Negative Plasma Densities Raise Questions

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Nearly all the matter encountered on Earth is either a solid, liquid, or gas. Yet plasma-the fourth state of matter-comprises more than 99 percent of the visible universe. Understanding the physical characteristics of plasmas is important to many areas of scientific research, such as the development of fusion as a clean, renewable energy source. Lawrence Livermore scientists study the physics of plasmas in their pursuit to create fusion energy, because plasmas are an integral part of that process. When deuterium and tritium are heated to the extreme temperatures needed to achieve and sustain a fusion reaction (about 100 million degrees), ... continued below

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Hazi, A January 26, 2006.

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Nearly all the matter encountered on Earth is either a solid, liquid, or gas. Yet plasma-the fourth state of matter-comprises more than 99 percent of the visible universe. Understanding the physical characteristics of plasmas is important to many areas of scientific research, such as the development of fusion as a clean, renewable energy source. Lawrence Livermore scientists study the physics of plasmas in their pursuit to create fusion energy, because plasmas are an integral part of that process. When deuterium and tritium are heated to the extreme temperatures needed to achieve and sustain a fusion reaction (about 100 million degrees), the electrons in these light atoms become separated from the nuclei. This process of separation is called ionization, and the resulting collection of negatively charged free electrons and positively charged nuclei is known as a plasma. Although plasmas and gases have many similar properties, plasmas differ from gases in that they are good conductors of electricity and can generate magnetic fields. For the past decade, x-ray laser interferometry has been used in the laboratory for measuring a plasma's index of refraction to determine plasma density. (The index of refraction for a given material is defined as the wavelength of light in a vacuum divided by the wavelength of light traveling through the material.) Until now, plasma physicists expected to find an index of refraction less than one. Researchers from Livermore and Colorado State University recently conducted experiments on aluminum plasmas at the Laboratory's COMET laser facility and observed results in which the index of refraction was greater than one. This surprising result implied a negative electron density. Livermore physicist Joseph Nilsen and his colleagues from Livermore and the University of Notre Dame have performed sophisticated calculations to explain this phenomenon. Previously, researchers believed that only free electrons contributed to the index of refraction. Nilsen and his colleagues posit that bound electrons attached to the ions in plasmas can greatly affect the index of refraction and make it greater than one. Furthermore, if the effect of bound electrons is ignored when analyzing experimental results from x-ray interferometry, the electron density of plasmas may be indeterminate or significantly under- or overestimated.

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PDF-file: 4 pages; size: 0.5 Mbytes

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  • Report No.: UCRL-TR-218607
  • Grant Number: W-7405-ENG-48
  • DOI: 10.2172/883596 | External Link
  • Office of Scientific & Technical Information Report Number: 883596
  • Archival Resource Key: ark:/67531/metadc892541

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  • January 26, 2006

Added to The UNT Digital Library

  • Sept. 23, 2016, 2:42 p.m.

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  • Dec. 7, 2016, 6:12 p.m.

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Hazi, A. Negative Plasma Densities Raise Questions, report, January 26, 2006; Livermore, California. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc892541/: accessed October 21, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.