Plasma flashlight co-developed by CSIRO.
Plasma flashlight fights wound infections
A group of Chinese and Australian scientists, including CSIRO, have developed a handheld, battery-powered plasma-producing device that can rid skin of bacteria in an instant.
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Learn how the Handheld plasma flashlight rids skin of bacteria instantly.
Glen Paul: G'day, and welcome to CSIROpod, I’m Glen Paul. In the sci-fi television series Star Trek, whenever a crew member of the USS Enterprise is injured the ship’s Doctor merely waves a handheld regenerator over the wound to heal it.
Now while this kind of technology might still be a few years away, a team of Australian and Chinese scientists have developed a handheld battery powered plasma producing device that can be waved over skin to rid it of bacteria in an instant, making it the perfect tool for ambulance emergency calls, natural disaster sites, military combat operations, or any first response medical situation.
Details of the plasma flashlight were recently released in a study published by the Institute of Physics publishing’s Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics, and I’m joined by co-author of the study, CSIRO’s Professor Kostya Ostrikov, who has just returned from Germany after winning the inaugural Building Future Award in recognition of his pioneering work in plasma nanoscience.
Firstly, congratulations Kostya, that’s a fantastic honour to have bestowed on yourself, and hardly surprising with your work on such amazing technology as this plasma flashlight. So how did the idea for its development come about?
Prof Ostrikov: This was as a result of collaboration from my team and the team at Huazhong University of Science and Technology. For quite a while we’ve been involved in the development of advanced plasma tools for surface processing and also recently for plasma health care in medicine, and this sort of device is one of the tools that produce plasma at atmospheric pressure, and most of such devices either use some gas feed, or rely on wall power.
So we’ve been thinking about designing a device that would not require any of this, that would work in open air, and would not require any external power supply, so just use some sort of battery, and basically you can carry it, it’s a handheld device that produces the plasma, and without external wall power.
So that was basically the idea.
Glen Paul: I see. And how is the plasma produced in this device?
Prof Ostrikov: Well actually it’s very simple. There is an array of sharp needles which are powered with just a simple button, and near the sharp tips of these needles the electric field is very strong, and it produces breakdown; it’s sort of a cold moment discharge in open air. But there are many needles, and there are many charges around the tips of the needles, then it produces a uniform glow, and the plasma glows around the area of the tips, and the plasma is very unique because it’s produced in open air, and it’s cold, and you can even touch it with your finger.
Glen Paul: Right. So how does it manage then not to burn the skin but effectively kill bacteria?
Prof Ostrikov: This is a very interesting question, because the phenomenon of high selectivity activity of such plasma treatments is not fully understood.
However, the selectivity of treatments of bacteria cells and mammalian cells, such as skin cells, is very large, so the probability of killing the pathogens is much higher than the probability of killing the cells on the skin because of different levels of organisation in those cells, and different biological impacts of the plasma treatment on those two cells.
However, this particular study represents a very, very significant challenge and opportunity for many scientists to study how exactly does that work.
Glen Paul: Hmm, that is good. And where do you see the device being used; mainly for emergency first responders, or perhaps in hospitals as well?
Prof Ostrikov: Both applications are possible. If you want, you can even sterilise your chopping board in the kitchen, or your knife or fork, or even use that as a toothbrush as well; could be different applications. Although I would realise that in hospital the issue of gas feed or power supply may not be as critical as it is out in the field during a national disaster or something like that, but nevertheless both ability and durability is very important for these types of devices.
Glen Paul: Absolutely. And like I said, Kostya, very Star Trek as we reach for our plasma flashlights; great stuff. Thank you very much for discussing it with me today.
Prof Ostrikov: You're welcome.
Glen Paul: Professor Kostya Ostrikov. For more information find us online at www.csiro.au. You can follow us on Twitter at CSIROnews, or CSIRO LinkedIn, or like us on Facebook.