Neon lights, astrophysics, lightning and, of course, televisions – plasma is all around us. But what exactly is it and how can we harness its power? This month, Horizon takes an in-depth look at the fourth state of matter, finding out how it could be used to fix environmental problems such as wastewater contamination and factory emissions. We speak to the scientists who are attempting to use plasma energy to create more powerful particle accelerators and probe the mysteries of the universe. We also find out how researchers are trying to recreate astrophysical plasma in their labs and investigate the potential of cold plasma to save lives.
Lab-based results showing that cold plasma can stop the growth of cancer cells have sparked hope that it could one day be used to treat the disease in humans – but scientists first need to understand why it has the effect it does.
Mysterious radiation emitted from distant corners of the galaxy could finally be explained with efforts to recreate a unique state of matter that blinked into existence in the first moments after the Big Bang.
Plasma particle accelerators more powerful than existing machines could help probe some of the outstanding mysteries of our universe, as well as make leaps forward in cancer treatment and security scanning - all in a package that’s around a thousandth of the size of current accelerators. All that's left is for scientists to build one.
Plasma technologies are everywhere — and could soon be rendering hospital wastewater harmless, scrubbing toxins out of gas in factory smokestacks and stopping dangerous ice formation on aeroplanes and electrical infrastructure, according to Professor Christian Oehr, head of the interfacial engineering and materials science department at Fraunhofer IGB in Stuttgart, Germany.
When it comes to climate change, it is often said that what happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic. This month, with the COP24 UN climate change conference taking place in Katowice, Poland, Horizon looks north to the region of the world that is feeling the effects of global warming most acutely. We speak to Marianne Kroglund from the Arctic Council about whether it is too late to save the fragile ecosystems there and examine how studies of ice melt show that the world may still have a fighting chance of limiting sea level rise. We find out how the Arctic environment could be protected in the face of increased maritime traffic and look at the effect of melting permafrost – soil, sediment or rock that’s been frozen for at least two years – on the environment and local communities.
In its landmark report in October, the UN's International Panel on Climate Change said that every package of measures we choose to limit global temperature rises to 1.5°C must include a way of removing carbon dioxide emissions from the air and reusing or storing them. This month, Horizon looks at what's being done to advance these carbon capture, storage and utilisation technologies. We talk to one expert who is trying to trap emissions from the cement industry before they are released, and find out how International Space Station technology is inspiring the capture of ambient carbon dioxide. We also investigate how captured CO2 can be reused, and examine just how safe it is to store the gas underground.
As Earth's magnetic shield fails, so do its satellites. First, our communications satellites in the highest orbits go down. Next, astronauts in low-Earth orbit can no longer phone home. And finally, cosmic rays start to bombard every human on Earth.
Regular naps may be one of the privileges of retirement but research is pointing to napping as a contributor to cognitive decline. Scientists are now testing the idea that older people should instead meditate or learn a language to preserve brainpower and wellbeing.
A weakened magnetic field in the southern Atlantic Ocean gives us a glimpse of the future.
Meditation and language-learning being trialled to keep brains sharp.
With environmental changes locked in for several decades, are we too late to save the Arctic?