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Introduction to Plasma Technology

Cold gas plasma is a powerful tool allowing customized molecular re-engineering of materials to impart unique surface properties, without affecting the bulk properties. The effect of plasma on a material is determined by the chemistry of the reactions between the surface and the reactive species present in the process gas employed. A multitude of gases can be used. Each gas produces a unique plasma composition resulting in different surface properties. Liquids may also be introduced as vapors, expanding by many orders of magnitude the potential for unique surface alterations and coatings. Please click here for process examples.

Cold gas plasma modifications are achieved via a vacuum process. The components to be treated are placed in a vacuum chamber with air removed via a vacuum pump to base pressures on average from 35 to 100 mtorr. Process gas(es) are introduced into the chamber and allowed to reach equilibrium, typically from 100 to 500 mtorr.

Radio-frequency energy supplied to electrodes within the chamber excites the gas(es) into plasma. Plasma, the 4th state of matter, is a gas comprised of modest concentrations of electrons, ions, as well as other excited meta-stables. These excited species have sufficient energy to rupture chemical bonds of the component (substrate). These ruptured bonds are thermodynamically unstable and reach out into the plasma to combine with gas fragments to normalize its energy, thereby molecularly re-engineering the surface of the material placed into the plasma.

Treatment Chamber Window. Plasma Treatment in Action.

The processes are low energy and the species created have little penetrating energy, thus the modification is limited to the surface typically no deeper than a few molecular layers. Ultra-thin temperature sensitive materials can be easily modified in cold gas plasma without deteriorating the bulk properties of the material being treated. As practiced in non-semiconductor applications, cold gas plasma is recognized as both a worker and workplace safe clean air technology.

Plasma Process Applications
Atomic level cleaning
Surface preparation to include removal of organic contaminants
Removal of organic contaminants such as:
    Finger oils
    Silicone oils
    Parylene deposits
    Solder flux
    Carbon soot
    Machining fluids
    Mold release agents
Plasmas containing simple non-carbon containing gases are used to break surface layer molecular bonds leading to an altered surface chemistry, depending on the process gas.
Hydroxyl, Carboxylic, Carbonyl, Amine (1°, 2°, 3°), Vinyl, Glycidyl, and Thio functionalities
Functional sites for subsequent attachment of cells, proteins, drugs, bio-conjugated polymers
Adhesion enhancement
PECVD (Plasma Enhanced Chemical Vapor Deposition)
Carbon containing gases, under the influence of a plasma, can be deposited to create unique surface coatings.
Polymerized hydrocarbon coatings
Fluoropolymer coatings
Chemical barrier and scratch resistant coatings
Glass-like surfaces
Dry lubricous surfaces
Barrier coatings
Stability of surface molecules to prevent rotation
Grafting can also be accomplished when introducing species in a non-powered step to allow attachment of molecules

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