The Fourth State of Matter

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One of the flame cutting services we offer at Sullivan Precision Plate is High Definition Plasma. Over the next few weeks, we’re going to dive into the complex process of plasma cutting (with the help of our friends from How Stuff Works).

This week, we’re going to take a quick chemistry lesson. Most of us know the three states of matter: solid, liquid and gas. Many of us forget, however, the fourth state of matter: plasma. Plasma is what happens when you heat a gas to an extremely high temperature.

Image from GRINP.

The energy begins to break apart the gas molecules, and the atoms begin to split. Normal atoms are made up of protons and neutrons in the nucleus surrounded by a cloud of electrons. In plasma, the electrons separate from the nucleus and begin to move around quickly, leaving behind their positively charged nuclei. These positively charged nuclei are known as ions. When the fast-moving electrons collide with other electrons and ions, they release vast amounts of energy. This energy is what gives plasma its unique status and unbelievable cutting power.

Next week: Inside a plasma cutter.