Using Dust as Probes to Determine Sheath Extent and Structure
Two in situ experimental methods are presented in which dust particles are used to determine the extent of the sheath and gain information about the time-averaged electric force profile within a radio frequency (RF) plasma sheath. These methods are advantageous because they are not only simple and quick to carry out, but they also can be performed using standard dusty plasma experimental equipment. In the first method, dust particles are tracked as they fall through the plasma towards the lower electrode. These trajectories are then used to determine the electric force on the particle as a function of height as well as the extent of the sheath. In the second method, dust particle levitation height is measured across a wide range of RF voltages. Similarities were observed between the two experiments, but in order to understand the underlying physics behind these observations, the same conditions were replicated using a self-consistent fluid model. Through comparison of the fluid model and experimental results, it is shown that the particles exhibiting a levitation height that is independent of RF voltage indicate the sheath edge – the boundary between the quasineutral bulk plasma and the sheath. Therefore, both of these simple and inexpensive, yet effective, methods can be applied across a wide range of experimental parameters in any ground-based RF plasma chamber to gain useful information regarding the sheath, which is needed for interpretation of dusty plasma experiments.