A 40-cm-diameter plasma device has been developed as a source of ions for material-processing and ion-thruster applications. Like the device described in the immediately preceding article, this device utilizes electron cyclotron resonance (ECR) excited by microwave power in a magnetic field to generate a plasma in an electrodeless (non-contact) manner and without need for an electrically insulating, microwave-transmissive window at the source. Hence, this device offers the same advantages of electrodeless, windowless design — low contamination and long operational life.

The device generates a uniform, high-density plasma capable of sustaining uniform ion-current densities at its exit plane while operating at low pressure [<10–4 torr (less than about 1.3 × 10–2 Pa)] and input power <200 W at a frequency of 2.45 GHz. Though the prototype model operates at 2.45 GHz, operation at higher frequencies can be achieved by straightforward modification to the input microwave waveguide. Higher frequency operation may be desirable in those applications that require even higher background plasma densities. In the design of this ECR plasma source, there are no cumbersome, power-hungry electromagnets. The magnetic field in this device is generated by a permanent-magnet circuit that is optimized to generate resonance surfaces. The microwave power is injected on the centerline of the device. The resulting discharge plasma jumps into a "high mode" when the input power rises above 150 W. This mode is associated with elevated plasma density and high uniformity.

The large area and uniformity of the plasma and the low operating pressure are well suited for such material-processing applications as etching and deposition on large silicon wafers. The high exit-plane ion-current density makes it possible to attain a high rate of etching or deposition.

The plasma potential is <3 V — low enough that there is little likelihood of sputtering, which, in plasma processing, is undesired because it is associated with erosion and contamination. The electron temperature is low and does not vary appreciably with power.

This work was done by John E. Foster of Glenn Research Center. For more information, download the Technical Support Package (free white paper) at www.techbriefs.com/tsp under the Physical Sciences category.

Inquiries concerning rights for the commercial use of this invention should be addressed to

NASA Glenn Research Center
Commercial Technology Office
Attn: Steve Fedor
Mail Stop 4–8
21000 Brookpark Road
Cleveland, Ohio 44135

Refer to LEW- 17561-1

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the July, 2007 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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