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The Langmuir Probe

The Langmuir Probe

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Published by: chewei on Sep 03, 2008
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03/08/2011

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B4-1
THE LANGMUIR PROBE
INTRODUCTIONThe Langmuir probe is a diagnostic device used to determine several basicproperties of a plasma, such as temperature and density. A plasma is a state ofmatter which contains enough free (not bound to an atom) charged particles(electrons and ions) so that its dynamical behavior is dominated byelectromagnetic forces. The subject of plasma physics is concerned mainly withionized gases although very low degrees of ionization (
0.1%) are sufficient for agas to exhibit electromagnetic properties. A method, first used by Langmuirabout fifty years ago, can be used to determine the ion and electron densities,the electron temperature, and the electron distribution function. These arecommonly known as the plasma parameters. This method involves themeasurement of electron and ion currents to a small metal electrode or probe asdifferent voltages are applied to the probe. This yields a curve called the probecharacteristic of the plasma. In general since the electron and ion masses aresignificantly different they respond to forces on different time scales, however therequirements of overall charge neutrality gives n
e
= n
i
.In this experiment we make use of a sample gas tube, the OA4-G whichpossesses a built-in Langmuir probe. The tube is filled with argon gas at 10
-3
 atmosphere. A voltage is applied across two electrodes in order to create anelectrical current in the gas while the third electrode is used as a Langmuir probe.This “discharge” current then continuously creates the plasma. Beforediscussing the experimental apparatus we will now consider the basic theory ofthe Langmuir probe.THEORY OF THE LANGMUIR PROBEThe fundamental plasma parameters can be determined by placing a smallconducting probe into the plasma and observing the current to the probe as afunction of the difference between the probe and plasma space potentials. Theplasma space potential is just the potential difference of the plasma volume withrespect to the vessel wall. It arises from an initial imbalance in electron and ionloss rates and depends in part upon anode surface conditions, and filamentemission current.Referring to the probe characteristic, Figure 1, we see that in region A whenthe probe potential, V
p
, is above the plasma space potential, V
s
the collectedelectron current reaches a saturated level and ions are repelled, while in region B
 
B4-2
 just the opposite occurs. By evaluating the slope of the electron I-V characteristicin region B the electron temperature T
e
is obtained, and by measuring the ion orelectron saturation current and using the T
e
measurement, the density can becomputed.The current collected by a probe is given by summing over all thecontributions of various plasma species:
I
=
An
ii
!
q
i
v
i
(1)where A is the total collecting surface area of the probe;
v
i
= the average velocityof species i, and
v
i
=
1n
vf
i
 ! 
r
v
( )
r
dv
for unnormalized
f
i
r
v
( )
. It is well known instatistical mechanics that collisions among particles will result in an equilibriumvelocity distribution f given by the Maxwellian function:
f
r
v
()
=
n2
"  
KTm
#
 
$
 
%
 
&
 
'
 
(
 
)
32
Exp
)
12
m
r
v
2
KT
#
 
$
 
%
 
&
 
'
 
(
 
(2)This distribution function is used to evaluate the average velocity of eachspecies.We will first consider a small plane disc probe which is often used in ourexperiments. Then it is placed in the yz plane, a particle will collide with theprobe and give rise to a current only if it has some v
x
component of velocity.Thus, the current to the probe does not depend on v
y
or v
z
. The current to theprobe from
each 
species is a function of V
V
p
- V
s
.
I v
()
=
nqA dv
y
! ""
 # 
2
KT
m
&
 
'
 
(
 
)
 
*
 
+
 
12
Exp
12
m
v
y2
KT
&
 
'
 
(
 
)
 
*
 
+
 
dv
z
!""
 # 
2
KT
m
&
 
'
 
(
 
)
 
*
 
+
 
12
Exp
12
m
v
z2
KT
&
 
'
 
(
 
)
 
*
 
+
 
dv
xv
min
!
 " 
v
x
2
#  
KT
m
%
 
&
 
'
 
(
 
)
 
*
 
12
Exp
12
m
v
x2
KT
%
 
&
 
'
 
(
 
)
 
*
 
%
 
&
 
'
 
'
 
(
 
)
 
*
 
.
(3)The lower limit of integration in the integral over v
x
is v
min
since particles with v
x
 component of velocity less that
v
min
=
2qVm
( )
12
are repelled, Figure 2.The integrals over v
y
and v
z
in (3) give unity so the current of each species is just
I v
()
=
nqA dv
xv
min
!
 " 
v
x
2
#  
KT
m
%
 
&
 
'
 
(
 
)
 
*
 
12
Exp
12
m
v
x2
KT
%
 
&
 
'
 
(
 
)
 
*
 
.
(4)a) The electron saturation current, I
es
: In this region all electrons with v
x
 component toward probe are collected. We obtain the electron saturation current
I
es
=
!
neA dv
x0
"
 # 
v
x
2
$  
KT
e
m
e
%
 
&
 
'
 
(
 
)
 
*
 
12
Exp
12
m
e
v
x2
KT
e
%
 
&
 
'
 
(
 
)
 
*
 =
!
neAKT
e
2
$  
m
e
%
 
&
 
'
 
(
 
)
 
*
 
12
(5)
 
B4-3
Similarly, in region B and C were V
p
< V
s
and electrons are repelled, the totalcurrent is
I v
()
=
I
is
!
neA dv
xv
min
"
 # 
v
x
2
$  
KT
e
m
e
%
 
&
 
'
 
(
 
)
 
*
 
12
Exp
12
m
e
v
x2
KT
e
%
 
&
 
'
 
(
 
)
 
*
 
.
(6)Substituting
12
m
e
v
min2
=
!
eV
, (6) becomes
I v
()
=
I
is
!
neAKT
e
2
"  
m
e
#
 
$
 
%
 
&
 
'
 
(
 
12
ExpeVKT
e
(7)since V < 0 in region B and C. Equation (7) shows that the electron currentincreases exponentially until the probe voltage is the same as the plasma spacepotential (V = V
p
- V
s
= 0).b) The ion saturation current, I
is
: The ion saturation current is not simplygiven by an expression similar to (5). In order to repel all the electrons andobserve I
is
, V
p
must be negative and have a magnitude near KT
e
/e as shown inFigure 3. The sheath criterion requires that ions arriving at the periphery of theprobe sheath be accelerated toward the probe with an energy ~KT
e
, which ismuch larger than their thermal energy KT
i
. The ion saturation current is thenapproximately given as
I
is
=
neA2KT
e
m
i
!
 
"
 
#
 
$
 
%
 
&
 
12
.
(8)Even though this flux density is larger than the incident flux density at theperiphery of the collecting sheath, the total particle flux is still conserved becausethe area at the probe is smaller than the outer collecting area at the sheathboundary.c) Floating potential, V
f
: Next we consider the floating potential. When V =V
f
, the ion and electron currents are equal and the net probe current is zero.Combining equations (7) and (8), and letting I = 0, we
V
f
=
!
KT
e
e
l
nm
i
4
"  
m
e
#
 
$
 
%
 
&
 
'
 
(
 
12
.
(9)d) The electron temperature, T
e
: Measurement of the electron temperaturecan be obtained from equation (7). For I
is
<< I we have
I v
()
! "
neAKT
e
2
#  
m
e
$
 
%
 
&
 
'
 
(
 
)
 
12
ExpeVKT
e
$
 
%
 
&
 
'
 
(
 
)
 =
I
es
ExpeVKT
e
$
 
%
 
&
 
'
 
(
 
)
 
(10)
d
l
nIdV
=
eKT
e
.
(11)

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