Plasma (physics)

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Plasma
Lightning3.jpg NeTube.jpg
Plasma-lamp 2.jpg Space Shuttle Atlantis in the sky on July 21, 2011, to its final landing.jpg
Top: Lightning and neon lights are commonplace generators of plasma. Bottom left: A plasma globe, illustrating some of the more complex plasma phenomena, including filamentation. Bottom right: A plasma trail from the Space Shuttle Atlantis during re-entry into Earth's atmosphere, as seen from the International Space Station.

Plasma (from Ancient Greek πλάσμα, meaning 'moldable substance' [1] ) is one of the four fundamental states of matter, and was first described by chemist Irving Langmuir [2] in the 1920s. [3] It consists of a gas of ions, atoms which have some of their orbital electrons removed, and free electrons. Plasma can be artificially generated by heating or subjecting a neutral gas to a strong electromagnetic field to the point where an ionized gaseous substance becomes increasingly electrically conductive, and long-range electromagnetic fields dominate the behaviour of the matter. [4]

Irving Langmuir American chemist and physicist

Irving Langmuir was an American chemist and physicist. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1932 for his work in surface chemistry.

An ion is an atom or molecule that has a net electrical charge. Since the charge of the electron is equal and opposite to that of the proton, the net charge of an ion is non-zero due to its total number of electrons being unequal to its total number of protons. A cation is a positively charged ion, with fewer electrons than protons, while an anion is negatively charged, with more electrons than protons. Because of their opposite electric charges, cations and anions attract each other and readily form ionic compounds.

Electron subatomic particle with negative electric charge

The electron is a subatomic particle, symbol
e
or
β
, whose electric charge is negative one elementary charge. Electrons belong to the first generation of the lepton particle family, and are generally thought to be elementary particles because they have no known components or substructure. The electron has a mass that is approximately 1/1836 that of the proton. Quantum mechanical properties of the electron include an intrinsic angular momentum (spin) of a half-integer value, expressed in units of the reduced Planck constant, ħ. Being fermions, no two electrons can occupy the same quantum state, in accordance with the Pauli exclusion principle. Like all elementary particles, electrons exhibit properties of both particles and waves: they can collide with other particles and can be diffracted like light. The wave properties of electrons are easier to observe with experiments than those of other particles like neutrons and protons because electrons have a lower mass and hence a longer de Broglie wavelength for a given energy.

Contents

Plasma and ionized gases have properties and display behaviours unlike those of the other states, and the transition between them is mostly a matter of nomenclature [2] and subject to interpretation. [5] Based on the surrounding environmental temperature and density, partially ionized or fully ionized forms of plasma may be produced. Neon signs and lightning are examples of partially ionized plasma. [6] The Earth's ionosphere is a plasma and the magnetosphere contains plasma in the Earth's surrounding space environment. The interior of the Sun is an example of fully ionized plasma, [7] along with the solar corona [8] and stars. [9]

Phase transition transitions between solid, liquid and gaseous states of matter, and, in rare cases, plasma

The term phase transition is most commonly used to describe transitions between solid, liquid, and gaseous states of matter, as well as plasma in rare cases. A phase of a thermodynamic system and the states of matter have uniform physical properties. During a phase transition of a given medium, certain properties of the medium change, often discontinuously, as a result of the change of external conditions, such as temperature, pressure, or others. For example, a liquid may become gas upon heating to the boiling point, resulting in an abrupt change in volume. The measurement of the external conditions at which the transformation occurs is termed the phase transition. Phase transitions commonly occur in nature and are used today in many technologies.

Temperature physical property of matter that quantitatively expresses the common notions of hot and cold

Temperature is a physical quantity expressing hot and cold. It is measured with a thermometer calibrated in one or more temperature scales. The most commonly used scales are the Celsius scale, Fahrenheit scale, and Kelvin scale. The kelvin is the unit of temperature in the International System of Units (SI). The Kelvin scale is widely used in science and technology.

The density, or more precisely, the volumetric mass density, of a substance is its mass per unit volume. The symbol most often used for density is ρ, although the Latin letter D can also be used. Mathematically, density is defined as mass divided by volume:

Positive charges in ions are achieved by stripping away electrons orbiting the atomic nuclei, where the total number of electrons removed is related to either increasing temperature or the local density of other ionized matter. This also can be accompanied by the dissociation of molecular bonds, [10] though this process is distinctly different from chemical processes of ion interactions in liquids or the behaviour of shared ions in metals. The response of plasma to electromagnetic fields is used in many modern technological devices, such as plasma televisions or plasma etching. [11]

In physics, a charge may refer to one of many different quantities, such as the electric charge in electromagnetism or the color charge in quantum chromodynamics. Charges correspond to the time-invariant generators of a symmetry group, and specifically, to the generators that commute with the Hamiltonian. Charges are often denoted by the letter Q, and so the invariance of the charge corresponds to the vanishing commutator , where H is the Hamiltonian. Thus, charges are associated with conserved quantum numbers; these are the eigenvalues q of the generator Q.

Chemistry scientific discipline

Chemistry is the scientific discipline involved with elements and compounds composed of atoms, molecules and ions: their composition, structure, properties, behavior and the changes they undergo during a reaction with other substances.

A metal ion in aqueous solution (aqua ion) is a cation, dissolved in water, of chemical formula [M(H2O)n]z+. The solvation number, n, determined by a variety of experimental methods is 4 for Li+ and Be2+ and 6 for elements in periods 3 and 4 of the periodic table. Lanthanide and actinide aqua ions have a solvation number of 8 or 9. The strength of the bonds between the metal ion and water molecules in the primary solvation shell increases with the electrical charge, z, on the metal ion and decreases as its radius, r, increases. Aqua ions are subject to hydrolysis. The logarithm of the first hydrolysis constant is proportional to z2/r for most aqua ions. The aqua ion is associated, through hydrogen bonding with other water molecules in a secondary solvation shell. Water molecules in the first hydration shell exchange with molecules in the second solvation shell and molecules in the bulk liquid. The residence time of a molecule in the first shell varies among the chemical elements from about 100 picoseconds to more than 200 years. Aqua ions are prominent in electrochemistry.

Plasma may be the most abundant form of ordinary matter in the universe, [12] although this hypothesis is currently tentative based on the existence and unknown properties of dark matter. Plasma is mostly associated with stars, extending to the rarefied intracluster medium and possibly the intergalactic regions. [13]

Universe Universe events since the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago

The Universe is all of space and time and their contents, including planets, stars, galaxies, and all other forms of matter and energy. While the spatial size of the entire Universe is unknown, it is possible to measure the size of the observable universe, which is currently estimated to be 93 billion light-years in diameter. In various multiverse hypotheses, a universe is one of many causally disconnected constituent parts of a larger multiverse, which itself comprises all of space and time and its contents.

Dark matter Hypothetical form of matter comprising most of the matter in the universe

Dark matter is a form of matter thought to account for approximately 85% of the matter in the universe and about a quarter of its total energy density. The majority of dark matter is thought to be non-baryonic in nature, possibly being composed of some as-yet undiscovered subatomic particles. Its presence is implied in a variety of astrophysical observations, including gravitational effects which cannot be explained by accepted theories of gravity unless more matter is present than can be seen. For this reason, most experts think dark matter to be abundant in the universe and to have had a strong influence on its structure and evolution. Dark matter is called dark because it does not appear to interact with observable electromagnetic radiation, such as light, and is thus invisible to the entire electromagnetic spectrum, making it undetectable using existing astronomical instruments.

Star Astronomical object

A star is an astronomical object consisting of a luminous spheroid of plasma held together by its own gravity. The nearest star to Earth is the Sun. Many other stars are visible to the naked eye from Earth during the night, appearing as a multitude of fixed luminous points in the sky due to their immense distance from Earth. Historically, the most prominent stars were grouped into constellations and asterisms, the brightest of which gained proper names. Astronomers have assembled star catalogues that identify the known stars and provide standardized stellar designations. However, most of the estimated 300 sextillion (3×1023) stars in the observable universe are invisible to the naked eye from Earth, including all stars outside our galaxy, the Milky Way.

History

The word plasma comes from Ancient Greek πλάσμα, meaning 'moldable substance' [1] or 'jelly', [2] and describes the behaviour of the ionized atomic nuclei and the electrons within the surrounding region of the plasma. Very simply, each of these nuclei are suspended in a movable sea of electrons. Plasma was first identified in a Crookes tube, and so described by Sir William Crookes in 1879 (he called it "radiant matter"). [14] The nature of this "cathode ray" matter was subsequently identified by British physicist Sir J.J. Thomson in 1897. [15]

Crookes tube

A Crookes tube is an early experimental electrical discharge tube, with partial vacuum, invented by English physicist William Crookes and others around 1869-1875, in which cathode rays, streams of electrons, were discovered.

Cathode ray stream of electrons observed in vacuum tubes

Cathode rays are streams of electrons observed in vacuum tubes. If an evacuated glass tube is equipped with two electrodes and a voltage is applied, glass behind the positive electrode is observed to glow, due to electrons emitted from the cathode. They were first observed in 1869 by German physicist Julius Plücker and Johann Wilhelm Hittorf, and were named in 1876 by Eugen Goldstein Kathodenstrahlen, or cathode rays. In 1897, British physicist J. J. Thomson showed that cathode rays were composed of a previously unknown negatively charged particle, which was later named the electron. Cathode ray tubes (CRTs) use a focused beam of electrons deflected by electric or magnetic fields to render an image on a screen.

J. J. Thomson British physicist

Sir Joseph John Thomson was an English physicist and Nobel Laureate in Physics, credited with the discovery and identification of the electron, the first subatomic particle to be discovered.

The term "plasma" was coined by Irving Langmuir in 1928. [16] Lewi Tonks and Harold Mott-Smith, both of whom worked with Irving Langmuir in the 1920s, recall that Langmuir first used the word "plasma" in analogy with blood. [17] [18] Mott-Smith recalls, in particular, that the transport of electrons from thermionic filaments reminded Langmuir of "the way blood plasma carries red and white corpuscles and germs." [19]

Lewi Tonks (1897–1971) was an American quantum physicist noted for his discovery of the Tonks-Girardeau gas.

Langmuir described the plasma he observed as follows:

"Except near the electrodes, where there are sheaths containing very few electrons, the ionized gas contains ions and electrons in about equal numbers so that the resultant space charge is very small. We shall use the name plasma to describe this region containing balanced charges of ions and electrons." [16]

Properties and parameters

Artist's rendition of the Earth's plasma fountain, showing oxygen, helium, and hydrogen ions that gush into space from regions near the Earth's poles. The faint yellow area shown above the north pole represents gas lost from Earth into space; the green area is the aurora borealis, where plasma energy pours back into the atmosphere. Plasma fountain.gif
Artist's rendition of the Earth's plasma fountain, showing oxygen, helium, and hydrogen ions that gush into space from regions near the Earth's poles. The faint yellow area shown above the north pole represents gas lost from Earth into space; the green area is the aurora borealis, where plasma energy pours back into the atmosphere.

Definition

Plasma is a state of matter in which an ionized gaseous substance becomes highly electrically conductive to the point that long-range electric and magnetic fields dominate the behaviour of the matter. [21] [22] The plasma state can be contrasted with the other states: solid, liquid, and gas.

Plasma is an electrically neutral medium of unbound positive and negative particles (i.e. the overall charge of a plasma is roughly zero). Although these particles are unbound, they are not "free" in the sense of not experiencing forces. Moving charged particles generate an electric current within a magnetic field, and any movement of a charged plasma particle affects and is affected by the fields created by the other charges. In turn this governs collective behaviour with many degrees of variation. [10] [23] Three factors define a plasma: [24] [25]

  1. The plasma approximation: The plasma approximation applies when the plasma parameter, Λ, [26] representing the number of charge carriers within a sphere (called the Debye sphere whose radius is the Debye screening length) surrounding a given charged particle, is sufficiently high as to shield the electrostatic influence of the particle outside of the sphere. [21] [22]
  2. Bulk interactions: The Debye screening length (defined above) is short compared to the physical size of the plasma. This criterion means that interactions in the bulk of the plasma are more important than those at its edges, where boundary effects may take place. When this criterion is satisfied, the plasma is quasineutral. [27]
  3. Plasma frequency: The electron plasma frequency (measuring plasma oscillations of the electrons) is large compared to the electron-neutral collision frequency (measuring frequency of collisions between electrons and neutral particles). When this condition is valid, electrostatic interactions dominate over the processes of ordinary gas kinetics. [28]

Temperature

Plasma temperature is commonly measured in kelvin or electronvolts and is, informally, a measure of the thermal kinetic energy per particle. High temperatures are usually needed to sustain ionisation, which is a defining feature of a plasma. The degree of plasma ionisation is determined by the electron temperature relative to the ionization energy (and more weakly by the density), in a relationship called the Saha equation. At low temperatures, ions and electrons tend to recombine into bound states—atoms [29] —and the plasma will eventually become a gas.

In most cases the electrons are close enough to thermal equilibrium that their temperature is relatively well-defined; this is true even when there is a significant deviation from a Maxwellian energy distribution function, for example, due to UV radiation, energetic particles, or strong electric fields. Because of the large difference in mass, the electrons come to thermodynamic equilibrium amongst themselves much faster than they come into equilibrium with the ions or neutral atoms. For this reason, the ion temperature may be very different from (usually lower than) the electron temperature. This is especially common in weakly ionized technological plasmas, where the ions are often near the ambient temperature.

Fully vs. partially (weakly) ionized gases

For plasma to exist, ionisation is necessary. The term "plasma density" by itself usually refers to the "electron density", that is, the number of free electrons per unit volume. The degree of ionisation of a plasma is the proportion of atoms that have lost or gained electrons, and is controlled by the electron and ion temperatures and electron-ion vs electron-neutral collision frequencies. The degree of ionisation, , is defined as , where is the number density of ions and is the number density of neutral atoms. The electron density is related to this by the average charge state[ further explanation needed ] of the ions through , where is the number density of electrons.

In a plasma, the electron-ion collision frequency is much greater than the electron-neutral collision frequency . Therefore, with a weak degree of ionization , the electron-ion collision frequency can equal the electron-neutral collision frequency: is the limit separating a plasma from being partially or fully ionized.

  • The term fully ionized gas introduced by Lyman Spitzer does not mean the degree of ionization is unity, but only that the plasma is in a Coulomb-collision dominated regime, i.e. when , which can correspond to a degree of ionization as low as 0.01%. [30]
  • A partially or weakly ionized gas means the plasma is not dominated by Coulomb collisions, i.e. when .

Most of "technological" (engineered) plasmas are weakly ionized gases.

Thermal vs. nonthermal (cold) plasmas

Based on the relative temperatures of the electrons, ions and neutrals, plasmas are classified as "thermal" or "non-thermal" (also referred to as "cold plasmas").

  • Thermal plasmas have electrons and the heavy particles at the same temperature, i.e. they are in thermal equilibrium with each other.
  • Nonthermal plasmas on the other hand are non-equilibrium ionized gases, with two temperatures: ions and neutrals stay at a low temperature (sometimes room temperature), whereas electrons are much hotter. (). [31] A kind of common nonthermal plasma is the mercury-vapor gas within a fluorescent lamp, where the "electrons gas" reaches a temperature of 10,000 kelvins while the rest of the gas stays barely above room temperature, so the bulb can even be touched with hands while operating.

A particular and unusual case of "inverse" nonthermal plasma is the very high temperature plasma produced by the Z machine, where ions are much hotter than electrons. [32] [33]

Plasma potential

Lightning as an example of plasma present at Earth's surface: Typically, lightning discharges 30 kiloamperes at up to 100 megavolts, and emits radio waves, light, X- and even gamma rays. Plasma temperatures can approach 30000 K and electron densities may exceed 10 m . Bliksem in Assen.jpg
Lightning as an example of plasma present at Earth's surface: Typically, lightning discharges 30 kiloamperes at up to 100 megavolts, and emits radio waves, light, X- and even gamma rays. Plasma temperatures can approach 30000 K and electron densities may exceed 10 m .

Since plasmas are very good electrical conductors, electric potentials play an important role.[ clarification needed ] The average potential in the space between charged particles, independent of how it can be measured, is called the "plasma potential", or the "space potential". If an electrode is inserted into a plasma, its potential will generally lie considerably below the plasma potential due to what is termed a Debye sheath. The good electrical conductivity of plasmas makes their electric fields very small. This results in the important concept of "quasineutrality", which says the density of negative charges is approximately equal to the density of positive charges over large volumes of the plasma (), but on the scale of the Debye length there can be charge imbalance. In the special case that double layers are formed, the charge separation can extend some tens of Debye lengths.[ citation needed ]

The magnitude of the potentials and electric fields must be determined by means other than simply finding the net charge density. A common example is to assume that the electrons satisfy the Boltzmann relation:

Differentiating this relation provides a means to calculate the electric field from the density:

It is possible to produce a plasma that is not quasineutral. An electron beam, for example, has only negative charges. The density of a non-neutral plasma must generally be very low, or it must be very small, otherwise, it will be dissipated by the repulsive electrostatic force. [35]

In astrophysical plasmas, Debye screening prevents electric fields from directly affecting the plasma over large distances, i.e., greater than the Debye length. However, the existence of charged particles causes the plasma to generate, and be affected by, magnetic fields. This can and does cause extremely complex behaviour, such as the generation of plasma double layers, an object that separates charge over a few tens of Debye lengths. The dynamics of plasmas interacting with external and self-generated magnetic fields are studied in the academic discipline of magnetohydrodynamics. [36]

Magnetization

Plasma with a magnetic field strong enough to influence the motion of the charged particles is said to be magnetized. A common quantitative criterion is that a particle on average completes at least one gyration around the magnetic field before making a collision, i.e., , where is the "electron gyrofrequency" and is the "electron collision rate". It is often the case that the electrons are magnetized while the ions are not. Magnetized plasmas are anisotropic , meaning that their properties in the direction parallel to the magnetic field are different from those perpendicular to it. While electric fields in plasmas are usually small due to the high conductivity, the electric field associated with a plasma moving in a magnetic field is given by (where is the electric field, is the velocity, and is the magnetic field), and is not affected by Debye shielding. [37]

Comparison of plasma and gas phases

Plasma is often called the fourth state of matter after solid, liquids and gases, despite plasma typically being an ionized gas. [38] [39] [40] It is distinct from these and other lower-energy states of matter. Although it is closely related to the gas phase in that it also has no definite form or volume, it differs in a number of ways, including the following:

PropertyGasPlasma
Electrical conductivity Very low: Air is an excellent insulator until it breaks down into plasma at electric field strengths above 30 kilovolts per centimeter. [41] Usually very high: For many purposes, the conductivity of a plasma may be treated as infinite.
Independently acting speciesOne: All gas particles behave in a similar way, influenced by gravity and by collisions with one another.Two or three: Electrons, ions, protons and neutrons can be distinguished by the sign and value of their charge so that they behave independently in many circumstances, with different bulk velocities and temperatures, allowing phenomena such as new types of waves and instabilities.
Velocity distribution Maxwellian : Collisions usually lead to a Maxwellian velocity distribution of all gas particles, with very few relatively fast particles.Often non-Maxwellian: Collisional interactions are often weak in hot plasmas and external forcing can drive the plasma far from local equilibrium and lead to a significant population of unusually fast particles.
InteractionsBinary: Two-particle collisions are the rule, three-body collisions extremely rare.Collective: Waves, or organized motion of plasma, are very important because the particles can interact at long ranges through the electric and magnetic forces.

Plasmas in space science and astronomy

Plasmas are by far the most common phase of ordinary matter in the universe, both by mass and by volume. [42]

Above the Earth's surface, the ionosphere is a plasma, [43] and the magnetosphere contains plasma. [44] Within our Solar System, interplanetary space is filled with the plasma expelled via the solar wind, extending from the Sun's surface out to the heliopause. Furthermore, all the distant stars, and much of interstellar space or intergalactic space is also likely filled with plasma, albeit at very low densities. Astrophysical plasmas are also observed in Accretion disks around stars or compact objects like white dwarfs, neutron stars, or black holes in close binary star systems. [45] Plasma is associated with ejection of material in astrophysical jets, which have been observed with accreting black holes [46] or in active galaxies like M87's jet that possibly extends out to 5,000 light-years. [47]

Common plasmas

Plasmas can appear in nature in various forms and locations, which can be usefully broadly summarised in the following Table:

Common forms of plasma
Artificially producedTerrestrial plasmasSpace and astrophysical plasmas

Complex plasma phenomena

Although the underlying equations governing plasmas are relatively simple, plasma behaviour is extraordinarily varied and subtle: the emergence of unexpected behaviour from a simple model is a typical feature of a complex system. Such systems lie in some sense on the boundary between ordered and disordered behaviour and cannot typically be described either by simple, smooth, mathematical functions, or by pure randomness. The spontaneous formation of interesting spatial features on a wide range of length scales is one manifestation of plasma complexity. The features are interesting, for example, because they are very sharp, spatially intermittent (the distance between features is much larger than the features themselves), or have a fractal form. Many of these features were first studied in the laboratory, and have subsequently been recognized throughout the universe. Examples of complexity and complex structures in plasmas include:

Filamentation

Striations or string-like structures, [50] also known as Birkeland currents, are seen in many plasmas, like the plasma ball, the aurora, [51] lightning, [52] electric arcs, solar flares, [53] and supernova remnants. [54] They are sometimes associated with larger current densities, and the interaction with the magnetic field can form a magnetic rope structure. [55] High power microwave breakdown at atmospheric pressure also leads to the formation of filamentary structures. [56] (See also Plasma pinch)

Filamentation also refers to the self-focusing of a high power laser pulse. At high powers, the nonlinear part of the index of refraction becomes important and causes a higher index of refraction in the center of the laser beam, where the laser is brighter than at the edges, causing a feedback that focuses the laser even more. The tighter focused laser has a higher peak brightness (irradiance) that forms a plasma. The plasma has an index of refraction lower than one, and causes a defocusing of the laser beam. The interplay of the focusing index of refraction, and the defocusing plasma makes the formation of a long filament of plasma that can be micrometers to kilometers in length. [57] One interesting aspect of the filamentation generated plasma is the relatively low ion density due to defocusing effects of the ionized electrons. [58] (See also Filament propagation)

Non-neutral plasma

The strength and range of the electric force and the good conductivity of plasmas usually ensure that the densities of positive and negative charges in any sizeable region are equal ("quasineutrality"). A plasma with a significant excess of charge density, or, in the extreme case, is composed of a single species, is called a non-neutral plasma. In such a plasma, electric fields play a dominant role. Examples are charged particle beams, an electron cloud in a Penning trap and positron plasmas. [59]

Dusty plasma/grain plasma

A dusty plasma contains tiny charged particles of dust (typically found in space). The dust particles acquire high charges and interact with each other. A plasma that contains larger particles is called grain plasma. Under laboratory conditions, dusty plasmas are also called complex plasmas. [60]

Impermeable plasma

Impermeable plasma is a type of thermal plasma which acts like an impermeable solid with respect to gas or cold plasma and can be physically pushed. Interaction of cold gas and thermal plasma was briefly studied by a group led by Hannes Alfvén in 1960s and 1970s for its possible applications in insulation of fusion plasma from the reactor walls. [61] However, later it was found that the external magnetic fields in this configuration could induce kink instabilities in the plasma and subsequently lead to an unexpectedly high heat loss to the walls. [62] In 2013, a group of materials scientists reported that they have successfully generated stable impermeable plasma with no magnetic confinement using only an ultrahigh-pressure blanket of cold gas. While spectroscopic data on the characteristics of plasma were claimed to be difficult to obtain due to the high pressure, the passive effect of plasma on synthesis of different nanostructures clearly suggested the effective confinement. They also showed that upon maintaining the impermeability for a few tens of seconds, screening of ions at the plasma-gas interface could give rise to a strong secondary mode of heating (known as viscous heating) leading to different kinetics of reactions and formation of complex nanomaterials. [63]

Mathematical descriptions

The complex self-constricting magnetic field lines and current paths in a field-aligned Birkeland current that can develop in a plasma. Magnetic rope.svg
The complex self-constricting magnetic field lines and current paths in a field-aligned Birkeland current that can develop in a plasma.

To completely describe the state of a plasma, all of the particle locations and velocities that describe the electromagnetic field in the plasma region would need to be written down. However, it is generally not practical or necessary to keep track of all the particles in a plasma. Therefore, plasma physicists commonly use less detailed descriptions, of which there are two main types:

Fluid model

Fluid models describe plasmas in terms of smoothed quantities, like density and averaged velocity around each position (see Plasma parameters). One simple fluid model, magnetohydrodynamics, treats the plasma as a single fluid governed by a combination of Maxwell's equations and the Navier–Stokes equations. A more general description is the two-fluid plasma picture, where the ions and electrons are described separately. Fluid models are often accurate when collisionality is sufficiently high to keep the plasma velocity distribution close to a Maxwell–Boltzmann distribution. Because fluid models usually describe the plasma in terms of a single flow at a certain temperature at each spatial location, they can neither capture velocity space structures like beams or double layers, nor resolve wave-particle effects.

Kinetic model

Kinetic models describe the particle velocity distribution function at each point in the plasma and therefore do not need to assume a Maxwell–Boltzmann distribution. A kinetic description is often necessary for collisionless plasmas. There are two common approaches to kinetic description of a plasma. One is based on representing the smoothed distribution function on a grid in velocity and position. The other, known as the particle-in-cell (PIC) technique, includes kinetic information by following the trajectories of a large number of individual particles. Kinetic models are generally more computationally intensive than fluid models. The Vlasov equation may be used to describe the dynamics of a system of charged particles interacting with an electromagnetic field. In magnetized plasmas, a gyrokinetic approach can substantially reduce the computational expense of a fully kinetic simulation.

Artificial plasmas

Most artificial plasmas are generated by the application of electric and/or magnetic fields through a gas. Plasma generated in a laboratory setting and for industrial use can be generally categorized by:

Generation of artificial plasma

Simple representation of a discharge tube - plasma.png
Artificial plasma produced in air by a Jacob's Ladder Plasma jacobs ladder.jpg
Artificial plasma produced in air by a Jacob's Ladder

Just like the many uses of plasma, there are several means for its generation, however, one principle is common to all of them: there must be energy input to produce and sustain it. [65] For this case, plasma is generated when an electric current is applied across a dielectric gas or fluid (an electrically non-conducting material) as can be seen in the adjacent image, which shows a discharge tube as a simple example (DC used for simplicity).

The potential difference and subsequent electric field pull the bound electrons (negative) toward the anode (positive electrode) while the cathode (negative electrode) pulls the nucleus. [66] As the voltage increases, the current stresses the material (by electric polarization) beyond its dielectric limit (termed strength) into a stage of electrical breakdown, marked by an electric spark, where the material transforms from being an insulator into a conductor (as it becomes increasingly ionized). The underlying process is the Townsend avalanche, where collisions between electrons and neutral gas atoms create more ions and electrons (as can be seen in the figure on the right). The first impact of an electron on an atom results in one ion and two electrons. Therefore, the number of charged particles increases rapidly (in the millions) only "after about 20 successive sets of collisions", [67] mainly due to a small mean free path (average distance travelled between collisions).

Electric arc

Cascade process of ionisation. Electrons are "e-", neutral atoms "o", and cations "+". Cascade-process-of-ionization.svg
Cascade process of ionisation. Electrons are "e−", neutral atoms "o", and cations "+".
Avalanche effect between two electrodes. The original ionisation event liberates one electron, and each subsequent collision liberates a further electron, so two electrons emerge from each collision: the ionising electron and the liberated electron. Townsend Discharge.svg
Avalanche effect between two electrodes. The original ionisation event liberates one electron, and each subsequent collision liberates a further electron, so two electrons emerge from each collision: the ionising electron and the liberated electron.

With ample current density and ionisation, this forms a luminous electric arc (a continuous electric discharge similar to lightning) between the electrodes. [Note 1] Electrical resistance along the continuous electric arc creates heat, which dissociates more gas molecules and ionises the resulting atoms (where degree of ionisation is determined by temperature), and as per the sequence: solid-liquid-gas-plasma, the gas is gradually turned into a thermal plasma. [Note 2] A thermal plasma is in thermal equilibrium, which is to say that the temperature is relatively homogeneous throughout the heavy particles (i.e. atoms, molecules and ions) and electrons. This is so because when thermal plasmas are generated, electrical energy is given to electrons, which, due to their great mobility and large numbers, are able to disperse it rapidly and by elastic collision (without energy loss) to the heavy particles. [68] [Note 3]

Examples of industrial/commercial plasma

Because of their sizable temperature and density ranges, plasmas find applications in many fields of research, technology and industry. For example, in: industrial and extractive metallurgy, [68] [69] surface treatments such as plasma spraying (coating), etching in microelectronics, [70] metal cutting [71] and welding; as well as in everyday vehicle exhaust cleanup and fluorescent/luminescent lamps, [65] fuel ignition, while even playing a part in supersonic combustion engines for aerospace engineering. [72]

Low-pressure discharges

  • Glow discharge plasmas: non-thermal plasmas generated by the application of DC or low frequency RF (<100 kHz) electric field to the gap between two metal electrodes. Probably the most common plasma; this is the type of plasma generated within fluorescent light tubes. [73]
  • Capacitively coupled plasma (CCP): similar to glow discharge plasmas, but generated with high frequency RF electric fields, typically 13.56 MHz. These differ from glow discharges in that the sheaths are much less intense. These are widely used in the microfabrication and integrated circuit manufacturing industries for plasma etching and plasma enhanced chemical vapor deposition. [74]
  • Cascaded Arc Plasma Source : a device to produce low temperature (≈1eV) high density plasmas (HDP).
  • Inductively coupled plasma (ICP): similar to a CCP and with similar applications but the electrode consists of a coil wrapped around the chamber where plasma is formed. [75]
  • Wave heated plasma : similar to CCP and ICP in that it is typically RF (or microwave). Examples include helicon discharge and electron cyclotron resonance (ECR). [76]

Atmospheric pressure

  • Arc discharge: this is a high power thermal discharge of very high temperature (≈10,000 K). It can be generated using various power supplies. It is commonly used in metallurgical processes. For example, it is used to smelt minerals containing Al2O3 to produce aluminium.
  • Corona discharge: this is a non-thermal discharge generated by the application of high voltage to sharp electrode tips. It is commonly used in ozone generators and particle precipitators.
  • Dielectric barrier discharge (DBD): this is a non-thermal discharge generated by the application of high voltages across small gaps wherein a non-conducting coating prevents the transition of the plasma discharge into an arc. It is often mislabeled 'Corona' discharge in industry and has similar application to corona discharges. It is also widely used in the web treatment of fabrics. [77] The application of the discharge to synthetic fabrics and plastics functionalizes the surface and allows for paints, glues and similar materials to adhere. [78] The dielectric barrier discharge was used in the mid-1990s to show that low temperature atmospheric pressure plasma is effective in inactivating bacterial cells. [79] This work and later experiments using mammalian cells led to the establishment of a new field of research known as plasma medicine. The dielectric barrier discharge configuration was also used in the design of low temperature plasma jets. These plasma jets are produced by fast propagating guided ionisation waves known as plasma bullets. [80]
  • Capacitive discharge: this is a nonthermal plasma generated by the application of RF power (e.g., 13.56 MHz) to one powered electrode, with a grounded electrode held at a small separation distance on the order of 1 cm. Such discharges are commonly stabilized using a noble gas such as helium or argon. [81]
  • "Piezoelectric direct discharge plasma:" is a nonthermal plasma generated at the high-side of a piezoelectric transformer (PT). This generation variant is particularly suited for high efficient and compact devices where a separate high voltage power supply is not desired.

MHD converters

A world effort was triggered in the 1960s to study magnetohydrodynamic converters in order to bring MHD power conversion to market with commercial power plants of a new kind, converting the kinetic energy of a high velocity plasma into electricity with no moving parts at a high efficiency. Research was also conducted in the field of supersonic and hypersonic aerodynamics to study plasma interaction with magnetic fields to eventually achieve passive and even active flow control around vehicles or projectiles, in order to soften and mitigate shock waves, lower thermal transfer and reduce drag.

Such ionized gases used in "plasma technology" ("technological" or "engineered" plasmas) are usually weakly ionized gases in the sense that only a tiny fraction of the gas molecules are ionized. [82] These kinds of weakly ionized gases are also nonthermal "cold" plasmas. In the presence of magnetics fields, the study of such magnetized nonthermal weakly ionized gases involves resistive magnetohydrodynamics with low magnetic Reynolds number, a challenging field of plasma physics where calculations require dyadic tensors in a 7-dimensional phase space. When used in combination with a high Hall parameter, a critical value triggers the problematic electrothermal instability which limited these technological developments.

Research

Plasmas are the object of study of the academic field of plasma science or plasma physics, [83] including sub-disciplines such as space plasma physics. It currently involves the following fields of active research and features across many journals, whose interest includes:

Psychological

Research indicates that magnetic fields created by plasma during a thunderstorm can induce hallucination in the human mind. [85] A declassified Ministry of Defense report states that it is "medically proven" that magnetic fields related to plasma cause hallucinations and that "the close proximity of plasma-related fields can adversely affect a vehicle or person". [86] The report also indicated that scientists in the former Soviet Union are pursuing related technology for military purposes.

Research examples

See also

Phase transitions of matter ()
Four Fundamental States of Matter.pngTo
Solid Liquid Gas Plasma
FromSolid Melting Sublimation
Liquid Freezing Vaporization
Gas Deposition Condensation Ionization
Plasma Recombination

Notes

  1. The material undergoes various "regimes" or stages (e.g. saturation, breakdown, glow, transition and thermal arc) as the voltage is increased under the voltage-current relationship. The voltage rises to its maximum value in the saturation stage, and thereafter it undergoes fluctuations of the various stages; while the current progressively increases throughout. [67]
  2. Across literature, there appears to be no strict definition on where the boundary is between a gas and plasma. Nevertheless, it is enough to say that at 2,000°C the gas molecules become atomized, and ionized at 3,000 °C and "in this state, [the] gas has a liquid like viscosity at atmospheric pressure and the free electric charges confer relatively high electrical conductivities that can approach those of metals." [68]
  3. Note that non-thermal, or non-equilibrium plasmas are not as ionized and have lower energy densities, and thus the temperature is not dispersed evenly among the particles, where some heavy ones remain "cold".

Related Research Articles

Corona Aura of plasma that surrounds the Sun and other stars

A corona is an aura of plasma that surrounds the Sun and other stars. The Sun's corona extends millions of kilometres into outer space and is most easily seen during a total solar eclipse, but it is also observable with a coronagraph.

Electrical resistivity and its inverse, electrical conductivity, is a fundamental property of a material that quantifies how strongly it resists or conducts electric current. A low resistivity indicates a material that readily allows electric current. Resistivity is commonly represented by the Greek letter ρ (rho). The SI unit of electrical resistivity is the ohm-meter (Ω⋅m). For example, if a 1 m × 1 m × 1 m solid cube of material has sheet contacts on two opposite faces, and the resistance between these contacts is 1 Ω, then the resistivity of the material is 1 Ω⋅m.

In physics, screening is the damping of electric fields caused by the presence of mobile charge carriers. It is an important part of the behavior of charge-carrying fluids, such as ionized gases, electrolytes, and charge carriers in electronic conductors . In a fluid, with a given permittivity ε, composed of electrically charged constituent particles, each pair of particles interact through the Coulomb force as

Corona discharge electrical discharge brought on by the ionization of a fluid such as air surrounding a conductor that is electrically charged

A corona discharge is an electrical discharge brought on by the ionization of a fluid such as air surrounding a conductor that is electrically charged. Spontaneous corona discharges occur naturally in high-voltage systems unless care is taken to limit the electric field strength. A corona will occur when the strength of the electric field around a conductor is high enough to form a conductive region, but not high enough to cause electrical breakdown or arcing to nearby objects. It is often seen as a bluish glow in the air adjacent to pointed metal conductors carrying high voltages, and emits light by the same property as a gas discharge lamp.

Ion source Device that creates charged atoms and molecules (ions)

An ion source is a device that creates atomic and molecular ions. Ion sources are used to form ions for mass spectrometers, optical emission spectrometers, particle accelerators, ion implanters and ion engines.

Inertial electrostatic confinement

Inertial electrostatic confinement is a branch of fusion research that uses an electric field to elevate a plasma to fusion conditions. Electric fields can do work on charged particles, heating/confining them to fusion conditions. This is typically done in a sphere, with material moving radially inward, but can also be done in a cylindrical or beam geometry. The electric field can be generated using a wire grid or a non-neutral plasma cloud.

Plasma diagnostics are a pool of methods, instruments, and experimental techniques used to measure properties of a plasma, such as plasma components' density, distribution function over energy (temperature), their spatial profiles and dynamics, which enable to derive plasma parameters.

Electron cyclotron resonance is a phenomenon observed in plasma physics, condensed matter physics, and accelerator physics. It happens when the frequency of incident radiation coincides with the natural frequency of rotation of electrons in magnetic fields. An electron in a static and uniform magnetic field will move in a circle due to the Lorentz force. The circular motion may be superimposed with a uniform axial motion, resulting in a helix, or with a uniform motion perpendicular to the field resulting in a cycloid. The angular frequency of this cyclotron motion for a given magnetic field strength B is given by

The Saha ionization equation, also known as the Saha–Langmuir equation, is an expression that relates the ionization state of a gas in thermal equilibrium to the temperature and pressure. The equation is a result of combining ideas of quantum mechanics and statistical mechanics and is used to explain the spectral classification of stars. The expression was developed by the Indian astrophysicist Meghnad Saha in 1920, and later (1923) by Irving Langmuir.

Ambipolar diffusion is diffusion of positive and negative species with opposite electrical charge due to their interaction via an electric field. In the case of ionic crystals, the fluxes of the diffusing species are coupled, while in a plasma the various species diffuse at the same rate.

In a plasma, the Boltzmann relation describes the number density of an isothermal charged particle fluid when the thermal and the electrostatic forces acting on the fluid have reached equilibrium.

Madison Symmetric Torus

The Madison Symmetric Torus (MST) is a reversed field pinch (RFP) physics experiment with applications to both fusion energy research and astrophysical plasmas located at University of Wisconsin-Madison. RFPs are significantly different from tokamaks in that they tend to have a higher power density and better confinement characteristics for a given average magnetic field. RFPs also tend to be dominated by non-ideal phenomena and turbulent effects. MST is one of the sites in the Center for Magnetic Self Organization (CMSO).

The diffusion of plasma across a magnetic field was conjectured to follow the Bohm diffusion scaling as indicated from the early plasma experiments of very lossy machines. This predicted that the rate of diffusion was linear with temperature and inversely linear with the strength of the confining magnetic field.

Degree of ionization

The degree of ionization refers to the proportion of neutral particles, such as those in a gas or aqueous solution, that are ionized to charged particles. For electrolytes, it could be understood as a capacity of acid/base to ionize itself. A low degree of ionization is sometimes called partially ionized, and a high degree of ionization as fully ionized.

A dusty plasma is a plasma containing millimeter (10−3) to nanometer (10−9) sized particles suspended in it. Dust particles are charged and the plasma and particles behave as a plasma. Dust particles may form larger particles resulting in "grain plasmas". Due to the additional complexity of studying plasmas with charged dust particles, dusty plasmas are also known as complex plasmas.

Neutral beam injection (NBI) is one method used to heat plasma inside a fusion device consisting in a beam of high-energy neutral particles that can enter the magnetic confinement field. When these neutral particles are ionized by collision with the plasma particles, they are kept in the plasma by the confining magnetic field, and can transfer most of their energy by further collisions with the plasma. By tangential injection in the torus, neutral beams also provide momentum to the plasma and current drive, one essential feature for long pulses of burning plasmas. Neutral beam injection is a flexible and reliable technique, which has been the main heating system on a large variety of fusion devices. To date, all NBI systems were based on positive precursor ion beams. In the 90s there has been impressive progress in negative ion sources and accelerators with the construction of multi-megawatt negative ion based NBI systems at LHD (H0, 180 keV) and JT-60U (D0, 500 keV). The NBI designed for ITER is a substantial challenge (D0, 1MeV, 40A) and a prototype is being constructed to optimize its performance in view of the ITER future operations. Other ways to heat plasma for nuclear fusion include RF heating, electron cyclotron resonance heating (ECRH), and ion cyclotron resonance heating (ICRH), Lower hybrid resonance heating (LH).

A nonthermal plasma, cold plasma or non-equilibrium plasma is a plasma which is not in thermodynamic equilibrium, because the electron temperature is much hotter than the temperature of heavy species. As only electrons are thermalized, their Maxwell-Boltzmann velocity distribution is very different than the ion velocity distribution. When one of the velocities of a species does not follow a Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution, the plasma is said to be non-Maxwellian.

A double layer is a structure in a plasma consisting of two parallel layers of opposite electrical charge. The sheets of charge, which are not necessarily planar, produce localised excursions of electric potential, resulting in a relatively strong electric field between the layers and weaker but more extensive compensating fields outside, which restore the global potential. Ions and electrons within the double layer are accelerated, decelerated, or deflected by the electric field, depending on their direction of motion.

The electrothermal instability is a magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) instability appearing in magnetized non-thermal plasmas used in MHD converters. It was first theoretically discovered in 1962 and experimentally measured into a MHD generator in 1963 by Evgeny Velikhov.

This paper shows that it is possible to assert sufficiently specifically that the ionization instability is the number one problem for the utilization of a plasma with hot electrons.

Streamer discharge transient electrical discharge

A streamer discharge, also known as filamentary discharge, is a type of transient electrical discharge. Streamer discharges can form when an insulating medium is exposed to a large potential difference. When the electric field created by the applied voltage is sufficiently large, accelerated electrons strike air molecules with enough energy to knock other electrons off them, ionizing them, and the freed electrons go on to strike more molecules in a chain reaction. These electron avalanches create ionized, electrically conductive regions in the air near the electrode creating the electric field. The space charge created by the electron avalanches gives rise to an additional electric field. This field can enhance the growth of new avalanches in a particular direction. Then the ionized region grows quickly in that direction, forming a finger-like discharge called a streamer.

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