The wand developed by an ODU professor looks like a flame, but it isn’t hot. Scientists have so far used it to kill E. coli.

Physicist Mounir Laroussi walks quickly through the gray, empty space that greets him when the elevators open to the Frank Reidy Research Center for Bioelectrics on Southampton Avenue.

He enters a hall and unlocks a wooden door to his lab. On a worktable lies a small, plastic wand that you might not have noticed in the midst of tall metal helium tanks, computers and assorted machines.

But the wand is the most interesting thing in the room.

Laroussi calls it the “plasma pencil.” Plasma is a substance made of energized atomic particles that’s created when gas is electrified. It’s considered the fourth state of matter besides solids, liquids and gases.

The pencil generates a “cold plasma,” which can be used to kill germs that contaminate surfaces, infect wounds and rot your teeth. In the future, it might be used to destroy tumors without damaging surrounding tissue. Laroussi, an associate professor at Old Dominion University, hopes the beam will soon find its way into doctors’ and dentists’ offices.

When he turns the pencil on, it blows a high pitched whistle as a glowing, blue-violet beam about 2 inches long instantly appears at one end. Stick your finger in its path and you only feel a cool breeze, but the beam is powerful enough to blast apart bacteria that’s crawling on your skin.

It’s like a mini blowtorch without the heat.

BY Joy Buchanan

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