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plasma ball

Submitted by sat on 10 September 2018

Plasma balls are often used to demonstrate the physics of electrical currents in school science laboratories. They consist of a thick clear glass sphere that contains a high voltage electrode (Tesla coil) at its centre. The sphere is filled with a mixture of inert gases such as neon, argon, xenon and krypton under a partial vacuum and is powered with a low-voltage power supply. When the plasma ball is operational, beams of coloured light are produced that extend from the high voltage electrode to the outer glass sphere as the gases inside ionise1, 2, 3. An electromagnetic field is also produced around the ball which diminishes with distance from the electrode4.

Plasma balls are generally regarded as safe devices, however, when dealing with any apparatus that generates an electric current there are several safety measures that should be implemented. Plasma balls are sources of small levels of current, static charge and electromagnetic waves that can pose a hazard for some users and certain electrical devices 4, 5, 6.

Safety notes on the use of plasma balls

Some suitable activities (observing the above safety notes):

References and further reading:

1’An Introduction: What is a Plasma Ball and How Does it Work?’, ScienceStruck website, https://sciencestruck.com/what-is-plasma-ball-how-does-it-work (Accessed August 2018)

2’’Plasma Ball Experiments’, The Wonders of Physics Traveling Outreach Program, University of Wisconsin –Madison website, https://wonders.physics.wisc.edu/plasma-ball-experiments/ (2008)

3CLEAPSS. 2015. GL194 Using a plasma ball. CLEAPSS website. http://science.cleapss.org.uk/ (Login required.)

4 ‘Plasma: The fourth state’, Science in School website, https://www.scienceinschool.org/content/plasma-fourth-state (2016)

5‘Physics Van – Plasma Ball’, Physics Van, University of Illinois website, https://van.physics.illinois.edu/demos/Plasma%20Ball/Plasma%20Ball.php (Accessed August 2018)

6 Specialty Toys Direct. n.d. Plasma Globe Owner’s Guide, Specialty Toys Direct website, https://www.stdi.ca/amazon/plasma-globes/Plasma%20Globe%20Owners%20Guide%20-%20Web.pdf (Accessed August 2018)

7Reiland, Robert. 2007. Plasma Globes and “Body Capacitance”, Contemporary Physics Education Project website, http://www.cpepphysics.org/fusion-materials/PlasmaGlobe-BodyCap.pdf

8‘Plasma Ball Tricks’, Sciencing website, https://sciencing.com/plasma-ball-tricks-7613499.html (2017)

‘How do plasma lamps work?’, Softpedia news website,  https://news.softpedia.com/news/How-do-Plasma-Lamps-Work-77633.shtml (Link updated September 2019)

‘Plasma ball’, Department of Physics, University of Oxford website, https://www2.physics.ox.ac.uk/accelerate/resources/demonstrations/plasma-ball (Accessed August 2018)

‘Plasma Ball – large’, Questacon website, https://shop.questacon.edu.au/Plasma-Ball-Large.html (Accessed August 2018)

‘Plasma globe’, Wikipedia website, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plasma_globe (2018)

‘Plasma Globes’, ACS Publications – Chemical & Engineering News website, https://pubs.acs.org/cen/whatstuff/86/8643sci3.html (October 2008)

Reiland, Robert. 2002. Studying the Electric Field Near a Plasma Globe, Contemporary Physics Education Project website, http://www.cpepphysics.org/fusion-materials/ElectricFieldNearPlasmaGlobe.pdf