While most plasmas studied in the lab and in astrophysical settings occur at very low pressures, there are many applications for plasmas formed at atmospheric pressures in the fields of biology, medicine, and electronics. One particularly interesting use of these plasmas is the treatment of polluted water.
Dr. Sophia Gershman heads the Atmospheric Plasmas Physics (APP) Laboratory where she and her students study high voltage plasma discharges known as “streamers” through gas bubbles inside liquids (mainly water and glycerin). Through the use of high speed video cameras and fast electronic monitoring, the study of these streamers through different gases has shed light into their behavior, including the preferred path of conduction as well as its effects on the gas bubbles. Since the efficiency of the water treatment depends entirely on the path taken by the streamers in the bubble, this research could lead to great insights into treatment plant designs, including the type of gas used.
Since most of the research is done by high school and undergraduate interns, this is a great introduction to students on the wide range of applications of plasma physics.