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Plasma Production via Field Ionization


Plasma production via field ionization occurs when an incoming electron beam is sufficiently dense that the electric field associated with the beam ionizes the neutral vapor. Experiments at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) explore the threshold conditions necessary to induce field ionization in a neutral lithium (Li) vapor. By independently varying the bunch length, transverse spot size or number of electrons per bunch, the radial component of the electric field is controlled to be above or below the threshold for field ionization. A self-ionized plasma is an essential step for the viability of plasma-based accelerators for future high-energy experiments. Based on the experimental results, the incoming beam ionizes the neutral Li vapor when its peak electric field is approximately 5~GV/m and higher. This electric field translates into a peak charge density of approximately 3$\times 10^{16}~\rm{cm}^{-3}$. The experimental conditions are approximated and simulated in a 2-D particle-in-cell code, OOPIC. The code and the data correspond well in terms of the correct threshold conditions and the dependence on the critical beam parameters. In addition to the ionization threshold, the field ionization effects are characterized by the beam's energy loss through the Li vapor column due to the plasma wake field production. The peak and average energy loss as a result of wake production and beam propagation through the plasma is compared with simulation results from OOPIC. The simulation code accurately predicts the peak energy loss of the beam, but approximations in the code produce differences between the average energy loss measured and the loss calculated by the simulation.

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