Formation of Nanoparticles in Plasmas in Microgravity Conditions and Potential Industry Applications

Topics Covered


Plasma Crystal Experiments to Control Microparticles Using an Adaptive Electrode

How Microgravity Research about Complex Plasmas Might Improve Some Industry Applications

Potential Industry Applications and Processes for Complex Plasmas

Knock-On Benefits of Developing the Adaptive Electrode


Plasmas are denoted frequently as fourth aggregate state and consist of ionized gases, in which gas atoms are split into positively charged ions and electrons. Plasmas containing colloids are called complex or dusty plasmas. In 1994, scientists of the Max-Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics proved that such complex plasmas can self-organize under certain conditions spontaneously to a crystalline-like state, the so called plasma crystal. Plasma crystals were an up to then unknown state in a complex/dusty plasma, and can be used to study material characteristics in phase transitions from gas to liquid and solid states. Such three-dimensional plasma crystals can only be produced under microgravity, since, on earth, gravity squeezes the crystals together.

Plasma Crystal Experiments to Control Microparticles Using an Adaptive Electrode

In the year 2001 the plasma crystal experiment on the International Space Station (ISS) was realized under the leadership of the German, Kayser Threde, GmbH. Figure 1 shows a schematic experimental set-up, which is similar to the experiment on ISS. The control and the manipulation of the microparticles in the investigated low-temperature plasmas, are achieved here by means of a so-called adaptive electrode. This adaptive electrode is composed of several separate, electronically controllable electrode segments. This allows local modifications of the plasma boundary zone.

Figure 1. Schematic diagram of a possible plasma crystal experiment chamber.

How Microgravity Research about Complex Plasmas Might Improve Some Industry Applications

Apart from basic research in fundamental and plasma physics, application-orientated questions like particle coating, the production of nanoporous materials or the optimization of plasma processes in semiconductor industries, can also be examined with the experimental set-up in principle. It is expected that knowledge about complex plasmas obtained in microgravity research will contribute to the optimization of industrial terrestrial plasma processes.

Potential Industry Applications and Processes for Complex Plasmas

To be mentioned as relevant application fields, among others, is the coating of pharmaceutical drugs and surface refinement in semiconductor technology (Stuffler 2001). Also, the formation of nanoscale carbon structures (nanotubes or diamond films) by electrical arc discharge plasma synthesis, has already been investigated in microgravity experiments by NASA. Furthermore, complex plasmas are relevant for processes in which a particle formation is to be prevented, if possible, as, for example, within plasma etching processes for microchip production. Here, a contamination of the sensitive circuits with particles must be absolutely avoided.

Knock-On Benefits of Developing the Adaptive Electrode

Development potential concerning the experimental set-up can be determined in the advancement of the adaptive electrode. The objectives pursued here are the integration of a larger number of manipulation channels with reduced surfaces and a miniaturized electrode structure, as well as the availability of dynamic and automated methods for an appropriate manipulation of the plasma. A further stimulation for the plasma research in microgravity is expected with the implementation of the International Microgravity Plasma Facility (IMPF), whose employment on ISS is scheduled for the year 2005/2006.

Primary author: Dr. Wolfgang Luther (editor).

Source: Future Technologies Division of VDI (Verein Deutscher Ingenieure) Report entitled ‘Applications of Nanotechnology in Space Developments and Systems: Technological Analysis’, April 2003.

For more information on this source please visit


Tell Us What You Think

Do you have a review, update or anything you would like to add to this article?

Leave your feedback
Your comment type
Azthena logo powered by Azthena AI

Your AI Assistant finding answers from trusted AZoM content

Your AI Powered Scientific Assistant

Hi, I'm Azthena, you can trust me to find commercial scientific answers from

A few things you need to know before we start. Please read and accept to continue.

  • Use of “Azthena” is subject to the terms and conditions of use as set out by OpenAI.
  • Content provided on any AZoNetwork sites are subject to the site Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.
  • Large Language Models can make mistakes. Consider checking important information.

Great. Ask your question.

While we only use edited and approved content for Azthena answers, it may on occasions provide incorrect responses. Please confirm any data provided with the related suppliers or authors. We do not provide medical advice, if you search for medical information you must always consult a medical professional before acting on any information provided.

Your questions, but not your email details will be shared with OpenAI and retained for 30 days in accordance with their privacy principles.

Please do not ask questions that use sensitive or confidential information.

Read the full Terms & Conditions.