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Transport in a field aligned magnetized plasma/neutral gas boundary: the end of the plasma

  • Author(s): Cooper, Christopher M.
  • Advisor(s): Gekelman, Walter
  • et al.

The objective of this dissertation is to characterize the physics of a boundary layer between a magnetized plasma and a neutral gas along the direction of a confining magnetic field. A series of experiments are performed at the Enormous Toroidal Plasma Device (ETPD) at UCLA to study this field aligned Neutral Boundary Layer (NBL) at the end of the plasma. A Lanthanum Hexaboride (LaB6) cathode and semi-transparent anode creates a magnetized, current-free helium plasma which terminates on a neutral helium gas without touching any walls. Probes are inserted into the plasma to measure the basic plasma parameters and study the transport in the NBL. The experiment is performed in the weakly ionized limit where the plasma density (ne) is much less than the neutral density (nn) such that ne/nn < 5%.

The NBL is characterized by a field-aligned electric field which begins at the point where the plasma pressure equilibrates with the neutral gas pressure. Beyond the pressure equilibration point the electrons and ions lose their momentum by collisions with the neutral gas and come to rest. An electric field is established self consistently to maintain a current-free termination through equilibration of the different species' stopping rates in the neutral gas. The electric field resembles a collisional quasineutral sheath with a length 10 times the electron-ion collision length, 100 times the neutral collision length, and 10,000 times the Debye length.

Collisions with the neutral gas dominate the losses in the system. The measured plasma density loss rates are above the classical cross-field current-free ambipolar rate, but below the anomalous Bohm diffusion rate. The electron temperature is below the ionization threshold of the gas, 2.2 eV in helium. The ions are in thermal equilibrium with the neutral gas.

A generalized theory of plasma termination in a Neutral Boundary Layer is applied to this case using a two-fluid, current-free, weakly ionized transport model. The electron and ion momentum equations along the field are combined in a generalized Ohm's law which predicts the axial electric field required to maintain a current-free termination. The pressure balance criteria for termination and the predicted electric field are confirmed over a scaling of plasma parameters. The experiment and the model are relevant for studying NBLs in other systems, such as the atmospheric termination of the aurora or detached gaseous divertors.

A steady state modified ambipolar system is measured in the ETPD NBL. The drift speeds associated with these currents are a small fraction of the plasma flow speeds and the problem is treated as a perturbation to the termination model. The current-free condition on the model is relaxed to explain the presence of the divergence free current.

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