Plasma sterilization offers a faster, less toxic and versatile alternative to conventional sterilization methods. Using a relatively small, low temperature, atmospheric, dielectric barrier discharge surface plasma generator, we achieved >/=6 log reduction in concentration of vegetative bacterial and yeast cells within 4 minutes and >/=6 log reduction of Geobacillus stearothermophilus spores within 20 minutes. Plasma sterilization is influenced by a wide variety of factors. Two factors studied in this particular paper are the effect of using different dielectric substrates and the significance of the amount of liquid on the dielectric surface. Of the two dielectric substrates tested (FR4 and semi-ceramic (SC)), it is noted that the FR4 is more efficient in terms of time taken for complete inactivation. FR4 is more efficient at generating plasma as shown by the intensity of spectral peaks, amount of ozone generated, the power used and the speed of killing vegetative cells. The surface temperature during plasma generation is also higher in the case of FR4. An inoculated FR4 or SC device produces less ozone than the respective clean devices. Temperature studies show that the surface temperatures reached during plasma generation are in the range of 30 degrees C-66 degrees C (for FR4) and 20 degrees C-49 degrees C (for SC). Surface temperatures during plasma generation of inoculated devices are lower than the corresponding temperatures of clean devices. pH studies indicate a slight reduction in pH value due to plasma generation, which implies that while temperature and acidification may play a minor role in DBD plasma sterilization, the presence of the liquid on the dielectric surface hampers sterilization and as the liquid evaporates, sterilization improves.
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