Plasma Display

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How does a plasma display work?

Experimentation with a plasma display intended for a PLATO Terminal

Today, the plasma display can be seen in many modern televisions, but the technology was originally invented by Donald Bitzer and a team at the University of Illinois in 1964. In fact, early touchscreen plasma displays were used in PLATO computer terminals.

(video from YouTube originally from a Discovery Channel show)

The video above shows how plasma screen TVs function and how they are produced. The PLATO plasma displays were much simpler than this, being able to display only a single color (instead of 1 million), but the underlying technology is the same. Below you can see a PLATO V terminal showing the distinctive and highly visible orange glow.


– Thomas M. Siebel Center for Computer Science. PLATO Computer Learning System display located in the central hallway on the first floor.

– Mechanical Engineering Laboratory. Historical Marker located on the northeast corner.


If you want a more technical explanation for how a plasma display works, check out this excellent article.

Finally, here is a video of Donald Bitzer himself discussing the creation of the plasma display.


File:Platovterm1981.jpg. (2018, January 27). Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. Retrieved 16:17, April 20, 2018 from Image by Mtnman79,  “The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland PLATO V terminal showing RankTrek application” Image from April 1981, Creative Commons Attribution license.

PLATO Plasma Panel. (1966). H. Gene Slottow Papers, 1942-89. Record Series 11/6/29, Box 1, Photographs. University of Illinois Archives.

Prasad Jain. (2009, Oct. 7). plasma tv how it works [Video File]. Retrieved from