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Physics/toxic byproducts


QUESTION: hello, theoretically i am trying to come up with a way to ionize air without the usual ozone and nitrus toxins. usually this is done by using relatively low voltages up to around 8kV so as to minimize the toxins to electrons ratio. this minimizes the toxins but also minimizes the ionization potential of the ionizer. but i had this idea that since a needle discharge ionizer has this limiting factor of the output having to be curbed at 8kV because of the toxic byproducts of air that i could just use a flow of helium near the point of the needle where the ionization happens. i thought of using a tube hooked up to a party balloon helium tank and the tube having just enough helium going out through it that a needle charged to any reasonable voltage (even beyond a 1MV) would not make any toxic gasses that are stable enough to travel any significant distance away from the ionizer needle. but the electrons from the negatively charged, very high voltage, needle would disperse in the air; thereby ionizing it. please tell me what you think of this experiment?
thank you,

ANSWER: You're essentially just changing the geometry with a buffer gas like helium.  The thing is, I'm not sure what you're trying to accomplish.   If you're ionizing air, you're ionizing air and you will create ozone and nitrous oxides.  That's the long and the short of it.  I hope you realize that.  I mean, you're ionizing oxygen and nitrogen...there's really no way around that at all.

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QUESTION: thank you, the aim is to introduce as many electrons into air as possible. i hope that by using the buffer gas of helium i can do this electron adding without the usual nitrogen and ozone toxins, as the helium (with the extra electrons) will be out and away from the plasma and in normal cold air by the time the electrons are released from it into the air. do you see how this could work? the ozone and nitrogen species can only form in plasma. what do you think? all it is, is a way to breach the 8kV barrier (beyond which the toxins are created) and have the needle give off magnitudes more electrons as the voltage is magnitudes higher.
thank you,

ANSWER: No, there's really no way to ionize air to a significant level without causing it to be reactive.  That's just the nature of ions, the electromagnetic force is incredibly powerful.  If you go cranking up voltage around air, there will be a change in voltage as you go through any buffer gas you use.  The thing is, I'm still mystified as to what this is actually for.  I could probably help far better if I knew.  I'm not sure at all why you're saying that at 8kV you create toxins from the air (that would be specific to a particular geometry, I can turn a Van de Graaf up to 10's of thousands of volts if the top conductor is big enough and smooth enough without significant discharge).  You can create ozone with way less than 8kV, the voltage doesn't matter as much as the field strength for dielectric breakdown.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: thank you, so simply, i am just trying to create a way to put as many electrons into (enclosed) air as possible; without the nitrogen and oxygen toxins.
with a needle ionizer, after ~8kV the toxins become an issue. if the needle is in (He) than would the toxins be minimized, because the (He) jet would carry the electrons out of the plasma and electric field and into the air. yielding negative ions of (O2) as the plasma disperses giving off the electrons to the electronegative (O2). what do you think?
thank you,

You're making assumptions of all sorts.  8kV is not some magic number for toxins to become an issue.  I can raise a sample of air in empty space with extra electrons to 80kV without that becoming an issue at all, so long as they're diffuse enough not to cause significant ionization.  The problem is, for enough electrons in a small enough volume, you're dealing with ions whether you want to or not.  You just have got the wrong conception of how this all works, you need to take more chemistry at the college level and definitely throw in a second semester physics course on top of that.  This concept is totally wrong from the get go.

The reason there's no straight answer to your question is that the question you're asking makes no sense to ask now.  When you put the electrons into the air you give it a voltage.  More ions = more voltage if you keep it in an enclosed space, there's just no two ways around that by carrying them there with a different method.


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Dr. Stephen O. Nelson


I can answer most basic physics questions, physics questions about science fiction and everyday observations of physics, etc. I'm also usually good for science fair advice (I'm the regional science fair director). I do not answer homework problems. I will occasionally point out where a homework solution went wrong, though. I'm usually good at explaining odd observations that seem counterintuitive, energy science, nuclear physics, nuclear astrophysics, and alternative theories of physics are my specialties.


I was a physics professor at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin, research in nuclear technology and nuclear astrophysics. My travelling science show saw over 20,000 students of all ages. I taught physics, nuclear chemistry, radiation safety, vacuum technology, and answer tons of questions as I tour schools encouraging students to consider careers in science. I moved on to a non-academic job with more research just recently.

Ph. D. from Duke University in physics, research in nuclear astrophysics reactions, gamma-ray astronomy technology, and advanced nuclear reactors.

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