Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Alabama have received a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) to conduct fundamental research into the ways in which plasmas interact with the walls of the structures containing them.
Plasmas are created when electrons are added to or removed from atoms, giving them a charge. The interaction between the resulting ionized gas and wall can be complex, involving the transfer of mass, charge, and energy from the plasma to the wall — and sometimes from the wall back to the plasma. This energetic interaction may damage the wall, eroding the surfaces and leading to device failure. Existing plasma wall materials have been developed largely by trial-and-error, so developing a fundamental understanding of the plasma-wall interaction will give researchers the information they need to develop better wall materials.
The five-year research program could lead to improvements in a broad range of areas such as higher performance satellite thrusters and improved tubes for Department of Defense radar and communications systems.
The researchers will utilize new analysis techniques, including a terahertz-frequency laser for non-intrusively studying the plasma sheath, which is the portion of the plasmas that interacts with the wall. The researchers will use atomic probe technology to study how the plasmas — a state of matter that contains ionized particles — interact with and are affected by the walls. Modeling and simulation techniques will also help predict how plasmas may interact with improved wall materials.