Capillary-tube-based oxygen/argon micro-plasma system for the inactivation of bacteria suspended in aqueous solution

Int J Radiat Biol. 2011 Sep;87(9):936-43. doi: 10.3109/09553002.2011.577503. Epub 2011 May 19.


Purpose: An aqueous solution containing Escherichia coli can be completely inactivated within a short treatment time using a capillary-tube-based oxygen/argon micro-plasma source.

Materials and methods: A capillary-tube-based oxygen/argon micro-plasma system with a hollow inner electrode was ignited by a 13.56 MHz radio frequency power supply with a matching network and characterised by optical emission spectroscopy. An aqueous solution containing E. coli was then treated at various the working distances, plasma exposure durations, and oxygen ratios in argon micro-plasma. The treated bacteria were then assessed and qualitatively investigated. The morphologies of treated bacteria were examined using a scanning electron microscope (SEM).

Results: In the proposed oxygen/argon micro-plasma system, the intensities of the main emission lines of the excited species, nitric oxide (NO), hydrated oxide (OH), argon (Ar), and atomic oxygen (O), fluctuated with the addition of oxygen to argon micro-plasma. Under a steady state of micro-plasma generation, the complete inactivation of E. coli in aqueous solution was achieved within 90 s of argon micro-plasma exposure time with a working distance of 3 mm. SEM micrographs reveal obvious morphological damage to the treated E. coli. The addition of oxygen to argon micro-plasma increased the variety of O-containing excited species. At a given supply power, the relative intensities of the excited species, NO and OH, correlated with the ultraviolet (UV) intensity, decreased.

Conclusion: For the proposed capillary-tube-based micro-plasma system with a hollow inner electrode, the oxygen/argon micro-plasma source is efficient in inactivating E. coli in aqueous solution. The treatment time required for the inactivation process decreases with decreasing working distance or the increasing synthesised effect of reactive species and UV intensity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Argon / chemistry*
  • Electrodes
  • Equipment Design
  • Escherichia coli / physiology*
  • Escherichia coli / ultrastructure
  • Microbial Viability*
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Oxygen / chemistry*
  • Plasma Gases / chemistry*
  • Solutions
  • Sterilization / instrumentation*
  • Surface Properties
  • Suspensions
  • Water / chemistry*


  • Plasma Gases
  • Solutions
  • Suspensions
  • Water
  • Argon
  • Oxygen