Plasma Demonstration

Students in Critical Thinking through Science had an opportunity to see plasma up close and personal through a plasma lamp, a glass globe filled with neon gas; at the center is an electrode with a high-voltage current running through it. When someone touches the glass, they complete a circuit – just as lightning does when it jumps from a storm cloud to the ground. In both cases, we’re seeing filaments of plasma, lit up by flowing electrons.

One of the lessons in the Science course is about the three states of matter: solids, liquids, and gases. Students learn the differences between them and the physical properties of each kind. Plasma is the fourth state of matter; it’s less well-known because it’s so rarely seen. The plasma lamp also offered a chance to hear about Nikola Tesla who invented it in 1894.

two students study a plasma lamp

Students had a wide range of interactions with the lamp: Some rushed up and immediately wanted to try it, while others thought about it before tentatively touching it with a fingertip. As a group of them doodled swirling patterns of light, one student placed his whole hand on the glass and kept it there, until he announced, “It’s getting hot!”

The very first Learning Outcome for this course talks about applying science to the real world. As dramatic as the plasma globe is, it’s the same thing that’s happening in lightning, a neon sign, or a fluorescent light bulb.


Critical Thinking Through Science is one of the many courses OLS Students can take to obtain their associate degree from OLS. More information about our curriculum is available on our website. To learn more about our program, register for an Information Session.

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Last Updated July 23, 2019