Plasma research in space and applications on Earth

Editor’s note:These brief extracts are paraphrased from live webcast and may not be fully correct.

Presentation by G. Morfill, Director of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics

Download the presentation slides: Plasma Research in Space – Applications on Earth

What is plasma? Basically it is the hot part of our Universe, the Sun is an example of plasma. To study plasma we need to bring it to room temperature. A technological challenge is overcoming the problem that as plasma cools, it disappears. The solution is to study complex plasmas.

  • A key experiment is looking at turbulence on an individual particle level.
  • Little was known about plasma physics in microgravity. Most importantly we will be able to use electrical fields to design the interaction between micro-particles on the atomic scale.
  • Research is continuing on newer experiments such as PK-4 in 2014 and Plasmalab in 2018.

Applications on Earth

  • Bacteria are becoming more resistant to antibiotics such as the infamous MRSA. Drug companies on the other hand are releasing fewer new antibiotics each year. Thousands of people die due to bacterial infections picked up in hospitals every year. The solution is better hygiene.
  • Plasma is supplying hygiene at the touch of a button, no residues, no waste. We are developing technology designed to work with our immune systems fighting burn wounds, bacteria, viral and fungal infections.
  • Plasma technology can also protect plant seeds from infections. Plasma irradiation even makes plants grow faster.
  • All Resistant bacteria are killed after only 30 seconds of plasma irradiation.
  • For more information read this previous ESA article: Zapping deadly bacteria using space technology
  • Treating chronic wounds is also possible. Multiple applications of plasma reduce germ infection resulting in faster healing by 10-15%.  Experts could not tell the difference in skin tissure treated by plasma and traditional methods after full healing.
  • Plasma therapy shows benefits for treating genetic disorders such as Hailey-Hailey.

Future directions:

  • Household appliances for everyday use, from space to your homes.
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