Dusty Plasma Correlation Function Experiment
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Dust particles immersed within a plasma environment, such as those in protostellar clouds, planetary rings or cometary environments, will acquire an electric charge. If the ratio of the inter-particle potential energy to the average kinetic energy is high enough the particles will form either a “liquid” structure with short-range ordering or a crystalline structure with long range ordering. Many experiments have been conducted over the past several years on such colloidal plasmas to discover the nature of the crystals formed, but more work is needed to fully understand these complex colloidal systems. Most previous experiments have employed monodisperse spheres to form Coulomb crystals. However, in nature (as well as in most plasma processing environments) the distribution of particle sizes is more randomized and disperse. This paper reports experiments which were carried out in a GEC radio frequency reference cell modified for use as a dusty plasma system, using varying sizes of particles to determine the manner in which the correlation function depends upon the overall dust grain size distribution. (The correlation function determines the overall crystalline structure of the lattice.) Two-dimensional plasma crystals were formed of assorted glass spheres with specific size distributions in an argon plasma. Using various optical techniques, the pair correlation function was determined and compared to those calculated numerically.