DailyPress is reporting the development of a cold plasma pencil, conceived by physicist Mounir Laroussi, which obliterates bacteria that cross through its free-radical field. How the pencil works, and what it portends, is truly fascinating:
When he turns the pencil on, it blows a high pitched whistle as a glowing, blue-violet beam about 2 inches long instantly appears at one end. Stick your finger in its path and you only feel a cool breeze, but the beam is powerful enough to blast apart bacteria that’s crawling on your skin.
It’s like a mini blowtorch without the heat.
…It uses a stream of helium gas laced with oxygen that is blown between two copper electrodes. Electricity pulses through the electrodes thousand of times in a second to split the oxygen molecules into single oxygen atoms.
The atoms, called radicals, are extremely reactive. They attack the cell walls of bacteria, tearing them open or boring holes through them. Bacteria’s internal contents spill out and the organisms die.
So far, the researchers have only used the pencil to kill E. coli bacteria in a petri dish. Wayne Hynes, ODU associate professor of Biological Sciences, is helping Laroussi test the pencil for dental uses. Unfortunately, it won’t replace the sharp tools that scrape plaque off the teeth, but it could sterilize dental equipment or kill bacteria that cause gum disease. He cautions that it’s still very early in the research.
We’ve heard about surgical instruments with repulsive coatings, to deter airborne bacteria from adhering. But this is another level. Here’s the beauty of it: there’s absolutely no way bacteria can adapt to this technology! (famous last words, we know).
More from Dr. Laroussi’s earlier project (where the above photo is explained).