The Chemistry of Plasma


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Plasma is one of the 4 main forms of matter.  It is the most common for making up about 96 percent of all matter in the universe.  Common forms of plasma include lightning, lasers and solar flares.  Plasma is just ionized energy, so anything can be turned into plasma if heated enough.  Stars are a great example: the gas is superheated and turns into a big ball of plasma.  If matter reaches a temperature of 5,000 degrees Kelvin (8540 degrees Fahrenheit), it ionizes and turns into plasma. Ionizing is when an object gets so hot that it loses all of its electrons; when this happens, it becomes plasma.  Anything from solids to liquids to gases can become plasma. Plasma is often shown in science fiction movies such as Star Wars; a lightsaber is a perfect example of plasma. This is why I chose plasma: to learn more about it. However, the movies do not portray plasma 100% accurately.  You cannot stop a beam of plasma.

Composition of ...

Plasmas are composed of gases, liquids, or solids that have lost all their electrons. Most common plasma are helium, hydrogen and water. They get superheated and lose their electrons.

Main Chemicals, Compounds, Components

Now, because almost anything can become a plasma we will focus on the two of the most common forms: Hydrogen and Water.

Hydrogen- Hydrogen is the first element on the periodic table, and because it only has one electron it doesn’t take much to heat it and turn it into a plasma. Hydrogen is also the most common element in the universe. This is why hydrogen is one of the most common forms of plasma.  Every star at one point in time has ionized hydrogen gas into plasma.


Water- (H2O)- Water is ionized more often than one might realize. For example, lightning in a rainstorm is actually plasma. Up in the clouds, water is ionized and loses all of its electrons and gets heated until a bolt of lightning forms.  So the next time a storm hits, notice that it is plasma, not just light.

Chemistry's Role

Plasma is formed when a solid, liquid, or gas loses all of its electrons. The more electrons it has, the higher the temperature needed to lose all of the electrons. In a star, the atoms undergo nuclear fission in order to heat the element enough to create plasma. This is the same process undergone to make nuclear bombs. By undergoing chemical reactions, the substance can be heated up enough in order to become a plasma.  It can also be achieved several other ways using alternate methods.  You can heat stuff up using microwave radiation: take a grape and put it in the microwave and the water in the grape will heat until an arch of plasma is formed.  Another way is by electricity: take neon signs, for example. The gas inside is heated until you see what you think is light; however, it is actually plasma.  The electricity is heating the neon gas so hot that it creates a plasma beam.


Background Research

Plasma is the most common form of matter in the universe. It forms when matter is ionized or loses all of it electrons.  The lowest temperature is 5000 degrees Kelvin or 8540 degrees Fahrenheit. Plasma is not found in its standard state on Earth. Our sun and all other stars are

made of plasma.  Plasma has a low density, has no definitive shape or volume and is a poor conductor of electricity by itself. Plasma was discovered in 1879 by a man named Sir William Crookes, who discovered it by using the Crookes tube. It was not named Plasma until 1928 by Charles R. Drew. Plasma can destroy magnetic fields but can be controlled by electromagnets.



General Background Information

Examples of Plasma

What is Plasma

Where we use it in our lives

What can become Plasma

Plasma in stars

Northern Lights

Plasma is the most abundant form of matter in the Universe

How Plasma forms

About the Author

Kyle is Junior at Billings Senior High School. He wants to be an Aerospace Engineer following high school. He plans on leaving Montana to go to college; afterwards, he dreams of building and designing rockets for NASA.  In high school, Kyle enjoys playing soccer and is on the Speech and Debate Team and Academic team. He participates in STEM club. Kyle also enjoys spending time helping people through Senior Advocates and tutoring younger kids.