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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/P00671X/1
Title: Coherent Control and Manipulation of Natural and Un-Natural Parity Contributions to Electron Impact Ionization from Laser-Excited Atoms.
Principal Investigator: Murray, Professor AJ
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: Physics and Astronomy
Organisation: University of Manchester, The
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 January 2017 Ends: 31 July 2020 Value (£): 454,037
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Light-Matter Interactions Plasmas - Laser & Fusion
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
13 Sep 2016 EPSRC Physical Sciences - September 2016 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Plasmas are ubiquitous in nature, with more than 99% of the universe being in this fourth state of matter. Plasmas can consist of a mixture of ions, electrons and neutral atoms or molecules, depending upon their temperature. At very high temperatures (e.g. at the centre of the sun) all atoms are ionized, so only ions and electrons are present in these regions. At lower temperatures (such as at the surface of the sun and in the stellar atmosphere, in fluorescent and neon lights, in interstellar space, in ion lasers or in the earths ionosphere) a plasma consists of a mixture of charged and neutral particles. The neutral particles are atoms or molecules that are either in their ground state, or they may be in an excited state. Electrons and ions in the plasma can then collide with these neutral particles, leading to an exchange of energy resulting in further ionization or excitation. The most common collisions are with electrons, since they move most easily within the plasma. The interactions are complex in nature, and lead to many of the features observed from a plasma, such as the production of light in neon tubes and fluorescent lights, in lightning and in auroras.

Physicists need to understand the dynamics of these collisions to allow them to accurately describe the plasma. This is important in a wide range of areas, from optimising the energy of plasmas used in science and industry, through to understanding and predicting the solar wind that affects our climate. It is hence important to provide accurate models of the collisions that can occur.

In the research proposed here we will experimentally and theoretically study ionizing collisions with excited atoms for the first time. This will be a combined international effort, with experiments being conducted in Manchester, and theory being developed in the USA. Understanding collisions with excited atoms is important, as the collision probability is usually greater than for ground-state atoms. This is because their cross-section (which effectively defines their 'area') is often much larger than when they are in the ground state. This occurs since the excited electron is in a higher orbital, and so is effectively at a larger distance from the nucleus. Even if the density of excited atoms in the plasma is lower than for ground-state targets, they may hence be of equal or greater importance when describing the dynamics.

Little is known about collisions with excited targets, since it is very difficult to produce a high density of excited atoms in the laboratory. This has recently changed, since we now have tuneable lasers that can create excited atoms in sufficient quantities to carry out the experiments. The University of Manchester has invested in a suite of lasers that allow these difficult experiments to be performed. To accumulate data of sufficient accuracy the laser wavelength has to be controlled to better than 1 part in 1 billion for long periods of time, which is extremely challenging. We have demonstrated that this is possible in a set of pioneering experiments, and as part of this new work we will build control systems to allow this precision and stability to be achieved for periods of up to several weeks.

A significant advantage of exciting atoms using lasers is that we can 'shape' them prior to the collision occurring. We have discovered that this allows us to probe the collision in a unique way, so that different contributions to quantum models of the interaction can be rigorously tested. In particular, we found that so-called 'un-natural parity' terms are very important, as they can contribute up to 50% of the cross-section. These terms are not included in current plasma models, so we believe they are badly underestimating the effect of excited atoms within the plasma. The experiments proposed here provide a unique way to study these terms, and they will allow new and precise models to be developed as part of this international collaboration.
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Organisation Website: http://www.man.ac.uk