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A plasma display is made up of many thousands of gas-filled cells that are sandwiched in between two glass plates, two sets of electrodes, dielectric material, and protective layers.  The address electrodes are arranged vertically between the rear glass plate and a protective layer.  This structure sits behind the cells in the rear of the display, with the protective layer in direct contact with the cells.  On the front side of the display there are horizontal display electrodes that sit in between a magnesium-oxide (MgO) protective layer and an insulating dielectric layer.  The MgO layer is in direct contact with the cells and the dielectric layer is in direct contact with the front glass plate.  The horizontal and vertical electrodes form a grid from which each individual cell can be accessed.  Each individual cell is walled off from surrounding cells so that activity in one cell does not affect another.  The cell structure is similar to a honeycomb structure except with rectangular cells.


The plasma display panel was invented at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign by Donald L. Bitzer, H. Gene Slottow, and graduate student Robert Willson in 1964 for the PLATO Computer System. The original monochrome (usually orange or green, sometimes yellow) panels enjoyed a surge of popularity in the early 1970s because the displays were rugged and needed neither memory nor circuitry to refresh the images. A long period of sales decline followed in the late 1970s as semiconductor memory made CRT displays cheaper than plasma displays. Nonetheless, plasma's relatively large screen size and thin profile made the displays attractive for high-profile placement such as lobbies and stock exchanges.

In 1983, IBM introduced a 19-inch orange-on-black monochrome display (model 3290 'information panel') which was able to show four simultaneous IBM 3270 virtual machine (VM) terminal sessions. That factory was transferred in 1987 to startup company Plasmaco, which Dr. Larry F. Weber, one of Dr. Bitzer's students, founded with Stephen Globus, and James Kehoe, who was the IBM plant manager. In 1992, Fujitsu introduced the world's first 21-inch full-color display. It was a hybrid, based upon the plasma display created at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and NHK STRL, achieving superior brightness. In 1996, Matsushita Electrical Industries (Panasonic) purchased Plasmaco, its color AC technology, and its American factory. In 1997, Pioneer started selling the first plasma television to the public. In popular culture plasma televisions are often seen around the home and are being introduced thinner and in greater sizes, in order to try and compete with projector screens.