Cesium vapor thermionic converters are an attractive method of converting high-temperature heat directly to electricity, but theoretical descriptions of the systems have been difficult due to the multi-step ionization of Cs through inelastic electron–neutral collisions. This work presents particle-in-cell simulations of these converters, using a direct simulation Monte Carlo collision model to track 52 excited states of Cs. Here, these simulations show the dominant role of multi-step ionization, which also varies significantly based on both the applied voltage bias and pressure. The electron energy distribution functions are shown to be highly non-Maxwellian in the cases analyzed here. A comparison with previous approaches is presented, and large differences are found in ionization rates due especially to the fact that previous approaches have assumed Maxwellian electron distributions. Finally, an open question regarding the nature of the plasma sheaths in the obstructed regime is discussed. The one-dimensional simulations did not produce stable obstructed regime operation and thereby do not support the double-sheath hypothesis.
Single particle aerosol mass spectrometry (SPAMS), an analytical technique for measuring the size and composition of individual micron-scale particles, is capable of analyzing atmospheric pollutants and bioaerosols much more efficiently and with more detail than conventional methods which require the collection of particles onto filters for analysis in the laboratory. Despite SPAMS’ demonstrated capabilities, the primary mechanisms of ionization are not fully understood, which creates challenges in optimizing and interpreting SPAMS signals. In this paper, we present a well-stirred reactor model for the reactions involved with the laser-induced vaporization and ionization of an individual particle. The SPAMS conditions modeled in this paper include a 248 nm laser which is pulsed for 8 ns to vaporize and ionize each particle in vacuum. The ionization of 1 μm, spherical Al particles was studied by approximating them with a 0-dimensional plasma chemistry model. The primary mechanism of absorption of the 248 nm photons was pressure-broadened direct photoexcitation to Al(y2D). Atoms in this highly excited state then undergo superelastic collisions with electrons, heating the electrons and populating the lower energy excited states. We found that the primary ionization mechanism is electron impact ionization of various excited state Al atoms, especially Al(y2D). Because the gas expands rapidly into vacuum, its temperature decreases rapidly. The rate of three-body recombination (e- + e- + Al+ → Al + e-) increases at low temperature, and most of the electrons and ions produced recombine within several μs of the laser pulse. The importance of the direct photoexcitation indicates that the relative peak heights of different elements in SPAMS mass spectra may be sensitive to the available photoexcitation transitions. We also discuss the effects of laser intensity, particle diameter, and expansion dynamics.
Cathode-directed streamer evolution in near atmospheric air is modeled in 3D pin-to-plane geometries using a 3D kinetic Particle-In-Cell (PIC) code that simulates particle-particle collisions via the Direct Simulation Monte Carlo (DSMC) method. Due to the computational challenges associated with a complete 360° volumetric domain, a practical alternative was achieved using a wedge domain and a range of azimuthal angles was explored (5°, 15°, 30°, and 45°) to study possible effects on the streamer growth and propagation due to the finite wedge angle. A DC voltage of 6 kV is administered to a hemispherical anode of radius 100 μm, with a planar cathode held at ground potential, generating an over-volted state with an electric field of 4 MV/m across a 1500 μm gap. The domain is seeded with an initial ion and electron density of 1018 m-3 at 1 eV temperature confined to a spherical region of radius 100 μm centered at the tip of the anode. The air chemistry model  includes standard Townsend breakdown mechanisms (electron-neutral elastic, excitation, ionization, attachment, and detachment collision chemistry and secondary electron emission) as well as streamer mechanisms (photoionization and ion-neutral collisions) via tracking excited state neutrals which can then either quench via collisions or spontaneously emit a photon based on specific Einstein-A coefficients [2, 3]. In this work, positive streamer dynamics are formally quantified for each wedge angle in terms of electron velocity and density as temporal functions of coordinates r, Φ, and z. Applying a random plasma seed for each simulation, particles of interest are tracked with near femtosecond temporal resolution out to 1.4 ns and spatially binned. This process is repeated six times and results are averaged. Prior 2D studies have shown that the reduced electric field, E/n, can significantly impact streamer evolution . We extend the analysis to 3D wedge geometries, to limit computational costs, and examine the wedge angle’s effect on streamer branching, propagation, and velocity. Results indicate that the smallest wedge angle that produced an acceptably converged solution is 30°. The potential effects that a mesh, when under-resolved with respect to the Debye length, can impart on streamer dynamics and numerical heating were not investigated, and we explicitly state here that the smallest cell size was approximately 10 times the minimum λD in the streamer channel at late times. This constraint on cell size was the result of computational limitations on total mesh count.
Particle-in-cell simulations are used to study how neutral pressure influences plasma properties at the sheath edge. The high rate of ion–neutral collisions at pressures above several mTorr are found to cause a decrease in the ion velocity at the sheath edge (collisional Bohm criterion), a decrease in the edge-to-center density ratio (hl factor), and an increase in the sheath width and sheath potential drop. A comparison with existing analytic models generally indicates favorable agreement, but with some distinctions. One is that models for the hl factor need to be made consistent with the collisional Bohm criterion. With this and similar corrections, a comprehensive fluid-based model of the plasma boundary transition is constructed that compares well with the simulation results.
Brooks, William B.; Clark, Raimi C.; Young, Jacob K.; Hopkins, Matthew M.; Dickens, James D.; Neuber, Andreas N.
Surface flashover in vacuum imposes a substantial physical limit on modern, large-scale pulsed power. One of the ramifications is a minimum size requirement for new machines, which in itself becomes a hard barrier to the modernization and improvement of existing infrastructure. Pulsed power topologies require the physical mechanisms of both anode- and cathode-initiated flashover to be considered. Originally, the geometrical implications of field emission at the cathode triple junction (CTJ) motivated the usage of configurations that avoid electrons impinging on the insulating material. This will largely suppress the cathode-initiated flashover, which is best described by the secondary electron avalanche mechanism, gas desorption, and final breakdown in the desorbed gas. It depends on the cascade growth of a conducting plasma along the length of the insulator from the cathode. Mitigating the cathode-initiated flashover typically comes at the cost of a significant field enhancement at the anode triple junction (ATJ). In a typical implementation, the anode field may be three times higher than the cathode field for a given voltage, making the corresponding anode-initiated flashover much more common than otherwise. In the case of pulsed, anode-initiated flashover, experimental evidence suggests that charge is directly extracted from the insulator resulting in the insulator taking on a net positive charge advancing the anode potential. Furthermore, along with accompanying gas desorption from the surface, the potential will then propagate from the anode toward the cathode until the effective length of the gap is sufficiently reduced to support flashover. The underlying physical mechanisms of cathode- and anode-directed flashover are discussed in light of previously gathered experimental data and recent experiments with pulsed, high-gradient, anode-initiated flashover.
Plasma etching of semiconductors is an essential process in the production of microchips which enable nearly every aspect of modern life. Two frequencies of applied voltage are often used to provide control of both the ion fluxes and energy distribution.
Structural disorder causes materials’ surface electronic properties, e.g., work function ([Formula: see text]), to vary spatially, yet it is challenging to prove exact causal relationships to underlying ensemble disorder, e.g., roughness or granularity. For polycrystalline Pt, nanoscale resolution photoemission threshold mapping reveals a spatially varying [Formula: see text] eV over a distribution of (111) vicinal grain surfaces prepared by sputter deposition and annealing. With regard to field emission and related phenomena, e.g., vacuum arc initiation, a salient feature of the [Formula: see text] distribution is that it is skewed with a long tail to values down to 5.4 eV, i.e., far below the mean, which is exponentially impactful to field emission via the Fowler–Nordheim relation. We show that the [Formula: see text] spatial variation and distribution can be explained by ensemble variations of granular tilts and surface slopes via a Smoluchowski smoothing model wherein local [Formula: see text] variations result from spatially varying densities of electric dipole moments, intrinsic to atomic steps, that locally modify [Formula: see text]. Atomic step-terrace structure is confirmed with scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) at several locations on our surfaces, and prior works showed STM evidence for atomic step dipoles at various metal surfaces. From our model, we find an atomic step edge dipole [Formula: see text] D/edge atom, which is comparable to values reported in studies that utilized other methods and materials. Our results elucidate a connection between macroscopic [Formula: see text] and the nanostructure that may contribute to the spread of reported [Formula: see text] for Pt and other surfaces and may be useful toward more complete descriptions of polycrystalline metals in the models of field emission and other related vacuum electronics phenomena, e.g., arc initiation.
Particle-in-cell, direct simulation Monte Carlo simulations reveal that ion-acoustic instabilities excited in presheaths can cause significant ion heating. Ion-acoustic instabilities are excited by the ion flow toward a sheath when the neutral gas pressure is small enough and the electron temperature is large enough. A series of 1D simulations were conducted in which neutral plasma (electrons and ions) was uniformly sourced with an ion temperature of 0.026 eV and different electron temperatures (0.1 eV-50 eV). Ion heating was observed when the electron-to-ion temperature ratio exceeded the minimum value predicted by linear response theory to excite ion-acoustic instabilities at the sheath edge (T e / T i ≈ 28). When this threshold was exceeded, the temperature equilibration rate between ions and electrons rapidly increased near the sheath so that the local temperature ratio did not significantly exceed the threshold for instability. This resulted in significant ion heating near the sheath edge, which also extended back into the bulk plasma; presumably due to wave reflection from the sheath. This ion-acoustic wave heating mechanism was found to decrease for higher neutral pressures, where ion-neutral collisions damp the ion-acoustic waves and ion heating is instead dominated by inelastic collisions in the presheath.
Understanding the role of physical processes contributing to breakdown is critical for many applications in which breakdown is undesirable, such as capacitors, and applications in which controlled breakdown is intended, such as plasma medicine, lightning protection, and materials processing. The electron emission from the cathode is a critical source of electrons which then undergo impact ionization to produce electrical breakdown. In this study, the role of secondary electron yields due to photons (γ ph) and ions (γ i) in direct current breakdown is investigated using a particle-in-cell direct simulation Monte Carlo model. The plasma studied is a one-dimensional discharge in 50 Torr of pure helium with a platinum cathode, gap size of 1.15 cm, and voltages of 1.2-1.8 kV. The current traces are compared with experimental measurements. Larger values of γ ph generally result in a faster breakdown, while larger values of γ i result in a larger maximum current. The 58.4 nm photons emitted from He(21P) are the primary source of electrons at the cathode before the cathode fall is developed. Of the values of γ ph and γ i investigated, those which provide the best agreement with the experimental current measurements are γ ph = 0.005 and γ i = 0.01. These values are significantly lower than those in the literature for pristine platinum or for a graphitic carbon film which we speculate may cover the platinum. This difference is in part due to the limitations of a one-dimensional model but may also indicate surface conditions and exposure to a plasma can have a significant effect on the secondary electron yields. The effects of applied voltage and the current produced by a UV diode which was used to initiate the discharge, are also discussed.
Abstract: This paper describes the verification and validation (V&V) framework developed for the stochastic Particle-in-Cell, Direct Simulation Monte Carlo code Aleph. An ideal framework for V&V from the viewpoint of the authors is described where a physics problem is defined, and relevant physics models and parameters to the defined problem are assessed and captured in a Phenomena Identification and Ranking Table (PIRT). Numerous V&V examples guided by the PIRT for a simple gas discharge are shown to demonstrate the V&V process applied to a real-world simulation tool with the overall goal to demonstrably increase the confidence in the results for the simulation tool and its predictive capability. Although many examples are provided here to demonstrate elements of the framework, the primary goal of this work is to introduce this framework and not to provide a fully complete implementation, which would be a much longer document. Comparisons and contrasts are made to more usual approaches to V&V, and techniques new to the low-temperature plasma community are introduced. Specific challenges relating to the sufficiency of available data (e.g., cross sections), the limits of ad hoc validation approaches, the additional difficulty of utilizing a stochastic simulation tool, and the extreme cost of formal validation are discussed. Graphic Abstract: [Figure not available: see fulltext.]