Interaction of Intense Short Laser Pulses with Gases of Nanoscale Atomic and Molecular Clusters

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We study the interaction of intense laser pulses with gases of van der Waals bound atomic aggregates called clusters in the range of laser-cluster parameters such that kinetic as well as hydrodynamic effects are active. The clustered gas absorbs the laser pulse energy efficiently producing x-rays, extreme ultraviolet radiation, energetic particles and fusion neutrons.

First, we investigate the effect of pulse duration on the heating of a single cluster in a strong laser field using a 2-D electrostatic particle-in-cell (PIC) code. Heating is dominated by a collision-less resonant absorption process that involves energetic electrons transiting through the cluster. A size-dependent intensity threshold defines the onset of this resonance [Taguchi et al., Phys. Rev. Lett., v90(20), (2004)]. It is seen that increasing the laser pulse width lowers this intensity threshold and the energetic electrons take multiple laser periods to transit the cluster instead of one laser period as previously recorded [Taguchi et al., Phys. Rev. Lett.,v90(20), (2004)]. Results of our numerical simulations showing the effect of pulse duration on the heating rate and the evolution of the electron phase space are presented in this dissertation. Our simulations show that strong electron heating is accompanied by the generation of a quasi-monoenergetic high-energy peak in the ion kinetic energy distribution function. The energy at which the peak occurs is pulse duration dependent. Calculations of fusion neutron yield from exploding deuterium clusters using the PIC model with periodic boundary conditions are also presented.

We also investigate the propagation of the laser pulse through a gas of clusters that is described by an effective dielectric constant determined by the single cluster polarizability. For computational advantage, we adopt a uniform density description of the exploding clusters, modified to yield experimentally consistent single cluster polarizability, and couple it to a Gaussian description of the laser pulse. This model is then used to study self-focusing, absorption, and spectral broadening of the laser pulse. The model is further extended to allow for a fraction of the gas to be present as unclustered monomers and to include the effect of unbound electrons produced in the laser-cluster interaction.