Electron-rich sheath dynamics. I. Transient currents and sheath-plasma instabilities

Stenzel, R. L.; Gruenwald, J.; Ionita, C.; Schrittwieser, R.
June 2011
Physics of Plasmas;Jun2011, Vol. 18 Issue 6, p062112
Academic Journal
The evolution of an electron-rich sheath on a plane electrode has been investigated experimentally. A rapidly rising voltage is applied to a plane gridded electrode in a weakly ionized, low temperature, and field-free discharge plasma. Transient currents during the transition from ion-rich to electron-rich sheath are explained including the current closure. Time-resolved current-voltage characteristics of the electrode are presented. The time scale for the formation of an electron-rich sheath is determined by the ion dynamics and takes about an ion plasma period. When the ions have been expelled from the sheath a high-frequency sheath-plasma instability grows. The electric field contracts into the electron-rich sheath which implies that the potential outside the sheath drops. It occurs abruptly and creates a large current pulse on the electrode which is not a conduction but a displacement current. The expulsion of ions from the vicinity of the electrode lowers the electron density, electrode current, and the frequency of the sheath-plasma oscillations. Electron energization in the sheath creates ionization which reduces the space charge density, hence sheath electric field. The sheath-plasma instability is weakened or vanishes. The ionization rate decreases, and the sheath electric field recovers. A relaxation instability with repeated current transients can arise which is presented in a companion paper. Only for voltages below the ionization potential a quiescent electron rich-sheath is observed.


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