Putting the “Science” in “Science Fiction”: Megaman (Plasma Part 2)
Megaman is the robotic hero of several series of video games that bear his name, in which he fights evil robots in order to defend humanity. Although Megaman acquires many strange and unique weapons through his battles, his primary weapon has always been the cannon mounted in his arm. Alternately labeled as the arm cannon, buster and mega-buster, this weapon is always described as a plasma weapon, firing bursts of superheated plasma in order to destroy Megaman’s robotic opponents or building up a charge to release a single enormous blast. I have discussed plasma in an earlier blog, as well as its potential use in weaponry.
Although the theoretical use of plasma as a weapon system has been understood for decades and it is easy to create in a laboratory, the capability to launch plasma out of the device it was created in is still beyond our reach. The reason is that if plasma is not contained within an electromagnetic field, it disperses into the atmosphere, breaking up very rapidly. To create a plasma weapon that operates at range, it would be necessary to extend the electromagnetic field out of the projector and all the way to the target. The technology to achieve this feat does not exist, and even if it did, it would limit a plasma weapon’s rate of fire based on how many electromagnetic fields could be maintained at once. These limitations have long been understood, but a research team at the University of Missouri seems to have developed a technology that may pave the way for plasma weaponry in the future.
Randy Curry – the Logan Distinguished Professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at the University of Missouri – and his team have created a device that is capable of generating plasma, creating its own electromagnetic field and launching it into the air. This electromagnetic field is then used to contain the plasma, allowing it to exist in the atmosphere with no external force holding it together. The plasma is “self-stabilized and self-confined”, according to Curry, meaning that once it is launched, it needs no further energy to contain it. So far, the ring of plasma travels about two feet and lasts tens of milliseconds before it disperses, but the technology is still in its very basic stages. Curry’s team predicts that with more funding, a smaller device can be created that would be capable of handling more energy, producing a longer-lasting plasma.
The plasma created by this device is hotter than the surface of the sun but emits no harmful radiation and thus has no dangerous effects on nearby people… except for the possible exposure to its heat. The research funding for this project came from the United States Navy. This project has the potential to revolutionize energy technology. Plasma of this type could be very useful in initiating and sustaining a fusion reaction, and Curry also has hopes of using it to enhance energy storage. Curry proposes that by creating a plasma capacitor, the ability to store energy could be multiplied more than 10 times – an astounding increase and a necessary technology if fusion power becomes a reality. These peaceful uses could be world-changing, with the potential of allowing fusion power to become commonplace and replacing conventional energy sources entirely. The military applications are also obvious, with this technology offering the potential to create plasma weapons capable of defeating any kind of current armor. If this area of research continues to be studied, it has many possible positive and negative effects, and it is up to the people who develop and use this technology to determine if it will help or harm humanity.