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Nuclear and Plasma Sciences Society Presents Its Highest Award to Mounir Laroussi

Mounir Laroussi, professor of electrical and computer engineering and director of the Laser and Plasma Engineering Institute in Old Dominion University's Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology, has received a prestigious honor from the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE).

Laroussi was selected in March to receive the Merit Award of the Nuclear and Plasma Sciences Society (NPSS) of IEEE. It's the highest honor the NPSS bestows each year, to recognize leadership and outstanding technical contributions in the fields of nuclear and plasma sciences.

Specifically, Laroussi was recognized for his "ongoing exceptional contributions to the biomedical applications of plasmas," Jane Lehr, chair of the 2012 NPSS awards committee, wrote to ODU Vice President for Research Mohammad Karim in announcing the award.

"The (awards committee) cited (Laroussi's) exceptional pioneering leadership in harnessing the unique attributes of 'cold' plasmas to a variety of biological and medical needs, such as bacterial sterilization and selective cancer cell destruction. Researchers from all over the world seek him out for his insights into this complex field," Lehr said.

The Merit Award plaque, certificate and cash prize will be presented to Laroussi at a future IEEE NPSS meeting.

Laroussi is best known for the plasma pencil he invented, which shoots out a several-inch-long plume of cold plasma. But he also has worked with larger cold plasma devices. One of Laroussi's early papers on the biological applications of cold plasmas, published in 1996, is considered the seminal publication that launched research in the field known today as plasma medicine.

Because of this and other contributions, last year at the International Conference on Plasma Medicine in Germany, Laroussi was one of three researchers worldwide to receive the inaugural International Society of Plasma Medicine Award. Also at that conference, Gayle McCombs, an ODU associate professor of dental hygiene, presented research she has done with Laroussi on plaque-fighting and teeth-cleaning applications of cold plasma.

Plasmas are a super-excited "soup" that have been called the fourth state of matter - quite different from solids, liquids and gases. Conventional plasmas are radically excited, existing in the cores of stars and in lightning. At normal atmospheric pressure they can be put to use in neon lights and television sets as long as they are contained in vacuums. These hot plasmas can certainly kill germs on vegetables, but they would also burn up the vegetables.

Cold plasmas are cool to the touch because only the very lightweight electrons in them are excited, and not the heavier nuclei. But for reasons not fully understood, these non-radical plasmas can kill or inactivate bacterial cells while not harming healthy cells. Experiments have shown them to be useful for sterilization, treatment of disease and wound healing. Laroussi's research today is focused on killing cancer cells using his cold plasma devices.

This article was posted on: April 18, 2012

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