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Tinkerer Tackles Plasma in his Garage

Did you know plasma makes up more than 99 percent of all matter in the universe and that its potential uses range from killing bacteria to solving cosmological puzzles? To expand the reach of plasma research, Adam Bowman, Intel Science Talent Search1 award winner, created an inexpensive pulsed plasma device.

Plasmas. They’re all around us. In neon signs. TVs. The sun we orbit every day.

These highly ionized gases make up more than 99 percent of matter in the universe, and scientists anticipate they will be useful in a growing list of applications, including aiding in manufacturing processes (including the production of silicon computer chips), locating landmines, analyzing gases, and furthering understanding of nuclear science and astrophysics. However, typical plasma sources are large, complicated and expensive, making them impractical for small-scale research.
So what do you do if you if you’re a high-school science enthusiast with the desire to conduct plasma research, despite a lack of resources and no access to a high-budget research facility?
If you’re Adam Bowman, you build your own plasma research facility in your garage.
As a lifelong “tinkerer” (Bowman fixed cars with his grandfathers as a child and built an electron accelerator in ninth grade), the teen had smarts, determination and creativity. Combining a simple design with parts salvaged from eBay* and local universities, Bowman built a pulsed plasma device, tinkering with it until it worked, and tinkering again to make it smaller and less expensive. The result: a coaxial plasma gun the size of a toaster, which shoots pulses of charged particles through a metal cylinder and costs just a few hundred dollars. 

As a result of Bowman’s work, plasma research can now be conducted in small-scale operations and even high-school science labs. That means more budding scientists can put their neon smarts to work solving the problems of our world.

Inspiring innovators of tomorrow

Intel Science Talent Search

The Intel Science Talent Search is the nation's most prestigious pre-college science competition. Learn more about Intel STS and how to participate.

Intel International Science and Engineering Fair

Intel International Science and Engineering Fair

A program of Society for Science & the Public, Intel ISEF is the world’s largest pre-college science competition with over USD 4 million in awards.

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Helping to develop a diverse future workforce and advance interest in science, technology, engineering, and math education in underserved youth and girls.

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1. A program of the Society for Science & the Public.