Kinematic Self-Replicating Machines

© 2004 Robert A. Freitas Jr. and Ralph C. Merkle. All Rights Reserved.

Robert A. Freitas Jr., Ralph C. Merkle, Kinematic Self-Replicating Machines, Landes Bioscience, Georgetown, TX, 2004.


3.27 Lozneanu-Sanduloviciu Plasma Cell Replicators (2003)

According to a report from New Scientist [1309], Lozneanu and Sanduloviciu [1310] at Cuza University in Romania have created spheres of gaseous plasma that can grow, replicate and communicate, thus “fulfilling most of the traditional requirements for biological cells” although without inherited material they cannot be described as alive. The physicists studied environmental conditions similar to those that might have existed on the primordial Earth when the planet was enveloped in electric storms that allowed ionized plasmas to form in the atmosphere. Two electrodes were inserted into a chamber containing a low-temperature argon plasma of argon. After a high voltage was applied to the electrodes, the resultant electrical arc passing through the gap between the electrodes caused a high concentration of ions and electrons to accumulate at the positively charged electrode which spontaneously formed spheres having a boundary made up of two layers – an outer layer of negatively charged electrons and an inner layer of positively charged ions, with an inner nucleus of gas atoms trapped inside the boundary. The researchers grew spheres from a few microns up to three centimeters in diameter, with the cell-like self-organization occurring in a few microseconds and the amount of energy in the initial spark governing cell size and lifespan.

A distinct boundary layer that confines and separates an object from its environment is one of the main criteria customarily used to define living cells, so Lozneanu and Sanduloviciu examined whether their plasma cells could meet the other criteria for “life”, i.e., the ability to replicate, to communicate information, and to metabolize and grow. They found that the spheres could replicate via binary fission, and also could grow larger under the right conditions, taking up neutral argon atoms and splitting them into ions and electrons to replenish their boundary layers. Finally, the plasma cells could communicate information by emitting electromagnetic energy, making the atoms within other spheres vibrate at a particular frequency. The plasma spheres are evidently the first “gaseous cell” self-organizing systems to meet all of these requirements.

The possibility of self-replicating plasma balls and gas clouds has a long history in science fiction [1311], and the idea of self-replicating stars [268] in conventional astrophysics has already been mentioned in Chapter 1.


Last updated on 1 August 2005