Science 3 min read

New Cold Plasma Device Could Eradicate Airborne Diseases

Air sterilization methods could become obsolete thanks to a new cold plasma reactor that neutralizes almost all airborne viruses.

Image credit via Robert Coelius ¦ Michigan Engineering

Image credit via Robert Coelius ¦ Michigan Engineering

Plasma isn’t a substance, it’s its own exotic state of matter.

We owe many bright phenomena like starlightlightning  and the aurora borealis to plasma whose temperatures all reach several million degrees.

In attempts to harness the virtually unlimited fusion power of plasma, many projects try to recreate the sun in a box, like the Chinese Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak, the UK-based Tokamak Energy reactor, along with the biggest international fusion program, the ITER reactor.

But scientists are starting to tame plasma and develop versions that differ in temperature, ionization level and density to adapt it to our needs that go well beyond flat screens.

Recent advances in plasma research have led to the development of non-thermal plasma, in other words, plasma at an ambient temperature and atmospheric pressure.

Cold plasma, also known as non-thermal plasma, is being investigated for a variety of potential uses, such as in medicine, material science, space propulsion, and lighting.

One possible application of cold plasma in medicine is the neutralization of airborne pathogens, a new study reveals.

Sterilized Air: Cold Plasma Reactor Kills 99.99 Percent of Air Pathogens

Airborne pathogenic bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms get released into the air by an infected person as they sneeze, cough, or laugh.

These pathogens, like the flu virus, remain suspended in the air for a varying amount of time during which they can infect a healthy person.

It’s hard to fight airborne diseases simply because it’s impossible to avoid air, and it’s hard to ensure it’s clean enough.

In hospitals, the exposure risk is greater for patients and healthcare workers alike.

“The most difficult disease transmission route to guard against is airborne because we have relatively little to protect us when we breathe,” said Herek Clack, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Michigan.

Clack and his research colleagues have devised a nonthermal plasma reactor that kills almost all airborne pathogens to keep critical environments such as surgery rooms perfectly sterile.

The device created by the U-M research team could do away with surgical masks, air filters, and other sterile air supplies.

Read More: This Cold Plasma Treatment Could be the Fountain of Youth

It was tested and proved “able to inactivate or remove from the airstream 99.9% of a test virus, with the vast majority due to inactivation”. And the whole air sterilization process takes only a fraction of a second.

The results tell us that nonthermal plasma treatment is very effective at inactivating airborne viruses. There are limited technologies for air disinfection, so this is an important finding.”

The U-M researchers tested their cold plasma reactor, which combines filtration and inactivation systems, on ventilation air streams in a pig barn.

After the results were this successful and encouraging, now they’re planning to get to the next phase and scale the device down where it could replace face masks.

Read More: This Cold Plasma Treatment Could be the Fountain of Youth

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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    Derrick Vanwyk April 11 at 1:10 pm GMT

    This is an important finding. An upcoming technology that seems much effective compared to a traditional mask.

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      Lisa Gaillard April 13 at 1:28 am GMT

      Absolutely, seems very gentle compare to standard disinfection procedures using toxic substances.

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