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Name: Scott
Status: other
Grade: 6-8
Location: FL
Country: N/A
Date: 7/9/2005


Question:
How do you make liquid plasma?


Replies:
Ok, Scott, I do not know what you mean by "liquid plasma". I do not know whether you are reading Sci-Fi, creatively imagining that it should exist, a science teacher decided to get hyperbolic with you, or you are reading medical literature that mentions plasma and seems to imply that it is liquid which is natural, because blood plasma is mostly water).

The word "plasma" means either of two completely different things, today:

1) a gas with a substantial fraction of its particles ionized,

2) the watery part of blood, i.e., blood with all the blood-cells removed. It consists of water, salts, organic chemicals such as nutrients, antibodies, enzymes, and a few other biochemicals.

Item (2) is a liquid....

Item (1) is virtually always a gas. It has to be, because ionization always takes more energy than boiling. The energy needed to ionize an atom or small molecule (free an electron from it) is so much larger than the energy needed to evaporate it (pull it away from it's sticky liquid neighborhood, into empty space), that any substance with a substantial ionization percentage would trade ionization for heat energy and boil itself away.

Air with just a few ions in it, such as the air emerging from an air-ionizer appliance, is less then 1 part-per-million ions. The rest are ordinary neutral atoms. This is called a dilute or diffuse plasma. It is appropriate to think of it as breezes carrying a little trapped static electricity. Then the net energy density is low enough that it cannot boil itself away. A very insulating liquid (hydrocarbon oil, silicon oil, fluorocarbon oil) can carry some static electricity too. Perhaps this could be considered a "liquid plasma". But it is not anything hot, glowing or powerful. It's merely faintly conductive.

Then there are ionic solutions, such as salt-water or molten salts. But they are all ions (atoms or molecules, charged negative or positive), and there are no freed electrons. The electrons are all stuck to something, so there is no high energy density. But these liquids are electrically conductive, as is any gas plasma. Since a prominent feature of an ionized plasma is electrical conductivity, perhaps someone would (exaggeratedly) call salt-water a liquid plasma.

The word "plasma" may get used for other things too. It seems to have a very vague generic meaning something like: "this fluid medium capable of complex activities". Any kind of "squirm-juice", to coin some slang.

Jim Swenson



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