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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Correlated molecular plasmas Morrison, Jonathan P.


Ultracold neutral plasmas (UNPs) are highly correlated, charged-particle systems studied in standard atomic-molecular optical physics laboratories. Advances in ultracold physics techniques have led to the development of magneto-optical traps that permit the localization of micro-Kelvin temperature atomic samples (10⁸ - 10¹⁰ cm -³ that can be photoionized with a defined excess laser energy. Magneto-optical trapping of molecules proves difficult, and to date, lags in reaching conditions attainable for atoms. Molecules possess additional degrees of freedom where energy can flow during laser trapping and cooling. Alternatively, elastic collisions with inert gases offer another route to low temperatures. Super-sonic expansions of target molecules seeded in a noble gas can reduced the translational temperature to values as low as 0.1 K. Here I report on the formation of a molecular ultracold plasma in a molecular beam of nitric oxide seeded in an inert gas. Our method does not directly form a plasma, but instead, I create a Rydberg gas that spontaneously evolves to a plasma. I have verified the transition to a collective plasma state by applying pulsed-fields to the field-free flight region, and observe a signal that persists well beyond classical field amplitudes required to ionize individual Rydberg states. Electric field screening is a collective effect occurring over a characteristic distance, quantified by the Debye length, λ_D. Molecular ultracold plasmas described here exhibit Debye lengths smaller than the overall size, λ_D<<σ. Plasmas of this nature offer an exotic environment for which to study fundamental phenomena. While plasmas are generally thought of as hot, UNPs exist at low enough temperatures that electrostatic interaction energy between particles is greater than their kinetic energy. At this point, charged particles begin to find themselves in local potential energy minima. Over the entire sample this translates to long-range order, or correlation. It is of great interest for researchers studying UNPs to maximize particle correlation, which requires UNPs to remain very cold, and dense through their lifetime.

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