May 16, 2010 Issue

Physics To Go 97 - Plasma globe & ball

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Physics in Your World

Physics in Action: Plasma Power image
image credit: University of Michigan Physics Department Lecture Demonstration Lab; image source; larger image

Physics in Action: Plasma Power

You've probably seen a plasma globe in class or at a novelty shop before.  The glass is filled with a low-pressure, inert gas, which becomes ionized by the electric current from the central electrode to form tendrils of plasma.

Understanding plasma may be the answer to our energy crisis. The tendrils of a plasma globe are the cool cousins of the fires within a star, which fusion researchers hope to reproduce on Earth. Read Physics in Action: Plasma Power to learn more about plasmas and fusion reactors.

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Physics at Home

Interactive Plasma Physics Education Experience

A tokamak can control plasma using magnetic fields, and it is the most promising design for a nuclear fusion reactor. Check out these Virtual Tokamak applets to learn how magnetic fields act upon plasma and how to start a fusion reaction. (See the help page first-- it explains the simulations as well as the concepts behind fusion reactors.)


From Physics Research

Perspectives on Plasmas image
image credit: Caroline J. v. Wurden and Glen A. Wurden, Los Alamos; image source; larger image

Perspectives on Plasmas

This is a ball of plasma, created by discharging electricity into a solution. See the image source for more on how the image was made.

To learn about plasmas and their many applications, check out Perspectives on Plasmas and

Worth a Look

Amazing Plasmas

Plasmas aren't common on Earth (besides fire, lightning, and the aurora borealis), but plasma makes up most of the matter in the universe. Read about space plasmas at Amazing Plasmas. For just a few images of plasma in space, see this space plasma photo gallery and these APOD images of our Sun and the Cat's Eye Nebula.

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