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I don’t remember learning about plasma when I took physics, but it’s amazing stuff. Last week at the Hi-Tec conference in Arizona, I got to learn how an electromagnetic field can be used to push plasma around a tube. Community college students get to play with the coolest toys!

Here’s some plasma contained in a small area.

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Figure 1. Plasma on the table.

Here’s some plasma getting pushed around a tube.

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Figure 2. Plasma getting pushed around.

Wikipedia has a very nice article on plasma and plasma displays that occur in nature, such as St. Elmo’s fire.  I guess if you want hands-on practice with plasma physics, community colleges are da place to go.

Comments

  1. #1 6EQUJ5
    July 25, 2009

    As a kid in school I was given the three states of matter as solid, liquid, and gas — under the overhead fluorescents while the sun was shining. We wouldn’t hear of plasma until physics class in high school.

    Our science book held that transmutation of matter was impossible, and that the difference between organic and inorganic matter was the vital life force.

  2. #2 Travis
    July 27, 2009

    As someone who studies plasma science, I think you’d be hard pressed to find actual, quality research being done with plasmas at community colleges (it can be a very expensive field to do research in with proper diagnostic tools and equipment). I think the CC you saw put together some relatively simple demos. And yeah, those demos do look cool to those who don’t actively research plasmas, but most of those demos were conceived and originally built back in the 1930’s by Irving Langmuir. And so now only serve as plasma demonstrations and classroom equipment to carry out a plasma lab classes with.

  3. #3 Sandra Porter
    July 28, 2009

    You’re missing the point Travis,

    The community college mission is all about teaching students and preparing students for careers. I was surprised to learn that you can do lots of interesting things with plasma.

    Who knew?

    The people that I talked with teach students learn how to use plasma. Community college students get hands on practice with using plasma for coating materials, for making neon signs, for making semi-conductors, and for coating materials with stuff like copper (the fancy name is plasma enhanced chemical vapor deposition).

    The CC’s may not be doing university level research, but hey, if you want to learn how to work with plasma, they’re the place to go.

  4. #4 Travis
    July 29, 2009

    I whole heartily agree with you that plasmas are cool, but from reading your post, I got the impression that you thought and meant to convey to your readers that plasma research occurs on a regular basis at colleges and universities all over America. Sadly, it’s not.

    I’d wager that the reason this particular CC works with plasmas is b/c Intel has a bunch of facilities through out AZ and NM and is unique to CC’s in that area. Whereas, my experience with CC’s in Va, NC and IL has been that none of them have such curriculum likely b/c they don’t have a behemoth like Intel near by.

    Meaning, that a HS student in Nebraska shouldn’t expect to go to their local community college and have the same experience. Plasma physics and plasma engineering, which seems to be more what you’re describing, are still very niche fields. Therefore, there aren’t that many universities one can pursue research into plasmas, and again, I’d wager the experience at that CC in AZ is unique or limited to CC’s in that area.

  5. #5 Sandra Porter
    July 31, 2009

    Thanks Travis,

    I certainly agree that you wouldn’t expect every CC to have a plasma physics facility. All teh schools differ in terms of which programs are offered where. It is important to do some research and see what’s available where.

  6. #6 mintu khoshnabish
    December 29, 2009

    I never read Biology. I am a student of Nuclear Physics with Health Physics, Reactor, Electronics. Natuarally I have idea on plasma, magnetohydrodynamics etc.. This is 1st time I am going to can Biological affairs. Of course while writing some articles on ” Life on other worlds” I have to study a little Chemical evolution of life, basic needs for an animal to grow and develop etc.. I will keenly study your article/writings and hope I will able to analyze from a different platform, different eyes and will try to add extra dimension if possible for me. Carl Sagan brought me in this line.

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