In physics and chemistry, plasma (from Greek πλάσμα, "anything formed") is a state of matter similar to gas in which a certain portion of the particles is ionized. Heating a gas may ionize its molecules or atoms (reduce or increase the number of electrons in them), thus turning it into a plasma, which contains charged particles: positive ions and negative electrons or ions. Ionization can be induced by other means, such as strong electromagnetic field applied with a laser or microwave generator, and is accompanied by the dissociation of molecular bonds, if present.
The presence of a non-negligible number of charge carriers makes the plasma electrically conductive so that it responds strongly to electromagnetic fields. Plasma, therefore, has properties quite unlike those of solids, liquids, or gases and is considered a distinct state of matter. Like gas, plasma does not have a definite shape or a definite volume unless enclosed in a container; unlike gas, under the influence of a magnetic field, it may form structures such as filaments, beams and double layers. Some common plasmas are found in stars and neon signs. In the universe, plasma is the most common state of matter for ordinary matter, most of which is in the rarefied intergalactic plasma (particularly intracluster medium) and in stars. Much of the understanding of plasmas has come from the pursuit of controlled nuclear fusion and fusion power, for which plasma physics provides the scientific basis.
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