Influence of VUV illumination on breakdown mechanics: Pre-ionization, direct photoionization, and discharge initiation

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A microdischarge (MD) vacuum ultraviolet (VUV) light source is fired onto a N2-NO (99.92 : 0.08%) target gas. The minor gas constituent, NO, was chosen for its ionization potential (9.23eV) and photoionization cross-section (1.410-18cm2) at the wavelength of interest (121.6nm, 10.2eV). The result is a plasma generated entirely by volume photoionization in a N2-NO background. Using a very low electric field amplitude, charge carriers are drifted though the photoplasma at picoampere levels, serving as a non-invasive diagnostic. Using a simple one-dimensional fluid approximation for the low electric field condition, theoretical predictions of photoplasma current were found to be in meaningful agreement with experimental data. The impact of direct photoionization and pre-ionization on nanosecond timescale high voltage breakdown yielded two primary observations: (1) a significant reduction in the formative delay time necessary for spark formation, and (2) almost complete elimination of the statistical delay time. Again utilizing one-dimensional fluid approximations, reasonable agreement between experimental and simulated breakdown voltage was observed. Utilizing the same VUV source to illuminate a HV spark gap biased to about 95% self-breakdown voltage revealed that direct volume photoionization alone was insufficient to trigger breakdown of the high voltage gap. However, permitting electrode illumination, the same source was found to be capable of triggering breakdown in the undervoltaged gap, albeit with a large temporal jitter.

Original languageEnglish
Article number325501
Pages (from-to)325501
JournalJournal of Physics D: Applied Physics
Issue number32
StatePublished - Aug 13 2014


  • breakdown
  • gas discharge
  • microdischarge
  • photoionization
  • vacuum ultraviolet


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