Sep 10, 2007
Bio-plasma Physics Anyone?
Irving Langmuir coined
the word "plasma" to refer to an ionized gas, because the
way in which the electrified fluid carries ions and
electrons reminded him of how blood plasma carries red and
Regular readers of the
Thunderbolts Picture of the Day will recall our
comparison of living plasma with the electrified,
space-borne kind. Perhaps the analogy is more serendipitous,
or maybe even inspired, than we might imagine.
image at the top of the page is the remnant of the giant
Tycho supernova. On November 11, 1572, Tycho Brahe, the
eminent Danish astronomer, first noticed the "new star" (stella
nova) in the constellation Cassiopeia. The luminosity
of the celestial wonder was intense enough to rival the
brightness of Jupiter, eventually reaching the intensity of
the planet Venus in the night sky. The shell of expanding
material is about 20 light years across, five times the
distance from Earth to the nearest star.
image was obtained with an inverted light microscope
displaying a group of human neural stem cells around 10
nanometers in diameter, or about .000000001 meters. Without
the image credits who could tell which is which?
The supernova is
approximately 10 trillion trillion times larger than the
cells, or 1025 times.
In 1986, Hannes
first suggested that electrified plasma might be scalar:
properties of a plasma are likely to be the same in
different regions of cosmic plasmas. The linear dimensions
of plasma vary by 1027 in three jumps of 109."
Earlier in his
in 1979, Hannes Alfvén also wrote:
general has a 'cellular structure [with] regions of
different magnetization, density, temperature, electron
velocity distribution and even chemical composition.
the magnetopause and
magnetotail sheets, the
heliospheric equatorial sheet."
was not referring to actual biological cells, the shape of
the supernova remnant would have come as no surprise.
May 2000 issue of the American Journal of Physics, Mituo
Uehara et al, authored a paper in which they suggested that
plasma physics should be considered a part of biological
can be useful in the investigation of the physical
properties of living cells. Concepts like charge neutrality,
Debye length, and double layer are very useful to explain
the electrical properties of a cellular membrane. It is
hoped that examples of physics applications to biology can
be useful in giving students of physics courses new
motivations to study physics and to carry out
astrophysicists have anything in common with cell
biologists? They do in the electric plasma universe.
Contributed by Ian Tresman
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