Alexander Fridman Earns Plasma Field’s Highest Honor

Dr. Alexander Fridman, the John A. Nyheim Chair Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Mechanics and a pioneer of plasma technology, has been awarded the 2019 Plasma Chemistry Award from the International Plasma Chemistry Society (IPCS). The award is the most prestigious offered in the field of plasma chemistry, and is based on lifetime achievement. It is bestowed every other year.

Fridman will be honored during a ceremony at the 24th International Symposium on Plasma Chemistry to be held in Naples, Italy in June. The award has celebrated a leader in the field biannually since 1995.

Alexander Fridman
Dr. Alexander Fridman

“I am delighted to announce, on behalf of the Board of Directors of the IPCS, that the recipient of the 2019 Plasma Chemistry Award will be Professor Alexander Fridman of Drexel University,” said IPCS President Tony Murphy in a recent announcement.

“Professor Fridman is very well known in our community, having published over 1,000 papers and eight books, including Plasma Chemistry,” Murphy added. “He has worked on a very wide range of topics related to plasma chemistry, including plasma medicine, gas processing and production, plasma-surface interactions and deposition, physics and engineering of gas discharges, and kinetics of non-equilibrium systems.”

Fridman, director of the C. and J. Nyheim Plasma Institute at Drexel, joins the cadre of 12 distinguished scientists who have received the award before him. Among them are Emil Pfender, a founder of thermal plasma engineering, who won the award in 1995; Pierre Fauchais (2001) and Maher Boulos (2015), key creators of plasma coating; Charles Kruger, a pioneer of synthetic diamonds (2003); Ricardo d’Agostino (2007) and Michel Wertheimer (2013), fathers of plasma polymers; and Kunihide Tachibana (2011) and Mark Kushner (2017), world leaders in plasma microelectronics.

“I was very, very, very, very happy,” said Fridman of the award. “It is exciting and honorable for me that I’m together with such people who created modern electronics to build computers, cell phones, TVs, synthetic diamonds, metamaterials, the hardest-ever coatings—all of those technologies that inform life in the 21st century. It was a pleasant surprise that they selected me for the award when so many people have been considered.”

Fridman is a pioneer in the field of plasma science and engineering, which he has been studying since 1972 when he was at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology and Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy. He came to Drexel in 2002 from a plasma research institute at the University of Illinois to establish the laboratory that would eventually become the Nyheim Institute. Today, Drexel’s Institute is an internationally recognized research program in plasma science and engineering, and the leading plasma science center in the United States.

Nyheim is also the birthplace of a novel and promising branch of biomedical engineering, plasma medicine. Noting that he has been dubbed in the press a padre fondatore—founding father—of plasma medicine, Fridman said, “I may be a founding father, but we are just making plasma-medical devices. It is the medical doctor who has to work with what we build. We are doing the physical science and engineering. Success of plasma medicine crucially depends today on the contributions of biologists and medical doctors, who right now apply our devices to heal diseases not effectively treated before, including diabetic ulcers and even cancer.”

Fridman is also an expert in the field of industrial applications of plasma, and transferring technologies to the industrial scale.

The Nyheim Institute comprises five laboratories currently housed because of space demands in Camden, NJ. The largest of the labs focuses on plasma energy systems. Then follows the laboratory in plasma water treatment and environmental control; plasma for electronics and materials treatment; plasma for agriculture and food processing; and lastly, space plasmas.
Over the years, the Institute has collaborated with companies and industry leaders such as Chevron, Applied Materials, ENEL, Siemens, LAM, Air Products, Air Liquid, DuPont, Johnson & Johnson, Kodak, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Campbell Soup, and many others.

Fridman’s master work, Plasma Chemistry, is considered by many to be the fundamental introduction to the chemistry of plasma science. It covers the major applications from electronics to thermal coatings, treatment of polymers to fuel conversion and hydrogen production, and plasma metallurgy to plasma medicine. It was published by Cambridge University Press in 2008, and updated in 2012.

“The public in this country does not really have enough knowledge of plasma,” said Fridman when asked for a working definition of the low-temperature ionized gas generally referred to as a fourth state of matter.

“When you see light and it isn’t Edison lamps, it’s plasma. The best example in nature is lightning. That’s plasma. Turn on your computer screen. What is the source of that light? That’s plasma. Plasma has a range of science applications in engineering, huge ones. It is all those technologies that are related to electronics – cell phones, lights, plasma screens on your computer and TV, and fluorescent lights.

“The technology that enables all these things today is plasma. When we are making computers, cell phones, televisions—about 95% of that technology is plasma technology.”

Fridman’s leadership at Nyheim also paved the way for the creation last year of the Center for High Pressure Plasma Energy, Agriculture and Biomedical Technologies with startup funding from the National Science Foundation. The Center is a vaunted industry/university cooperative research entity between Drexel, The George Washington University, and The University of Michigan. With a deeper understanding of plasma systems and how they interact with their environment, researchers at the Center will expand the use of low-temperature plasmas for applications in food processing, agriculture, fuel conversion, medical and industrial wastewater treatment, and other areas.

Gregory Fridman, co-director of Plasma BioMedicine Laboratory in the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems, a colleague at the Institute and Dr. Fridman’s son, said he was thrilled. “It is the highest honor that can be bestowed on a person in our field,” he said. “Looking at the list of recipients … Emil Pfender in 1995 was the first one ever. I have studied every single paper by that guy. These are the most accomplished people within our branch of science.”

Michael Keidar, the A. James Clark Professor of Engineering at The George Washington University, another colleague, stressed how deserving Fridman is of the award. “He is regarded as one of the founders of plasma medicine,” said Keidar. “His scientific contribution and service to the community as organizer of many international conferences has also significantly raised Drexel University’s profile.”