A device that includes a rectangular-waveguide / slot-antenna structure and permanent magnets has been devised as a means of generating a substantially uniform plasma over a relatively large area, using relatively low input power and a low gas flow rate. The device utilizes electron cyclotron resonance (ECR) excited by microwave power to efficiently generate plasma in a manner that is completely electrode-less in the sense that, in principle, there is no electrical contact between the plasma and the antenna. Plasmas generated by devices like this one are suitable for use as sources of ions and/or electrons for diverse material-processing applications (e.g., etching or deposition) and for ion thrusters.

Plasma Is Produced at sites adjacent to matched radiating slots in a rectangular-waveguide/slot-antenna structure.

The absence of plasma/electrode contact essentially prevents plasma-induced erosion of the antenna, thereby also helping to minimize contamination of the plasma and of objects exposed to the plasma. Consequently, the operational lifetime of the rectangular-waveguide / slot-antenna structure is long and the lifetime of the plasma source is limited by the lifetime of the associated charged-particle-extraction grid (if used) or the lifetime of the microwave power source.

The device includes a series of matched radiating slot pairs that are distributed along the length of a plasma source discharge chamber (see figure). This arrangement enables the production of plasma in a distributed fashion, thereby giving rise to a uniform plasma profile. A uniform plasma profile is necessary for uniformity in any electron- or ion-extraction electrostatic optics. The slotted configuration of the waveguide/ antenna structure makes the device scalable to larger areas and higher powers. All that is needed for scaling up is the attachment of additional matched radiating slots along the length of the discharge chamber. If it is desired to make the power per slot remain constant in scaling up, then the input microwave power must be increased accordingly.

Unlike in prior ECR microwave plasma-generating devices, there is no need for an insulating window on the antenna. Such windows are sources of contamination and gradually become ineffective as they become coated with erosion products over time. These characteristics relegate prior ECR microwave plasma- generating devices to non-ion beam, non-deposition plasma applications. In contrast, the lack of need for an insulating window in the present device makes it possible to use the device in both ion-beam (including deposition) and electron-beam applications. The device is designed so that ECR takes place above each slot and the gradient of the magnetic field at each slot is enough to prevent backflow of plasma.

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- 17589-1.

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

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

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