Plasma Formation and Evolution on Cu, Al, Ti, and Ni Surfaces Driven by a Mega-Ampere Current Pulse
AuthorYates, Kevin Colligan
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Metal alloy mm-diameter rods have been driven by a 1-MA, 100-ns current pulse from the Zebra z-pinch. The intense current produces megagauss surface magnetic fields that diffuse into the load, ohmically heating the metal until plasma forms. Because the radius is much thicker than the skin depth, the magnetic field reaches a much higher value than around a thin-wire load. With the “barbell” load design, plasma formation in the region of interest due to contact arcing or electron avalanche is avoided, allowing for the study of ohmically heated loads. Work presented here will show first evidence of a magnetic field threshold for plasma formation in copper 101, copper 145, titanium, and nickel, and compare with previous work done with aluminum. Copper alloys 101 and 145, titanium grade II, and nickel alloy 200 form plasma when the surface magnetic field reaches 3.5, 3.0, 2.2, and 2.6 megagauss, respectively. Varying the element metal, as well as the alloy, changes multiple physical properties of the load and affects the evolution of the surface material through the multiple phase changes. Similarities and differences between these metals will be presented, giving motivation for continued work with different material loads.During the current rise, the metal is heated to temperatures that cause multiple phase changes. When the surface magnetic field reaches a threshold, the metal ionizes and the plasma becomes pinched against the underlying cooler, dense material. Diagnostics fielded have included visible light radiometry, two-frame shadowgraphy (266 and 532 nm wavelengths), time-gated EUV spectroscopy, single-frame/2ns gated imaging, and multi-frame/4ns gated imaging with an intensified CCD camera (ICCD). Surface temperature, expansion speeds, instability growth, time of plasma formation, and plasma uniformity are determined from the data. The time-period of potential plasma formation is scrutinized to understand if and when plasma forms on the surface of a heated conductor. When photodiode signals of visible light surface emission reach values indicating temperatures consistent with plasma formation, a sharp increase in signal is observed, which can be interpreted as related to an abrupt increase in conductivity when plasma forms, as has been observed experimentally as well as in Quantum Molecular Dynamic simulations. The increase in conductivity, in the context of an overall rising current, causes an abrupt increase in current density in the plasma-forming layer, leading to an increase in temperature that reinforces the increase in conductivity. Laser shadowgaphy images allow for the observation of expansion as well as the development and evolution of surface instabilities. The sudden expansion of the surface of a heated conductor is not sufficient to claim plasma formation. The development of late-time surface instabilities does indicate surface plasma formed, although it does not pinpoint the moment of plasma formation. The self-emission images captured by ICCD cameras provide a third indicator of plasma formation. The images first show non-uniform dots begin to glow, then show bright filaments in the direction of current flow, and eventually show a uniform surface emission. The early dots are believed to be plasma; however, the filamentation occurs near the time of the abrupt increase in the visible diode signal. The filaments are likely caused by electrothermal instabilities a formation attributed to a plasma.The interplay between an ohmically heated conductor and a magnetic field is important for the field of Magnetized Target Fusion (MTF). MTF compresses a magnetized fuel by imploding a flux-conserving metal liner. During compression, fields reach several megagauss, with a fraction of the flux diffusing into the metal liner. The magnetic field induces eddy currents in the metal, leading to ionization and potential mixing of metal contaminant into the fusion fuel.