How Microwaving Grapes Makes Plasma

almost eight years ago when this channel
was fresh and before I had gray hairs in my beard in fact before I had a beard I
made a video showing that if you take a grape and cut it almost completely in
half and put it in the microwave you can make some plasma but the explanation we
had in that video was lacking this was me and my friend Dr. Stephen Bosi a
fellow physicist so you should look forward to that on another episode of
veritasium to be honest nobody really knew how this effect worked that is
until now as of the publication of this video three scientists have published an
explanation in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
they studied this effect with high-speed cameras thermal cameras electromagnetic
modeling and they came up with an explanation that I think is pretty
satisfying and it extends way beyond just microwave great plasma so naturally
I called up these scientists yeah actually saw your video before that your
videos before joining the grape project oh really
that’s why I was like already kind of like interested before joining the
project the scientists showed you don’t even need to use a grape you can get the
same effect with hydrogel water beads these are those tiny polymer beads which
when you soak in water they increase in volume like 100 times to understand how microwaving a grape
gives you plasma we first need to know a few things like a typical household
microwave uses a frequency of electromagnetic radiation at about two
point four five gigahertz that means that the wavelength of microwaves inside
the oven is about twelve centimeters long. now if you’ve ever studied
electromagnetic radiation you might have the intuition that interesting things
start to happen when the object or obstacle is around the same size as the
wavelength which a grape certainly is not it’s not twelve centimeters but the
important quantity is how big is the wavelength inside the object inside the
grape twelve centimeters in air but the like index of refraction of grape
material must be close to like one point three three or something right like at
visible wavelengths it is a lot lower but in the microwave regime the index of
refraction is a almost 10 so you have a much higher index of refraction so
microwaves are traveling you know like ten times slower through the grape than
they are through yet air yes and that means that the wavelength is a tenth its
size through air so instead of twelve centimeters it’s about 1.2 centimeters
right about the size of a grape now if you take a single grape and place it
inside the microwave don’t cut it in half what you find is that the
microwaves actually become trapped inside the grape and that’s because of
its high refractive index and its size because turns out that when you have
like a ball where approximately the diameter is roughly the same as the wavelength
of the microwaves in the material. It actually turns out that it can be trapped
in there so that it interacts its kind… it’s kind of it bounces at the borders
of the of the ball and it can’t get out is it like total internal reflection? yes
pretty much wow that’s interesting I hadn’t thought of it that way
so the microwaves become trapped inside the grape and they actually form these
resonant modes you can think of them as standing waves just ways in which the
electromagnetic fields like to oscillate inside a grape such that the
maximum electromagnetic field is actually in the center of the grape when
you put in the microwave you see that it heats up not from the outside in like
you would expect if it was just absorbing the microwaves but rather from
the inside out. if you add a second grape to the microwave you see that the same
thing happens the microwaves get trapped in the second grape too- and the amplitude
is highest in the very center of the grape and so the heating occurs most of
all of there. but if you move these two grapes close together so they’re closer
than say a wavelength well then you can start to get interactions between the
electromagnetic fields in the one grape and in the other and in fact if you get
the grapes touching then the greatest electromagnetic field actually occurs at
that contact point between the two grapes and so that is where you’re gonna
get the greatest oscillating electromagnetic fields and that is where
those grapes are going to get hottest it’s also interesting that you don’t
need to cut the grapes in half. two grapes placed side-by-side will make
this effect work as long as they stay in contact. but that’s why in a lot of the
videos you see there’s a watch glass so the reason the watch glass is
there is to keep the grapes together now with the very strong electromagnetic
fields at the intersection of the two grapes what you can get is some sparks
some breakdown of air that is the electric fields are strong enough that
they ionize the air creating those Sparks and that is what leads to the
plasma it creates these ions which can then receive more energy from the
microwaves. you can see it here pulsing at 120 Hertz that’s twice the 60 Hertz
frequency of mains power which reflects the fact that the amplitude of the
microwaves is pulsing twice every cycle and what is that plasma made of? well the
scientists looked at the spectrum of the plasma from a grape and they found that
there’s a strong potassium emission line and also a sodium emission line so it
seems like those ions must be pretty common in the grape and when the plasma
gets formed as those ions which are sprayed up into the air and that is what
we’re seeing who needs drugs?! now the size of the
grapes is important which is something I of course suspected because you don’t
see this happening with too many other squishy fruits but you don’t have to get
them the exact right size and this is because water absorbs microwaves so the
scientists did some modeling of this and if you had a material inside the grape
that did not absorb microwaves then what you would see is at certain particular
sizes you get extreme amplification of the electromagnetic fields it’s
basically one size that you’d have to hit to get the amplification but made of
an absorbent material like water this broadens out the peaks so you get less
amplification of the field but over a broader range of sizes this is why a lot
of grapes will work even if the sizes vary. so in terms of like applications of
this research what do you think I mean obviously people like me are excited and
because this is a fun trick but but beyond that what do you think in terms
of like applications of this? the main limit in fabricating microchips right
now and going smaller and smaller is the lithography so how to make these very
small features. this phenomenon shows that two spheres of the right size and
refractive index can focus electromagnetic energy down to a tiny
spot in between them in this case down to around a millimeter from radiation
with a 12 centimeter wave length if similar focusing could be achieved with
light it would provide a significant improvement over current lithography
techniques. So if we could somehow harness this to do this lithography to be able
to maybe write things very small you could actually use light to to make
really small features you could do like every two nanometers marks spot
with about 2 nanometers resolution – it would help help continue this like Moore’s Law yes
it would help continue Moore’s Law like putting much more small things in a single
chip so I’m glad I was finally able to explain how this effect works did you
enjoy it do you feel like you get it any questions
put them in the comments below also I really like this video that I made this
is my previous video and so if you haven’t seen it go check it out
I’ll also put a link to the original grape video which is maybe not that good
cuz it was eight years ago but anyway thanks for watching

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