University of Missouri (MU) engineer Randy Curry and his team have developed a method of creating and controlling plasma that could revolutionize American energy generation and storage.

The secret to Curry’s success was developing a way to make the plasma form its own self-magnetic field, which holds it together while it travels through the air.

Curry’s device launches a ring of plasma as far as two feet. The plasma doesn’t emit radiation, and it is completely safe for humans to be in the same room with it, although the plasma reaches a temperature hotter than the surface of the sun.

Curry, professor of electrical and computer engineering in the University of Missouri’s College of Engineering said, “Launching plasma in open air is the ‘Holy Grail’ in the field of physics. Creating plasma in a vacuum tube surrounded by powerful electromagnets is no big deal; dozens of labs can do that. Our innovation allows the plasma to hold itself together while it travels through regular air without any need for containment.”

The plasma device at MU could be enlarged to handle much larger amounts of energy, according to Curry. With sufficient funding, they could also develop a system within three to five years that would also be considerably smaller. He noted that they used old technologies to build the current prototype of the plasma-generating machine. Using newer, miniaturized parts, he suggests they could shrink the device to the size of a breadbox.

Plasma is the fourth state of matter after liquid, gas and solid.  Life on Earth depends on the energy emitted by plasma produced during fusion reactions within the sun.  Fire and lightning are our most familiar forms of plasma and is applied industrially in TVs, lighting and in manufacturing processes such as arc welding.

Plasma is a state of matter that occurs when electrons have been knocked off their atoms, generally due to high temperatures, and are free to move and respond to electromagnetic fields. Well over 99% of the matter in the universe is in the plasma state – stars and some of the matter between the stars are all plasmas.

The immediate question that comes to mind is the impact that Curry’s team might have on the leading edge of research such as Focus Fusion at Lawrenceville Plasma Physics.  The remaining list of possibilities is quite long and very much speculative.

An open-air plasma discharge without flooding radiation is a major step forward.  A plasma discharge with its own self-magnetic field holding it together is a spellbinder.

Curry warns that without federal funding of basic research, America will lose the race to develop new plasma energy technologies. The basic research program was originally funded by the Office of Naval Research, but continued research has been funded by MU.  There must be some patentable intellectual property there.

There isn’t a research paper yet, but the news itself is extraordinary.  As details come out or a paper is published we’ll be back.


4 Comments so far

  1. Matt Musson on April 18, 2013 7:40 AM

    I think the professor is overstating his accomplishments by saying this is the Holy Grail of physics. I can make plasma at home in my microwave and you can too if you follow the YouTube video. It is the ability to compress plama and heat it to 1000 times hotter than the surface of the sun that is required for effecient nuclear fusion.

  2. Edward Holnes on April 18, 2013 8:45 AM

    How is this any different from a dense plasma focus device such as the focus fusion system lawrenceville plasma physics are working on?

  3. Marsha C. Stites on May 8, 2014 7:09 PM

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  4. Benjamin P. Dozier on May 8, 2014 11:51 PM

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