Chasing ‘Lightning’ in a Lab

The fourth state of matter in the universe is called “plasma.” It can be created in the laboratory by breaking down gases, the third state of matter, using extreme voltage. A lightning strike is plasma created by nature. Laboratory-generated plasmas, under ordinary conditions, are hard to control. However, thanks to the work of electrical engineering graduate student Olutosin Fawole, of professor Masood Tabib-Azar’s group, a new device forces plasma, when placed around a magnet, to rotate around a center point. This device has enormous potential impact for science since a magnetic-field sensor can detect subtle electric currents. The ingenuity of this work, Olutosin said, is its feature as “a new device that enables plasma to be used as a magnetic field sensor.” If this device is made a billion times more sensitive, it could enable detection of electricity in human brains. This device is the first of its kind and is a major step in both rearing plasma for experiments and discovering ways to track the elusive signals of the human brain.

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