Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
Engineers Create Stable Plasma Ring in Open Air (caltech.edu)
145 points by starpilot 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 44 comments

Here's the research paper: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jp400001y

TLDR: The initial stages of the electrical discharge that produce this 'plasmoid' have many similarities to lightning. They're just electric arcs - in this case, electric arcs to the surface of this solution of electrolytes. And then what happens is this plasmoid emerges from it. Ball lightning is used almost generically to describe phenomena seen in nature that aren't described by normal lightning, bead lightning or things like 'St Elmo's fire', or aurora. And likely it's not one thing but several things that have similar observables. The US Air Force Academy team hopes its new approach can help science to better understand this strange spectacle.

I learned the term 'St Elmos fire' about 15 minutes ago on a different HN story, and here it is again. I know this is a common phenomenon but I've never had it happen so fast

Related Wikipedia pages “St. Elmo's fire” [1] and “Ball Lighting” [2]:

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Elmo%27s_fire

[2] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ball_lightning

That is a fun effect. And the generation of microwave RF energy (experienced as radio interference on Cell phones in the article) suggests you could rectify some of that and extract electricity directly from the effect. Depending on wear on the crystal plate of course. Assuming the crystal does not erode significantly over time, then you build a rectifying antenna around the spot where the torus will form, these are small so you have hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of these stations under the bottom of pipe which is fed by your local reservoir. Water flows in, power flows out, no moving parts. That would be pretty neat.

The water jet is moving just around Mach 0.9 so you need a rather complex setup to generate it and the nozzle likely has a short lifespan even if the plate is not eroding.

It would be interesting to get comparative run times on water jet cutter jewels. (non abrasive)

If the RF noise appears in certain bands (as the article says), that would indicate resonant properties of the plasma, such as the ring being 1/2 wavelength, or some other mode. Would be interesting to know.

Plasma antennas have been demonstrated, but those are encased in dielectric tubes. I’m sure the noise temperature is horrible.

But you would be stripping the water of its energy, making it less useful in homes. I wonder how efficient this setup of yours is compared to a water turbine, or how difficult the effect is to recreate with steam...

I can't parse your first statement (there isn't any 'stripping of energy' that I can see, the apparatus is converting some of the kinetic energy in the water into plasma.) But the second statement one is exactly right, we have an existing system for extracting energy out of moving water (hydroelectric turbines). That goes through a very mechanical process of rotating machinery to generate electricity and the turbines need quite a bit of maintenance.

By stripping I meant conversion. The energy in water pipes is related to pressure, which is intentionally there. To maintain useful water pressure we would have to provide the energy elsewhere (higher water towers for example, which would require more energy to fill). It's a very common and understandable misconception that the energy in municipal water can be exploited.

Edit: I clearly misread your original comment, you weren't suggesting extracting energy from municipal water at all.

It's kind of tragic to apply for a patent on a newly discovered phenomenon without a foggy idea of the utility of such phenomenon and by extension of a patent on it. It's like applying for a patent on black holes. With the difference that pocket black holes are known to be very efficient mass-to-energy engines...

Phenomenons in science should be public domain.

The patent isn't on the phenomenon, but on the method of producing it:

The stream of water is an 85-micron-diameter jet blasting from a specially designed nozzle at 9,000 pounds per square inch that strikes the crystal plate with an impact velocity of around 1,000 feet per second.

Perhaps this exists in nature somewhere but but it seems pretty unlikely. I too would prefer it to be public domain but we live ina market-dominated society right now.

That seems like a very specific setup that probably took years of research and trials. It's only fair that they can have some rights. The issue isn't so much patents, but how patents are used and, more precisely, abused.

Patents are an artificial construct -- their purpose is how they can be used. If they are being abused, or used incorrectly, then they are flawed and need to be fixed.

This is the comment in this chain that asks how you judge whether a particular artificial construct is being abused or used incorrectly, especially with regard to patents.

FWIW, water jets produce about 100000 psi through special nozzles which mix garnet grit in. I wonder how specialized this nozzle is vs the standard cutting ones.

85 microns is about 0.003315“.

The smallest commercially available water jet nozzles are about 0.003”.

Triboluminescense is not a new phenomenon. This is a novel way to create a stable plasma structure. This is precisely what patents are for.

At least with a Patent they disclose how they are doing the process to the USPTO. When GHCQ created public key cryptography they didn't disclose the concept and it had to be reinvented by Academics (Not to discount the researchers because they moved it much farther though). See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public-key_cryptography#Histor...

Interestingly, the US government may have plasma weapons as far back as 1993. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/MARAUDER

The first attempt at a plasma ring weapon was successful enough to be classified immediately and nobody has heard anything since. Usually that's a sign that the project was successful and further research classified/suppressed.

I've seen similar happen with Free Election Lasers and EMP weapons in recent years. And with radar stealth before that.

Another tech that seems to have been suppressed is visual/IR stealth technology dating back to Yehudi Lights. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yehudi_lights . God knows what's out there now but it isn't hard to believe that we have nearly perfect visual stealth

Very cool!

Does anyone know why fusion power is not mentioned as a possible application of this method? I thought maintaining a stable torus of plasma is a prerequisite for certain designs.

Plasma first forms at thousands of Kelvin, fusion requires hundreds of million. On the journey from absolute zero to a fusion reactor, plasma is a hundredth of a thousandth of the way there.

I remember going on a physics A level class trip to JET in Oxfordshire in about '88. We were shown a graph (log) of progress so far and the target. 100,000th isn't that far out 8) I can't remember how far out they were back then but a recent improvement had chiselled away another chunk of the problem.

We were told that it would be about 50 (not 25) years to a self sustaining fusion reaction.

What do you do with it? The article says something about storing energy, I'm curious as to how that might work and what else you could do.

Maybe a high-end lightsaber?

warp drive

This is interesting and novel, but what is a practical application of this?

A stream of charged particles of ions and electrons.

* Can this be used to charge a battery?

* Or feed in electrons into a DC power system?

* Can something like this output more energy than it takes in?

I would like to mention this ring of plasma is visible only under a microscope.

- Sure, just not very quickly. It will likely come in the form of antennae (tuned to 1/4 of the resonant frequency, likely around 900MHz or 1800Mhz based on the static experienced by the researchers) and energy harvesting IC. Would need more details to be sure.

- This is a very strange question. Are you asking if it could provide a potential difference(voltage) to allow a flow of electrons (current) ? If so, yeah, probably. Would need more details, like above, to be sure. We're probably talking about several mW of power.

- Categorically, no. Even if we found out Eisenstein was wrong and quantum theory is blown apart, thermodynamics will be solid, and thermo says this will not happen.

This is likely to be an awful way to produce/store/transmit energy, but definitely cool.

  > Categorically, no. Even if we found out
  > Eisenstein was wrong and quantum theory is
  > blown apart, thermodynamics will be
  > solid, and thermo says this will not happen.
Well, unless you can use a plasma like this to do nuclear fusion, in which case you will burn matter to generate energy.

I would argue the energy was always there -- it is the mass-energy equivalence, after all. I should probably clarify my point: energy must come from somewhere; energy is not spontaneously created.

Also, I don't even think anyone has broken even yet. ITER is supposed to, but we'll see.

  > Also, I don't even think anyone has broken 
  > even yet. ITER is supposed to, but we'll 
  > see.
Yeah, no one has managed to harness more energy out of a plasma than put in to make it yet, but technically if it’s doing fusion at all, there’s more energy created though with current technology most of it just goes out into the universe as entropy that’s not harnessed.

Unless of course, as other posters mentioned, you consider the energy as present in the matter in the first place, which is a reasonable way to model it too.


Then how come big bang created so much energy from nothing?

It didn't. All of the energy was there, it just happened to be located in one place. Now all that energy is spread all over the place but it's still the same amount of energy.

Hn, I don't think this guy should be downvoted for asking critical thinking questions. We're here to learn, so be kind, and engage.

1) I don't see a way this could be done directly

2) Maybe? If the plasma was radiating RF energy in a certain band you could maybe make an resonantly coupled antenna and recover some energy.

3) Definitely not. Nuclear fusion is not happening here, merely moving so some into a super excited state causing them to radiate photons of a multitude of frequencies and produce heat.

I found the tone rather dismissive. It seemed to me that the OP felt the work was not so useful if it didn't have applications.

Ultra efficient plasma antennae maybe as well.

You could make plasma based radar cloaks. Could revolutionize stealth technology.

> the ability to generate a stable ring of plasma without powerful electromagnetic fields or vacuum suggests the possible use of plasma structures to store energy, Gharib says.

That seems strange. Earlier in the article it clarifies that the ring is made by squirting water on a crystal and that the ring is maintained by continuing to do that. If you are required to keep squirting water at the crystal to maintain it, is it actually a good storage mechanism? Is the maintenance power draw much lower than the initial creation? How efficient is it?

I think he is saying this structure suggests other possible structures that might be more energy efficient.

Really asks the question, how many other things do researches simply not try because the standard thinking is that it "won't work".

I'd be interested if the effect is extensible into gases and plasmas.

Good. My plasma speakers are due for an upgrade.

Now if you can make the plasma move through air at fast speed, Plasma gun!

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact