The frequency I see all the time is 13.56mhz,I understand that when you want to make heat treatment surface finish on steel,you use high frequency in the heating coil so the skin effect heats only the surface,but I have no idea why it would be frequency of choice for turning gases like argon into plasma.

Why people use 13mhz to turn gases into plasma? What effect does the frequency have in this process? What would happen if we lower or increase the frequency in the coil? Does 13mhz somehow turn the gas into plasma faster or more efficiently?

  • $\begingroup$ because the fcc has allowed this frequency for industrial use. $\endgroup$
    – hyportnex
    Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 14:02
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ but why its in the megahertz range? why not 60hz? or 10000hz? $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 16:55
  • $\begingroup$ Because when the ism band was allocated by the fcc that frequency was available. The same reason is for the 2.4GHz and all the other such usage. No physics, just pure politics and availability by being reasonably far from other radio bands so its emissions can be filtered and tolerated. $\endgroup$
    – hyportnex
    Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 17:40
  • $\begingroup$ you want to tell me they decided to use 13560000hz instead of 60hz becose of radio band? $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 21, 2016 at 12:08
  • $\begingroup$ i said nothing about 60Hz or 10kHz, your original question was on the hf band, and what i said was that 13.5MHz instead of say some other rf frequency such as 16.28965MHz or some such in the hf band because engineering and political availability. that 13.5mhz ism frequency will stay with us for a long time and for many uses including all kind of plasma heating irrespective of whether it is the most efficient frequency to heat or not. there are other ism bands and you are welcome to use those to heat a plasma if you can. $\endgroup$
    – hyportnex
    Commented Dec 21, 2016 at 14:36

2 Answers 2


Some ICP systems do use lower frequencies, down to about 500 Khz - and I recall seeing some systems operating in the sub-100 KHz range. In fact, lower-frequency drivers have a few advantages; the paper

Xu, S., et al. "Low-frequency, high-density, inductively coupled plasma sources: Operation and applications." Physics of Plasmas 8.5 (2001): 2549-2557.

has a good introduction to the effects of different exciter frequencies.

Miniature ICP systems running at 50+ MHz are also seen in the literature.

Insofar as I've seen, the main rationale for 13.56 MHz specifically boils down to availability of off-the-shelf high-power generators and matching networks in the ISM bands.

2.4 GHz plasmas are also common; plasma lamps are a striking (ha!) example of this. This seems to come down to a matter of terminology; microwave coupling effects behave somewhat differently than a simple LC-tank, so "RF-excited" makes a bit more sense than "inductively-coupled".

I don't know nearly enough plasma physics to say why 13.56 MHz is more common than 27 MHz, however.

60Hz plasmas aren't really possible, as you need the electric field induced by the alternating magnetic field to be sufficient to ionize the gas.

The book Fundamentals of Electric Propulsion (pdf warning) discusses this at length in section 4.5.


Plasma frequency is the natural frequency a plasma's density changes at on the mesoscale.

I believe that this intro to fusion tech gives a good explanation of the plasma frequency in the first chapter, but a relevant wiki article is plasma oscillations. The equations look like they give frequencies matching the one you described (presumably megahertz, not milli?)


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