Gas vs. Plasma

What's the Difference?

Gas and plasma are both states of matter, but they have distinct differences. Gas is a state of matter in which particles move freely and independently, filling the entire space available to them. It has no definite shape or volume and can be compressed easily. On the other hand, plasma is a highly ionized gas consisting of charged particles. It is often referred to as the fourth state of matter and is characterized by its ability to conduct electricity. Unlike gas, plasma has unique properties such as the ability to generate magnetic fields and emit light. Additionally, plasma is commonly found in stars and lightning, while gas is more commonly found in our everyday environment.


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State of MatterGasPlasma
CompositionMade up of atoms or moleculesMade up of ions and free electrons
ShapeNo definite shape, takes the shape of the containerNo definite shape, takes the shape of the container
VolumeExpands to fill the entire containerExpands to fill the entire container
Intermolecular ForcesWeak intermolecular forcesNo intermolecular forces
ConductivityLow electrical conductivityHigh electrical conductivity
Response to Electric and Magnetic FieldsDoes not respond to electric and magnetic fieldsResponds to electric and magnetic fields
Energy LevelsAtoms or molecules have discrete energy levelsIons and free electrons have continuous energy levels
TemperatureExists at various temperaturesExists at high temperatures
ExamplesAir, oxygen, nitrogenStars, lightning, fluorescent lights
Photo by Lavi Perchik on Unsplash

Further Detail


Gas and plasma are two states of matter that exhibit distinct properties and behaviors. While both are composed of atoms or molecules, they differ in terms of their physical characteristics, behavior under certain conditions, and applications in various fields. In this article, we will explore the attributes of gas and plasma, highlighting their unique features and discussing their significance in different contexts.

Physical Characteristics

Gas is a state of matter that lacks a definite shape or volume. Its particles are in constant random motion, colliding with each other and the walls of their container. Gases can be compressed and expanded easily, allowing them to fill any available space. Examples of gases include oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide.

On the other hand, plasma is an ionized gas that consists of positively and negatively charged particles. It is often referred to as the fourth state of matter. Plasma is formed when gas is heated to extremely high temperatures or exposed to strong electromagnetic fields. Unlike gas, plasma can conduct electricity and respond to magnetic fields. Examples of plasma include lightning, the Sun, and fluorescent lights.

Behavior and Interactions

Gases follow the principles of gas laws, such as Boyle's law, Charles's law, and the ideal gas law. These laws describe the relationship between pressure, volume, temperature, and the number of gas particles. Gases diffuse and mix readily with other gases, spreading out to fill the available space. They also exert pressure on their surroundings, which can be measured using devices like barometers and manometers.

Plasma, on the other hand, behaves differently due to the presence of charged particles. It can generate and respond to electromagnetic fields, making it highly interactive. Plasma can exhibit complex behaviors such as self-organization, turbulence, and the formation of structures like filaments and double layers. These unique properties make plasma an essential component in fields like astrophysics, fusion research, and plasma-based technologies.

Temperature and Energy

Gases can exist at a wide range of temperatures, from extremely low temperatures where they condense into liquids or solids, to high temperatures where they become ionized and form plasma. The kinetic energy of gas particles increases with temperature, leading to faster and more energetic motion. This energy is responsible for the pressure exerted by gases and their ability to expand and contract.

Plasma, on the other hand, is typically formed at very high temperatures. The energy required to ionize gas particles and create plasma can come from various sources, such as heat, electric fields, or intense radiation. Once formed, plasma can sustain its high temperature due to the continuous collisions and interactions between charged particles. This ability to maintain high energy levels makes plasma useful in applications like fusion reactors and plasma cutting.


Gases find numerous applications in our daily lives and various industries. For instance, oxygen and nitrogen gases are used in medical settings for respiratory support and cryopreservation, respectively. Carbon dioxide gas is employed in carbonation processes for beverages, fire extinguishers, and as a coolant in certain applications. Gases are also crucial in industrial processes such as welding, chemical synthesis, and power generation.

Plasma, with its unique properties, has a wide range of applications across different fields. In astrophysics, plasma plays a vital role in understanding the behavior of stars, galaxies, and interstellar medium. Plasma-based technologies, such as plasma TVs, fluorescent lights, and plasma etching in microelectronics, have revolutionized various industries. Plasma is also being extensively researched for its potential in controlled fusion reactions, which could provide a clean and abundant source of energy in the future.


In conclusion, gas and plasma are two distinct states of matter with their own set of attributes and behaviors. While gas lacks a definite shape or volume and follows gas laws, plasma is an ionized gas that can conduct electricity and respond to electromagnetic fields. Gases are versatile and find applications in various industries, while plasma's unique properties make it essential in fields like astrophysics, fusion research, and plasma-based technologies. Understanding the characteristics of gas and plasma allows us to harness their potential and explore new frontiers in science and technology.

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