The generation of air-based plasmas under atmospheric plasma conditions was studied to assess their antimicrobial efficacy against commonly found pathogenic bacteria. The mixture of initial gases supplied to the plasma was found to be critical for the formation of bactericidal actives. The optimal gas ratio for bactericidal effect was determined to be 99% nitrogen and 1% oxygen, which led to a 99.999% reduction of a pathogenic strain of Escherichia coli on stainless steel surfaces. The experimental substrate, soil load on the substrate, flow rate of the gases, and addition of ethanol vapor all were found to affect antimicrobial efficacy of studied plasmas. Optical emission spectroscopy was used to identify the species that were present in the plasma bulk phase for multiple concentrations of nitrogen and oxygen ratios. The collected spectra indicate a unique series of bands present in the ultraviolet region of the electromagnetic spectrum that can be attributed to nitric oxide species known to be highly antimicrobial. This intense spectral profile dramatically changes as the concentration of nitrogen decreases.
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