Modeling the heating and atomic kinetics of a photoionized neon plasma experiment
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Motivated by gas cell photoionized plasma experiments performed by our group at the Z facility of Sandia National Laboratories, we discuss in this dissertation a modeling study of the heating and ionization of the plasma for conditions characteristic of these experiments. Photoionized plasmas are non-equilibrium systems driven by a broadband x-ray radiation flux. They are commonly found in astrophysics but rarely seen in the laboratory. Several modeling tools have been employed: (1) a view-factor computer code constrained with side x-ray power and gated monochromatic image measurements of the z-pinch radiation, to model the time-history of the photon-energy resolved x-ray flux driving the photoionized plasma, (2) a Boltzmann self-consistent electron and atomic kinetics model to simulate the electron distribution function and configuration-averaged atomic kinetics, (3) a radiation-hydrodynamics code with inline non-equilibrium atomic kinetics to perform a comprehensive numerical simulation of the experiment and plasma heating, and (4) steady-state and time-dependent collisional-radiative atomic kinetics calculations with fine-structure energy level description to assess transient effects in the ionization and charge state distribution of the plasma. The results indicate that the photon-energy resolved x-ray flux impinging on the front window of the gas cell is very well approximated by a linear combination of three geometrically-diluted Planckian distributions. Knowledge of the spectral details of the x-ray drive turned out to be important for the heating and ionization of the plasma. The free electrons in the plasma thermalize quickly relative to the timescales associated with the time-history of the x-ray drive and the plasma atomic kinetics. Hence, electrons are well described by a Maxwellian energy distribution of a single temperature. This finding is important to support the application of a radiation-hydrodynamic model to simulate the experiment. It is found that the computed plasma heating compares well with experimental observation when the effects of the windows, hydrodynamics, and non-equilbirium neon emissivity and opacity are employed. The atomic kinetics shows significant time-dependent effects because the timescale of the x-ray drive is too short compared to that of the photoionization process. These modeling and simulation results are important to test theory and modeling assumptions and approximations, and also to provide guidance on data interpretation and analysis.