Quantification of air plasma chemistry for surface disinfection

Matthew J. Pavlovich, Douglas S. Clark, David B. Graves

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

112 Scopus citations


Atmospheric-pressure air plasmas, created by a variety of discharges, are promising sources of reactive species for the emerging field of plasma biotechnology because of their convenience and ability to operate at ambient conditions. One biological application of ambient-air plasma is microbial disinfection, and the ability of air plasmas to decontaminate both solid surfaces and liquid volumes has been thoroughly established in the literature. However, the mechanism of disinfection and which reactive species most strongly correlate with antimicrobial effects are still not well understood. We describe quantitative gas-phase measurements of plasma chemistry via infrared spectroscopy in confined volumes, focusing on air plasma generated via surface micro-discharge (SMD). Previously, it has been shown that gaseous chemistry is highly sensitive to operating conditions, and the measurements we describe here extend those findings. We quantify the gaseous concentrations of ozone (O3) and nitrogen oxides (NO and NO2, or NOx) throughout the established 'regimes' for SMD air plasma chemistry: the low-power, ozone-dominated mode; the high-power, nitrogen oxides-dominated mode; and the intermediate, unstable transition region. The results presented here are in good agreement with previously published experimental studies of aqueous chemistry and parameterized models of gaseous chemistry. The principal finding of the present study is the correlation of bacterial inactivation on dry surfaces with gaseous chemistry across these time and power regimes. Bacterial decontamination is most effective in 'NOx mode' and less effective in 'ozone mode', with the weakest antibacterial effects in the transition region. Our results underscore the dynamic nature of air plasma chemistry and the importance of careful chemical characterization of plasma devices intended for biological applications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number065036
JournalPlasma Sources Science and Technology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2014
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Condensed Matter Physics


  • IR spectroscopy
  • Surface micro-discharge
  • air plasma
  • disinfection


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