Dan Singleton was a graduate student on a research project a few years ago, showing the U.S. Navy how a powerful new technology called "pulsed power" could help start up an aircraft carrier quickly, when it occurred to him that the same technology would apply to automobiles. Today, Singleton and his fellow researchers run Transient Plasma Systems, a Los Angeles company proposing an innovation in vehicle ignition that, after more than a century, would replace spark plugs. CEO Singleton, 38, explained the point of the new science to News Editor Lindsay Chappell. Here are edited excerpts.
Q: What is Transient Plasma proposing to do?
A: Spark ignition has been unchanged since the invention of the car. This is a new way of igniting the fuel.
How is it different?
In a regular spark ignition, you're igniting a fuel-air mixture with heat, and it takes some time to vibrate the molecules and get combustion going. Our technology is more like a lightning bolt. The chemistry is faster. You get a low-temperature plasma that can ignite mixtures that a spark just can't ignite.