, but detailed knowledge about plasma constituents and their precise interaction dynamics has been hard to come by. Conventional plasmas are hot, complex and difficult to characterize either in the natural world or in the laboratory.

Recently, a handful of laboratories have begun work on a new class of plasma so simple that it promises to take our understanding to a new level. Termed ultracold plasmas, these systems start with trapped atoms, cooled to a fraction of a degree above absolute zero, to form clouds of ions and electrons that are nearly standing still. With this control, scientists have found it possible to study the elementary steps by which atomic plasmas are born and grow.

Now, for the first time, UBC researchers have found a way to make ultracold plasmas out of molecules. Starting with a gaseous sample cooled in a supersonic molecular beam, a team led by Ed Grant, Professor and Head of the Department of Chemistry, has formed a plasma of nitric oxide that has ion and electron temperatures as cold as plasmas made from trapped atoms.

These plasmas last 30 microseconds or more even though, unlike atoms, molecular ions can quickly dissociate by recombining with electrons. "It's amazing that our plasmas have sustained life at all," says Grant. "We think that the high charged particle density we create interferes with ion-electron recombination."

Their technique, detailed in the current issue of the journal Physical Review Letters, not only produces plasmas three orders of magnitude denser than those made with trapped atoms, but appears to reach much higher levels of correlation, a factor describing the onset liquid-like collective motion.

"Molecules represent a holy grail of ultracold science," says Grant. "The ability to break out of the atom 'trap' is tremendously liberating and could lead to a whole new field of physics."

Grant adds that further understanding of ultracold plasma on a molecular level could lead to new knowledge about gas planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune in our solar system), White Dwarf stars, thermonuclear fusion and X-ray lasers.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of British Columbia. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of British Columbia. "Breakthrough Technique Unlocks Secret Of Plasmas." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 November 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/11/081121140526.htm>.
University of British Columbia. (2008, November 23). Breakthrough Technique Unlocks Secret Of Plasmas. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/11/081121140526.htm
University of British Columbia. "Breakthrough Technique Unlocks Secret Of Plasmas." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/11/081121140526.htm (accessed September 18, 2014).

Share This



More Matter & Energy News

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Virtual Reality Headsets Unveiled at Tokyo Game Show

Virtual Reality Headsets Unveiled at Tokyo Game Show

AFP (Sep. 18, 2014) Several companies unveiled virtual reality headsets at the Tokyo Game Show, Asia's largest digital entertainment exhibition. Duration: 00:48 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Apple's iOS8 Includes New 'Killswitch' To Curb Theft

Apple's iOS8 Includes New 'Killswitch' To Curb Theft

Newsy (Sep. 18, 2014) Apple's new operating system, iOS 8, comes with Apple's killswitch feature already activated, unlike all the models before it. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Stocks Hit All-Time High as Fed Holds Steady

Stocks Hit All-Time High as Fed Holds Steady

AP (Sep. 17, 2014) The Federal Reserve signaled Wednesday that it plans to keep a key interest rate at a record low because a broad range of U.S. economic measures remain subpar. Stocks hit an all-time high on the news. (Sept. 17) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Space Race Pits Bezos Vs Musk

Space Race Pits Bezos Vs Musk

Reuters - Business Video Online (Sep. 16, 2014) Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' startup will team up with Boeing and Lockheed to develop rocket engines as Elon Musk races to have his rockets certified. Fred Katayama reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins