Electron density measurements of a DC helium discharge via microwave interferometry

Taylor Ratliff† , Matt Hoklas Spring 2011, Dr. Hoffman March 7, 2011

Abstract The free electron density of helium plasma in a DC discharge tube was measured via microwave interferometry, wherein the phase shift of 9 GHz microwaves passing through the plasma is measured. From the measured phase shift the plasma frequency and therefore electron density can be calculated from established theory. Measurements were taken of the plasmas resulting from initially room temperature helium gas, with initial pressures of 1 − 5 T orr, and DC currents of 10 − 90 mA. The apparatus was calibrated with several materials of known dialectric constant.

1. Introduction
Plasma, often referred to as the fourth state of matter occurs when electrons are heated to the point where some fraction or all of the atoms are ionized. Because of their relatively small mass and therefore short timescale of response, electron behavior often characterizes a plasma. In this experiment we measure the free electron density in a helium plasma via microwave interferometry. Microwaves which pass through the plasma incur a phase shift. The signal is split into two waveguides, one which interacts with the plasma and another with a variable phase shifter, and then recombined so that the interference can be observed. The phase shift in the plasma is measured by finding the equivalent phase shift in the second waveguide. From basic plasma theory the plasma frequency ωp = ne2 / 0 m and therefore electron density n can be calculated from the phase shift. Helium initially at room temperature and pressures of 1 − 5 T orr was brought to the plasma state in a DC discharge tube. When a voltage of ≈ 1kV is applied across the discharge tube of length 20 cm, the few initially free electrons are accelerated between collisions to beyond 25 eV , the ionization threshold for helium. The mean free path can be calculated with 1 ≈ .03 cm. λ= √ 2 ( 2 π nHe rHe ) (1)

A cascade then occurs until a nearly steady state is reached. One limitation arises as equilibrium is never reached in the experiment as the temperature would damage the discharge tube.

Email address: taylor.ratliff@gmail.com


As shown in Fig. with the 2 . which splits into two segments. Future experiments should note that above 10 Torr measuring the attenuation of the microwave signal may result in a more accurate measurement of free electron density. We note this derivation differs from the formula presented in the previous report by Kurt Lorenzen [3]. The klystron generates 9 Ghz microwaves. The geometry is optimized to prevent loss of microwave power and to maximize the effective length of interaction. 2. the plasma tube or other sample is inserted into a microwave waveguide through an attached brass tube or “choke”. In this experiment higher frequency. and η is a coefficient due to the geometry. Also shown is the plasma tube and high voltage power supply. 2. This signal is sent through the waveguide. and thus shorter wavelength microwaves are used. and plasma tube diameter are violated. [1]. which are modulated by a square wave. Lef f . Here the approximation νee = 0 is made. We therefore determine η by measuring phase shifts from several rods of known diameter and index of refraction. A table of components is also listed below. [1] the coefficient η is calculated from the geometry of the apparatus. Further discussion of the apparatus geometry and a derivation of the formula for the phase shift can be found in Ref. The microwave interferometer is shown in Fig. Figure 1: The waveguide and tube for holding the sample. Apparatus and Procedure In Ref. and assumptions regarding the relationships between the choke diameter. 1 below. waveguide size. The apparatus can be viewed as two nearly separate systems. which is valid for P < 10 Torr as νee << ω. This process was referred to as calibration in previous reports. The resulting phase shift is given by ∆φ = η 2 ωp ω Leff 2 c 2 (νee + ω 2 ) (2) where νee is the electron collision frequency.

a measurement of the phase change caused by introduction of the sample can be taken. the introduction of a tapered end. 3 . with the glass plasma tube present for both measurements. to make this measurement easier. Rods of delrin. For measurement of the plasma the phase shift is measured between the gas state and plasma state. and introduction of the plasma. Figure 2: The electrical system and microwave interferometer. To calibrate the interferometer the phase shifts of several materials of known index index of refraction are measured. nylon. By manually changing the phase of the signal in the lower segment with the phase shifter. so the samples must be introduced slowly into the choke. allowing for nearly complete destructive interference when the signals are out of phase. It is clearly easiest to use the point of fully destructive interference as the reference. Attenuators are present on each segment so that the amplitude of each signal can be matched. and teflon are located with the experiment for this purpose.upper segment containing the sample. The author notes a modification made to the samples. As the index of refraction for solid density materials can be much larger than that of air or tenuous plasma. The total phase shift must be measured. This prevents confounding the shifts associated with the introduction of the glass tube. a phase shift of several cycles can occur. The recombined signal is then viewed on an oscilloscope.

We note the valve numbering scheme here is consistent with the previous report by Carl Stolle [2].The second system of the apparatus is the vacuum and helium injection system. but not with the report by Kurt Lorenzen [3]. The seal for the plasma tube (V4) is quite good however. less than 1 T orr. i. and is shown in Fig. It is recommended this process be repeated several times to eliminate contaminants from the plasma tube. however the convection gauge associated with the vacuum pump also serves this purpose in a more convenient way. and therefore the pressure should be read from the convection gauge at the instant (V4) is closed. A vacuum pump is used to bring the system to low pressure.e. before helium is introduced. 4 . leaks are inevitable in the system which contains many components not designed for a vacuum system. An oil manometer can be used to measure the pressure. Figure 3: The vacuum system and helium gas injection system. In either case. Note the microwave system is not shown for clarity. 3 below. which is necessary for the creation of the low pressure plasma.

2. verify connections often and the whether the supply is on or off. leaks. which occurs well below the maximum voltage. *Place the plasma tube in the choke. and may be omitted for measurements of solid samples. *Check that the cooling air tube is connected to the waveguide at the choke. especially where the glass is in contact with metal. Steps marked with * are only necessary for measurements of the plasma. The klystron takes 30-45 minutes to reach a steady output signal. The manometer is not used in this procedure in preference of the convection gauge. consider the following precautions: The high voltage power supply is capable of killing you. Adjust the wavemeter to maximize the output signal. *Check that the high voltage power supply is OFF and connect the power supply to the plasma tube as in Fig.Table 1: Equipment Used Item klystron klystron power supply vacuum pump convection gauge phase shifter wavemeter high voltage DC power supply phase shifter Make Model Sperry 2K25 HP 715A Welch DuoSeal 1402 Terranova 906A HP X885A Spellman LA 6-100 - Below is the enumerated procedure used for measurement. Excess heat allows current to move through the glass. 6. This forces the cooling air to travel the length of the choke. 7. 2. This causes pitting. 3. 5. Do not allow the plasma tube to overheat. 5 . 1. 8. then make fine adjustments such that a “clean” square wave is observed. and that the rubber stopper is attached to the other side. Remove any sample from the choke. Turn on the klystron power supply and plug in the cooling fan. See previous reports for procedure for use of the manometer to measure pressure. cooling the plasma tube. The automatic adjustment on the laboratory oscilloscopes should be sufficient to view the signal. Treat it with respect. and eventually the fracture of the plasma tube. Turn on the oscilloscope and verify a square wave signal is observed. A simple mistake is to assume the power is off because no plasma is present in the tube. Before beginning. Do not exceed the maximum current of the power supply. 4.

valve 1. The pressure in the system should drop to 10 − 100 mT orr. 15. counting the number of oscillations of amplitude on the oscilloscope.9. *Turn off the power supply after finishing the measurements for this initial pressure. 20. *Bring the system to the desired helium pressure (1 − 10 T orr). 13. and simultaneously close valve 4 and take record the pressure. 18. Slowly increase the voltage until the helium gas transitions to a plasma. 19. It may be necessary to iteratively adjust one of the attenuators and the phase shifter until minimal signal is achieved. 22. *Close the knob on the vacuum pump.then set the dial to zero and loosen the knob. Adjust the phase shifter and attenuator until fully destructive interference is achieved. To zero the phase shifter tighten the knob on the lower right . The presence of plasma or other sample will have caused a phase shift and some attenuation. turn on the switch. 12. then decrease the voltage to a point where the plasma persists. Do not exceed atmospheric pressure in the system. but shut the pump down immediately if the smoke does not immediately stop. 10. 6 . For solid samples: Insert the sample slowly. *Repeat the previous two steps several times to reduce trace contaminants. *Turn on the vacuum. *Vary the current on the high voltage power supply and repeat the previous step. and introduce a small amount of helium by quickly opening valve 7 a small amount.this prevents the actual phase shift from changing . 21. 16. then press the DC button. Return the system to atmospheric pressure by opening valves 1-5 sequentially. *Check that the connections to the high voltage power supply are firmly attached to the plasma tube. A small amount of smoke from the pump is normal upon turning it on. Repeat the relevant process for other samples *or plasma pressures. It may be necessary to introduce helium in the tube between the tank and valve 7 by opening and then closing valve(s) 8. Zero the phase shifter by adjusting the phase until a minimum is achieved on the oscilloscope. *Turn on the cooling air by locating the nozzle on the far side of the lab (follow the clear tube running overhead). Record this phase shift. Maintaining too high a voltage will overheat the plasma tube. and open valves 1-7. Do not leave the helium in the plasma state for more than a few minutes to prevent overheating. and that the phase shifter is properly zeroed. 23. 11. *Check that the vent and valve 7 are closed. *Set the knob on the high voltage power supply to zero. 14. 17.

4 Torr Figure 4: Plasma electron density v. the data shows a clear increase in the plasma electron density with current. this represents a degree of ionization on the order of 10−5 . Analysis of calibration data is available upon request. but for the sake of future experimenters’ independence it is omitted here. Other sources of error include the inability to obtain an equilibrium current or temperature in the plasma tube. which is representative of similar experiments. The error associated with measuring the phase shift is also problematic.4. The electron density also appears to scale linearly with initial helium pressure. DC current for three initial helium pressures. as complete interference appears to occur over a range of ≈ 5 degrees. Basic plasma physics relates the 7 .5 Torr 4. 4.22 ± . Nonetheless.3. or perhaps compare measurements of increasing v. decreasing current.3 Torr 3. Future experimenters are encourages to average several measurements. which by the ideal gas law is proportional to the helium density. Given the time constraints imposed by having to repair the plasma tube. but it has since malfunctioned and been discarded. The measured electron densities were on the order of 1011 cm−3 . relatively little data was taken. which makes consistent measurement difficult.09. The coefficient η was determined to be . Analysis 10 electron plasma density ne (cm−3) ( x 1010) 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 DC Current (mA) 70 80 90 1. We note however the importance of calibration. Given the helium density of ≈ 1016 cm−3 . and (possibly excessive) caution taken after damaging it. which here accounts for a relative error of . Previous experiments used an amplifier between the detector and oscilloscope [2]. Conclusion In this experiment we successfully measured the electron density of a helium plasma for varying DC currents and initial helium pressures via microwave interferometry.

Cambridge University Press. [2] Carl Stolle. [5] P. and compensation for lack of thermal and electrical equilibrium. MIT-1842-36 (1966). D. 8 . a valuable reference for future experimenters. NRL Plasma Formulary (2009). and discarding of the broken amplifier and thermocouple gauge. Senior Lab Report. Senior Lab Report. [4] J. error in determining phase shift. replacement of worn vacuum tubes. Huba. M. Changes were made to the apparatus. It is also suggested future experimenters improve upon the calibration technique. Technical Report 454. (Fall 2010). References [1] J.induced phase shift to the electron number density via the plasma frequency and dispersion relation. A new equation is presented for the relationship between phase shift and plasma frequency. Brown. Bellan. such as the introduction of a tapered end of the rods for calibration. Plasma Diagnostics. Cambridge (2006). which is taken from Ref [1]. (Fall 2009). Fundamentals of Plasma Physics. Ingraham and S. Using Microwave Interferometry to Determine Plasma Density. This corresponds to a 10−5 degree of ionization. [3] Kurt Lorenzen. and is consistent with other experiments. The electron density was found to be of order 1011 cm−3 for initial helium pressures of 1 − 5 T orr and DC currents up to 90 mA. Microwave Determination of Electron Density in Plasma.

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