I have been doing a good bit of research lately into a new form of electric "jet engine" developed by researchers in Wuhan, China; in the article summarizing the technologies used to produce this remarkable device, they state that they used a compressor in conjunction with a cavity magnetron to produce a high-temperature plasma, that was then ignited by a spark plug and accelerated up a quartz tube to produce thrust.

During the two college chemistry classes I took, however, I learned that microwaves are not necessarily the most high-energy form of radiation on the spectrum, and are thus considered to be non-ionizing. My question is whether or not it is indeed possible to achieve air ionization solely by using microwave radiation.

  • $\begingroup$ there's a "ball lightning in a microwave" trick that makes it appear to do something like this, but a solid surface may be involved. I have only been able to reproduce it inside a large upside-down pyrex bowl, with very poor reproducibility (1/4 attempts worked, have tried it to amuse people every few years) . When it works, the glowing blue ball of ionized (after significantly preheating, guessing) air circles the bowl. need a small flame to initially start it. $\endgroup$
    – Pete W
    Mar 21 '21 at 21:17
  • $\begingroup$ May physics.stackexchange.com help you with concepts (y) $\endgroup$ Mar 21 '21 at 21:32

Microwaves are not "ionizing" in that they will not knock electrons, protons, or neutrons out of orbit or split an atom with their energy via particle collisions. This is in contrast to high-energy gamma rays, neutrons, etc. But that is not the type of ionization that involves plasma. Plasma is created via heating, which then lets electrons be stripped off, typically via magnetic field. In this case I suspect the use of microwaves is just heating, like a counter-top microwave oven.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for that clarification; it certainly does shed some light on this whole thing!Do you know, is there any way to ionize the air (particularly nitrogen molecules) without expending a great deal of energy in the process? I am looking to this technology to develop my own plasma turbine but do not yet have all the information needed for the task. $\endgroup$
    – CJL
    Oct 23 '20 at 4:52
  • $\begingroup$ You should lower your sights a bit. Do you think you will be better at this than General Electric? $\endgroup$
    – Tiger Guy
    Oct 26 '20 at 4:55
  • $\begingroup$ Scientific exploration is not about comparing oneself to others, it's about trial and error; so no, I am not planning on being "better" at this than anyone else. $\endgroup$
    – CJL
    Oct 27 '20 at 18:14

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