Plasma: Fourth State of Matter


    In New

    Indian Scientists have recently developed a theory to shed light on the mystery behind complex phenomena in Plasma, the fourth state of matter.

    Major Findings Regarding Different Phenomena

    • Sun-Earth interactions: The theory helps understand the complicated nature of Sun-Earth interactions happening in the magnetosphere, an area of space around Earth that is controlled by the Earth’s magnetic field. 
    • Ion-hole structures: This new theory has opened up a plethora of opportunities to unlock the mysteries of the ion-hole structures (a localized plasma region where the ion density is lower than the surrounding plasma). Scientists are now working towards a detailed study of the ion hole structures observed in various space and astrophysical environments using the developed theory.
    • Solving the Uncertainty: They developed a theory that solves every bit of uncertainty regarding the conflict between the observations from Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) Mission. They were also supported by Prof. Peter Yoon from the University of Maryland, USA. 
    • Bernstein Green Kruskal (BGK) waves: They have completely ruled out the necessity of the upper limit in the temperature ratio between ions and electrons for the generation of a special kind of wave called Bernstein Green Kruskal (BGK) waves, named after the scientists who predicted this wave. They revealed that the electrons that are not part of ion hole dynamics also play a vital role. This work has also been published in the journal ‘Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society’.

    Significance Of New Theory

    • NASA’s latest expedition to unlock Sun-Earth interaction’s complicated nature, the MMS spacecraft, observed negative monopolar potential (electric field potentials which can be visualized in the form of single-humped pulse-type structures). 
    • The scientific community suddenly recognized its importance, and publications were presented. However, none of the available theories could explain the characteristics of these structures due to the exotic background conditions.
    • The new theory developed by the Indian Institute of Geomagnetism (IIG) team provides a better understanding of their characteristics and sheds light on the generation of these structures leading to the unraveling of nature’s greatest mystery that causes phenomena – plasma transport and heating of plasma.

    States of Matter


    • Have a definite shape, distinct boundaries and fixed volumes, that is, have negligible compressibility. 
    • Solids have a tendency to maintain their shape when subjected to outside force. 
    • Solids may break under force but it is difficult to change their shape, so they are rigid.


    • Have no fixed shape but have a fixed volume
    • They take up the shape of the container in which they are kept. 
    • Liquids flow and change shape, so they are not rigid but can be called fluid


    • Highly compressible as compared to solids and liquids. 
    • Due to its high compressibility, large volumes of a gas can be compressed into a small cylinder and transported easily.


    • The state consists of super energetic and super excited particles. These particles are in the form of ionised gases
    • The fluorescent tube and neon sign bulbs consist of plasma.
    • The plasma glows with a special colour depending on the nature of gas. 
    • Bose-Einstein Condensate
    • In 1920, Indian physicist Satyendra Nath Bose had done some calculations for a fifth state of matter. 
    • Building on his calculations, Albert Einstein predicted a new state of matter – the Bose-Einstein Condensate (BEC). 
    • In 2001, Eric A. Cornell, Wolfgang Ketterle and Carl E. Wieman of the USA received the Nobel prize in physics for achieving “Bose-Einstein condensation”. 
    • The BEC is formed by cooling a gas of extremely low density, about one-hundred-thousandth the density of normal air, to super low temperatures. 

    (Image Courtesy: Science Notes)

    Plasma: The Fourth State of Matter

    • What it is: It is a mixture of negatively charged electrons and positively charged ions. It is also defined as ionized matter. 
    • Formation: It is formed when high voltage or temperature knocks off the outermost electrons from an atom, which in turn knock off electrons in the neighbouring atoms. Mostly plasmas are formed at very high temperatures but scientists can also produce plasmas at low temperatures.
    • Unique State: Plasma is that unique state of matter where charged ions abound in gaseous form but since the whole mass is charged they behave uniquely unlike any other known form of matter.
    • Energy to Sun: The most intense and dense state of plasma that we see every day is the Sun, where plasma releases solar energy that literally powers life on Earth.

    Uses of Plasma

    • Micro-plasma welding is a method which is used to join paper thin sheets of metals, which is extensively used in the manufacture of stainless steel water storage tanks and other kitchen implements.  
    • Plasma spray is the only process that enables us to coat any material on to any other one:  
      • Metal on to metal: titanium on to steel, to prevent corrosion.  
      • Metal on to non-metal: copper on to porcelain, used in capacitors. 
      • Non-metal on to metal: alumina on to stainless steel, to reduce wear and tear on stainless steel. 
      • Non-metal on to non-metal: Teflon on to ceramics, to prevent corrosion by acids.  
    • Cold plasmas are used in sterilizers and hand-washers.  The cool plasma is used to cure human fungal infections.
    • Healing Plasma: The high temperature plasmas are being deployed to destroy toxic hospital and organic waste, so plasmas are helping heal the Earth. Plasmas are also used to make plastics attract or repel liquids, which is used in printers. 
    • The Institute of Plasma Research (IPR), Gandhinagar is trying to unravel the properties of plasma because of its potential to aid power generation from nuclear fusion, where two atoms are fused together and the energy they release can be used to generate electricity.
    • Neon in its plasma form is used for lighting.


    • The fourth state of matter, Plasma, is the most natural and widely observed state of matter in the entire universe.
    • The new theory is a significant achievement by the Indian scientists that will provide better understanding for nature’s complex phenomena.

    Indian Institute of Geomagnetism (IIG)

    • It is an autonomous institute under the Department of Science & Technology, Government of India.

    Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 

    • It is one of the world’s leading primary research journals in astronomy and astrophysics, as well as one of the longest established. 
    • It publishes the results of original research in positional and dynamical astronomy, astrophysics, radio astronomy, cosmology, space research and the design of astronomical instruments.
    • It is published by Oxford University Press (since 2013) on behalf of the Royal Astronomical Society (United Kingdom).

    Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) Mission

    • It is a NASA robotic space mission to study the Earth’s magnetosphere and theoretical predictions.
    • It investigates how the Sun’s and Earth’s magnetic fields connect and disconnect, explosively transferring energy from one to the other. This process occurs throughout the universe and is known as magnetic reconnection

    Source: PIB