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Direct nuclear excitation of a COâ‚‚ Laser

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Direct nuclear excitation of a COâ‚‚ Laser
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Rhoads, Harold S., 1946-
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English
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ix, 112 leaves. : ill. ; 28 cm.

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Lasers ( lcsh )
Nuclear excitation ( lcsh )
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bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

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Thesis--University of Florida.
Bibliography:
Bibliography: leaves 108-111.
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Typescript.
General Note:
Vita.
Statement of Responsibility:
by Harold S. Rhoads.

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Copyright [name of dissertation author]. Permission granted to the University of Florida to digitize, archive and distribute this item for non-profit research and educational purposes. Any reuse of this item in excess of fair use or other copyright exemptions requires permission of the copyright holder.
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Full Text
Direct Nuclear Excitation
of a C02 Laser
By
Harold S. Rhoads
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE COUNCIL OF
THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL
FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
1972


PLEASE NOTE:
Some pages may have
indistinct print.
Filmed as received.
University Microfilms, A Xerox Education Company


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
The author Is indebted to Dr. R. T. Schneider, chair
man of the supervisory committee, for his valuable guidance
and support in every phase of this study. Sincere thanks
are extended to the members of the supervisory oommlttee,
Drs. M. J. Ohanian, H. D. Campbell, D. R. Keefer, U. H.
Kurzweg and B. S. Thomas.
The shield tank laser was constructed under the direction
of Dr. F. Aliarlo of the NASA-Langley Research Center. Mr.
R. Jones did much of the precision work in modifying this
laser and constructing the thermal column laser. Mr. D.
Sterritt and Mr. G. Wheeler assisted in some phases of the
laboratory work.
Special thanks are extended to the University of Florida
Training Reactor crew, under the direction of Drs. N. J.
Diaz and R. W. Englehart. The constant technical support
and advice provided by Reactor Operators H. Gogun, P.
Roberts and R. Fiedler contributed immeasurably to the
speedy and successful progress of the experimental work.
Helpful discussions with R. H. Bullis and W. J. Wlegand
of United Aircraft Researoh Laboratories are gratefully
acknowledged. Their contributions to Chapter IV were
important to analysis of the N-I data.
li


The author's sister, Joan K. Rhoads, typed the final
draft.
This work was supported by NASA Grant NGL-10-005-089.
lii


TABLE OF CONTENTS
Page
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS 11
LIST OF FIGURES v
ABSTRACT vli
CHAPTER
I. INTRODUCTION 1
Nuclear Pumped Lasers 1
Nuclear Enhancement 4
Concepts 6
History 1
CO2 Laser Experiments 12
II. POSSIBLE NUCLEAR EFFECTS ON
C02 LASER OPERATION 16
Volume-Source Irradiation of Laser Gases 26
Estimates of Mean Chord Through a Cylinder 27
Interaction of Charged Particles
with the Laser Gas 32
Wall and Electrode Phenomena 37
III. EXPERIMENT 45
Apparatus 45
Procedure 57
Results 66
IV. DISCUSSION 87
£
Evidence of Modification 88
Evidence of Cathode Effects 91
Implications of the Results 99
Recommendations for Future Research 102
V. CONCLUSIONS 106
REFERENCES 108
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH 112
iv


LIST OF FIGURES
Figure Page
1. Molecular Vibration 18
2. C02 and N2 Vibrational Energy Levels 21
3. Fractional Electron Power Transfer for
1:1:8 C02N2:He Laser Mixture 24
4. Geometry for Determining Mean Chord
Length of a Cylinder 28
5. Geometry for Derivation of Cylinder
Mean Chord Length 30
6. UFTR Cross Section 46
7. N-I Laser Schematic 49
8. N-I Laser and Canister 52
9. N-II Laser and Gas Fill System 54
10. N-I Laser Flux Distribution 63
11. N-II Laser Flux Distribution 65
3
12. Effect of He(n,p)T Reaction on Laser
Performance 67
13. Laser Power vs. Current, 1:1:8 Mixture,
6 torr 71
14. Current-Voltage Characteristic of 1:1:8
Mixture, 6 torr 73
15. Current-Voltage Characteristics on
Consecutive Runs 76
16. Power vs^. Current, 4:1 He:C02 6 torr 81
v


17.
Current-Voltage
Characteristic of 4:1
He:C02 6 torr
82
18.
Current-Voltage
Curves
for N-II Laser
84
19.
Nuclear Power Input at
And Fluxes
Higher Pressures
94
vi


Abstraot of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate
Council of the University of Florida in Partial
Fulfillment of the Requirements for the
Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
DIRECT NUCLEAR EXCITATION
OF A C02 LASER
By
Harold S. Rhoads
March, 1972
Chairman: Dr. R. T. Schneider
Major Department: Nuclear Engineering Sciences
An experimental study of the effects of the hellum-3
(n,p) reaotion on C02 laser performance is presented.
Laser output power and efficiency are at least doubled
by the fast protons and tritons produced in the 3ne(n,p)T
reaction. The natural helium normally present in the
C02:N2:He 1:1:8 gas mixture is replaced with hellum-3,
and neutrons are supplied by a thermal reactor. Average
8 -? -1
neutron flux is near 3 x 10 neutrons cm sec The
Improved performance is observed in discharges with current
significantly lower than could be sustained in the absence
of radiation.
The nuclear reactions also allow the establishment
of stable lasing discharges at pressures 40# higher than
the 10-torr maximum without nuclear assistance. Breakdown
voltage in the 14-torr mixture is reduoed by at least 50#
vli


during Irradiation. Higher pressures oan almost certainly
be attained but are not Investigated here. The discharge
cannot be maintained as reactor power Is reduced.
The radiation-sustained glow discharges are. seen to
exhibit properties markedly different from those of self-
sustained glows. The slope of the current-voltage character
istic curve changes from negative to positive as radiation
Intensity Is Increased. This new type'of glow discharge
may Initiate a field of gaseous electronics research of
great Importance to nuclear laser enhancement.
A new mechanism is proposed to explain the results,
based on a reduction in positive-column electric field,
at reduced discharge currents. The discharge stability
In current regions previously unattainable Is explained
by the production of secondary electrons by protons, tritons
and gammas striking, the cathode. Indirect evidence in the
data to support both these assertions is presented.
An improved technique for calculating the ionization
density produced by a volume source of radiation In a
cylinder of low-pressure gas is derived. The calculation
results show that nuclear Ionization of gas in the positive
column, ag has been proposed for other nuclear enhancement
results at higher energy input, cannot explain the present
results. The failure or inefficiency of other nuolear
laser experiments may be explained by their failure to
strongly irradiate the cathode area.
viii


Several new directions In nuclear laser research are
suggested, Including Investigations of other laser gases
and liquid laser media. Research In such related fields
as Isotope separation by laser and basic studies of the
radiation-sustained glow discharge b'j proposed.
lx


CHAPTER I
INTRODUCTION
The laser and the nuclear reaotor are among the most
remarkable developments In the history of technology.
Shortly after the first demonstrations of laser action In
the early sixties, papers speculating on the possibility of
combining the two devices In a single system began to
t*
appear.
Nuclear Pumped Lasers
Such a combination could take advantage of properties
unique to the laser and the reactor. The high energy
densities attainable with nuclear reactions have given us
large amounts of relatively cheap power. For example,
chemical reactions release energy on the order of a few
olectron volts per atom Involved; a nuclear fission releases
more than 2 x 10 eV. This relationship Is demonstrated
in more familiar terms when the fission of a few grams of
uranium results in explosions equivalent to thousands of
tons of TNT or electrioal power equal to that generated
by many trainloads of coal.
The laser's usefulness to date has centered not so
much on the quantity as on the quality of Its energy
product: highly directional light of precisely determined
1


2
wavelength. Laser light has found hundreds of applications
because It can be directed, modulated, focused and measured
with greater ease and precision than that from any other
light source.
Some laser applications of current Interest, however,
require high power as well as high quality In the laser
output; among these are cutting and welding of metals and
refractory materials, communications over interplanetary
distances, wireless transmission of power to remote objects
such as satellites and weaponry.
While lasers of high continuous power (tens of kilowatts)
have been developed,1 they are highly complex devices requiring
large power supplies, gas-handling systems, and support
equipment such as electron accelerators and wind tunnels.
The expense and complexity of these lasers are such that
significant increases in efficiency and output at reason
able cost are eagerly sought.
Nuclear reactions may offer the Improvements desired.
A fission-powered laser could have virtually unlimited
input power* 1,000-megawatt reactors are already common
in the nuclear industry. In addition, the laser-reactor
system would only need to convert a few percent of the
fission energy to coherent light to outstrip electric
lasers we can foresee. The best nuclear-electric power
stations might convert 40% of fission energy to electrical
energy, and the best high-power lasers might convert 25%
of that electrical input to coherent light for a 10%


3
overall fission-to-light conversion efficiency. A nuelear-
pumped laser with 10% efficiency does not now seem an
unreasonable goal, and the elimination of turbines, trans
formers, transmission lines and power supply would make
such a system economically attractive. Only the chemical
laser, in which chemical reactions give rise to population
inversions and lasing, offers comparable advantages.
A major advantage of the proposed nuclear laser system
not shared by chemical lasers is compactness and light
weight, particularly if the laser is to operate at high
power for long periods of time. High-power chemical
lasers would require large stores of fuel, but nuolear
reactorswhen stripped of shielding and containment
vessels not required in some environments (e.g.,space)
are light and compaot by comparison.
An important feature of possible nuclear gas lasers
that distinguishes them from conventional electric-discharge
systems is that high gas pressures and large laser diameters
are not only acceptable but desirable. Discharge laser
power is ultimately limited by the constriction of the
discharge into narrow filaments, so that input power is
concentrated in a small volume of the laser cavity; this
constriction is most pronounced at high pressures. While
it would be desirable to distribute the power over the
entire volume of a large-diameter tube, this cannot be
done with the conventional longitudinal-discharge scheme.
A recent major advance on this problem was the development


4
of the "Transversely Excited Atmospheric" (TEA) CO2
laser at the Canadian Defence Research Establishment,
Valcartier, In which many small arcs replace the single
longitudinal arc In a laser gas at atmospheric or higher
pressure. Even this concept, however, will be ultimately
limited In the same manner as the longitudinal discharge.
A nuclear-pumped gas laser might suffer no such limi
tation. As gas pressure Increases, the stopping power of
the gasIts ability to absorb nuclear reaction energy
will increase. If the radiation source is uniformly dis
tributed in the laser gas, so must the nuclear power be
uniformly deposited throughout the laser. Thus, there 1b
no theoretical upper limit on the output of a nuclear
pumped gas laser, since the amount of laser medium and the
volume of the laser container are not limited by the
physics of the ele0trie discharge.
Nuclear Enhancement
All the foregoing, of course, Is mere speculation
and several assumptions have been glossed over. There
is no way of knowing, for instance, that a 90-MeV fission
fragment can be easily converted to millions of one-eV
coherent photons. Even so, the feasibility of nuclear
enhancement of the performance of a conventional laser has
been demonstrated by the author2 and by other investigators.^
The results reported In this paper may have immediate
applications in the laser Industry.


5
The great majority of successful nuclear laser research
has concentrated on gas lasers. Thom and Schneider-' give
a comprehensive review and extensive hibliography of the
work. While solid media offer the greatest stopping power
for nuclear radiation, they are subject to degradation of
optical quality that interferes with laser aotlon. Gas
laser media are less efficient absorbers of nuclear energy,
but radiation damage is not a problem with them. Liquid
lasers have not been thoroughly investigated to date, but
their theoretical advantages will be discussed later in
this paper.
Nuclear enhancement of gas laser performance offers
many of the same advantages listed for the nuolear-pumped
laser system: improved performance with compactness, light
weight, simplicity, and the possibility of high pressures
and large diameters.
Consider, for example, a C02 electric discharge laser
of the type used in this study. The performance of suoh
lasers may be improved by lowering the gas temperature,
by adjusting the electron energy distribution to the optimum
for pumping the laser, and by eliminating undesirable
impurities such as carbon monoxide (produced by electron
impact dissociation of C02) from the gas.
Unfortunately for the designers of aircraft and space
laser systems, all these techniques involve a weight
penalty and a reduction in reliability? one must have
refrigeration systems, pre-ionization devices such as


6
electron beam guns, large stores of compressed gas for
flowing the impurities out, and the like. If it is possi
ble to aohieve the improved laser performance by simply
coating the walls of the laser tube with a few grams of
a radioaotive substance, the weight savings would be well
worth the cost of developing the technique.
If the aim is maximum power, regardless of weight or
size, nuclear enhancement still offers promise. Nuclear
pre-ionization of the laser gas will allow more uniform
excitation of the laser by distributing the electric
discharge power over a larger volume, delaying or pre
venting fllaraentation. This could allow laser operation
at extremely high pressures and remove the limitations on
discharge diameter that have dictated long, thin tubes
in most laser designs to date.
Concepts
There are a number of reactions which might be used
to provide laser pumping power or enhancement, and many
methods which might be used to convert the reaotion energy
to laser light. The reactions and the techniques proposed
for gas lasers will be discussed here.
Due to the low density of gases, their ability to
absorb low linear energy transfer (LET) radiation such as
gamma and beta rays is small. It thus appears that rela
tively heavy charged partiles, from protons to fission
fragments, would be the most efficient means of depositing
nuclear reaction energy in gas lasers.


7
Among convenient sources of heavy charged particles
are the following reactions;
10B + n-* <*(1.46 MeV) + 7Li(0.84 MeV)
3He + np(0.57 MeV) + T(0.19 MeV)
6Li + n* **(2.0 MeV) + T(2.6 MeV)
235u + n * fission (1)
259Pu + n-*- fission
210Po-~ o< (5.3 MeV) + 206Pb (half-life 139 days)
252cf Spontaneous fission
The first three of these reactions require an
external neutron source such aB a nuclear reaotor; neutron
fission of uranium or plutonium may be employed either with
an external neutron source or as part of a self-sustaining
chain reaction. Nuclides such as polonium 210 or
californium 252 require no external equipment, but their
radioactive decay does cause continuous decrease in source
intensity.
The source nuclides may be incorporated in the laser
cavity either as solid ooatings on the laser walls (for
all but ^He) or dispersed aB gases in the laser tube.
The actual laser transitions need not occur in the species
listed herei.e., it would not be necessary to find a
uranium laser transition. The lasing species could be any


8
atom or molecule whioh 1b compatible with the source
nuclide or Its compounds.
To date, the literature has mentioned only solid boron
coatings-**5 or BFj gas^ as possible ways of using the
10B(n,ec)^Li reaction. A recent series of papers from the
Soviet Union,^ however, demonstrate that boron triohloride,
BClj, will wort in electric discharge lasers. (It Is
worth noting that one of the oo-authors of this work, Nobel
laureate A. M. Prokhorov, has also been active In nuclear
laser experiments.)^ The possibility of a nuolear-pumped
laser based on BCl^ has not been previously advanoed ex
cept by the present author.2
Hellum-3, the gas used in the experiment to be
reported here, Is quite convenient for nuclear laser
experiments. It requires no new laser aisooverles, since
helium is a component In several important electric
lasers, including He-Ne, C02, CO and He-metal vapor systems.
The neutron cross section for the ^He(n,p)T reaction is
quite large (5000 barns), so that one need only replace
the natural helium in an operating laser with helium-3
for initial studies on nuclear enhancement.
Uranium and plutonium are the most interesting radia
tion souroes, since they can be used in high-power critical
reactor/laser schemes. The problems here become more
serious. It Is reasonably simple to put a solid uranium
coating on a laser tube, but the short range of fission
fragments in solid media makes it pointless to go beyond


9
very thin films; the fragments would be stopped before
reaching the laser gas. This restriction on the mass of
fissile material present may limit this scheme to low laser
power or, more probably, an enhancement technique when
reactors are available.
To achieve high-power fission-pumped gas lasers, the
fissile material will probably have to be dispersed in the
cavity as a gas. Uranium has few stable compounds whioh
are gaseous near room temperature, and of these only UFg
appears to have a chance as a laser gas. Its instability
and corrosiveness make UFg, at best, a questionable
candidate at this time; plans have been made to investigate
its laser possibilities at the University of Florida.
Preliminary work by F. Southworth shows that UFg glow
discharges can be established without undue difficulty.
Another possibility is that the uranium or plutonium
could be vaporized and the laser cavity oould operate as
a plasma-core reactor,^ with either the fissile material
or another gas serving as the actual lasing species. This,
of course, would be the ultimate nuclear laser system,
but a tremendous amount of basic research remains to be
done. Even so, it seems reasonable to expect the complex
electronic structure of U and/or Pu to give rise to some
type of laser action.
Polonium-210 and californium-252, the two isotope
sources listed as possible nuclear laser media, will
probably be applied as solid coatings for nuclear


10
enhancement. While it is not inoonoeivable that they might
work in the gaseous or plasma state, research with such
highly active species as gases or vapors could be extremely
hazardous. Californium, in particular, 1s only available
in milligram quantities at present and even microgram
quantities present serious radiation hazards.
Another source of heavy particles which haB not been
mentioned here is the particle accelerator. Proton beams
have been used in enhancement experiments, simulating
the effects of the ^He(n,p)T or other nuolear reactions.^
There are, however, many differences between particle beams
and nuclear reaction productsthey are highly directional
and well-collimated, for Instance. The so-called "E-Beam"
device, in which a swarm of energetic electrons flows
across the laser axis, also offers significant enhancement
of laser performance.^ Accelerators are not, however,
nuclear devices in the sense used in this study. While
they do offer higher particle fluxes than are easily
attained with nuclear reactions, they are bulky and
extravagant of power as a rule. Since their advantages and
shortcomings are so different from those of nuolear reaction
particle sources, accelerators will be discussed in this
paper only as research tools.
History
Papers speculating on the possibility of pumping
lasers by nuclear rather than electrical or optical means


11
"began to appear shortly after the first announcements of
laser aotion in the early 1960's. Since that time, several
teams have sought to demonstrate nuclear-pumped lasing
experimentally but there have been no unambiguous reports
of nuclear laser action at this writing.
Attention was first focused on solid laser rods,
especially ruby crystals. Solids are the most effective
absorbers of nuclear energy, and the ruby laser was the
first to receive extensive study. Flowers and Jenney
observed an increase in threshold flashlamp pump power and
increase in laser efficiency at higher pump powers from
ruby rods which had absorbed about 10^ rads of ^0o gamma
rays. Johnson and Grou^ did not see increased efficiency
in a similar experiment with lower pump power. Both teams
reported Increases in the optical absorption of the rods
due to radiation damage and attributed the alterations in
performance to Improved absorption of flashlamp power.
Both teams found that heat and UV radiation eliminated
some or all of the radiation effects, so that laser operation
returned to performance near the pre-irradiation levels.
Other solid laser experiments, as summarized in reference 5,
gave no results that have encouraged further research
since about 1965.
The possibilities of liquid laser media apparently
have not been extensively investigated exoept by Matovich.10
He prepared an organic solution containing enriched
uranium and a europium scintillator and exposed it to


12
reactor pulses with a peak thermal neutron flux of about
5.6 x 10^ n cm"2 sec1. About of the fission energy was
converted to light, but gain (If any) was calculated to be
too small to overcome cavity losses.
CO^ Laser Experiments
When the prospect of nuclear-pumped lasing in solid
rods began to appear doomed by radiation damage in solids,
attention shifted to gas laser systems. An extensive
review of all nuolear-pumped gas laser experiments to date
is given in reference 5. 00^ laser experiments at Argonne
National Laboratory,11 Moscow State University^ and the
University of Illinois^ will be discussed in greatest detail
here since they are most relevant to this study.
DeShong11 performed calculations and experiments on a
conventional C02 eleotric discharge laser with a boron-10
lined tube. His estimate of threshold neutron flux for
nuclear lasing was about 10^ to 1010 n cm"2 sec"1. Using
a reactor of maximum neutron flux 1.9 x 101, however, he
observed no change in laser performance other than a deorease
in threshold pumping power at low flux (108) whioh disap
peared as flux increased. No lasing was observed without
eleotric discharge, but the brightness and uniformity of
the glow discharge increased under the influence of alpha
particle bombardment. Energy deposition in the gas was
estimated at 4.64 x lO1^ eV om"^ sec"1.


13
Andrlakhin^ at al. simulated the effect of the ^He(n,p)T
reaction with a 2.8 MeV, 7/ about 10 watts In the 544-cm-* laser oavlty. Power deposition
was thus about 6 x 101 eV om^ sec-1 averaged over the
tube volume, roughly six orders of magnitude higher than
DeShong's threshold estimate. Again, lasing was observed
only In the presence of an electrical discharge. Laser
output was Increased by a factor of 2 to 3 over "beam off"
performance with an accompanying decrease In input power.
A calculation was performed In reference 4 to estimate
the rate R(N2) of excitation of the nitrogen vibrational
levels In a C02-N2-^He nuclear laser, but the English
translation of reference 4 contains at least one error
(Helium-3 cross section) and two unreasonable assumptions
( (l)flux of 101 n cm"2 sec"1; (2)all reaction energy
leads to ionization. This is unreasonable at low pressures.12).
A more reasonable calculation technique la presented In
Chapters II and IV.
Another series of nuclear laser experiments has been
directed by Miley and Verdeyen^'1^"1^ at the University
of Illinois. Their published results to date include a
15 to 25% enhancement of output from a pulsed C02 laser
10 7
lined with boron-10. The B(n,oc) Li reaction was initiated
11 -P -1
with neutron bursts of peak flux near 5 x 10 n om sec .
4
The effect was attributed, as in the proton-beam experiment,
to a shift in the electron energy distribution to more
olosely match the peak of the N2 vibrational cross section.


14
More recently,-^ experiments with a TEA laser have
shown lnoreases of 100 to 200# In peak output from a 0.5-
atmosphere gas mixture exposed to the boron-10 reaction
products. Further experiments with the pulsed longitudinal-
discharge laser in the boron-coated tube were reported with
still larger Increases In peak output power. The large
number of variables Involved has prevented development of
a theoretical model to explain these Interesting effects
as yet, but the work Is continuing.
Another GOg laser experiment, using ^He as the
particle source In a low ( <10^) neutron flux, was reported
by Aliarlo, Schneider et_ al.1 ^ The equipment and procedure
were similar to those reported In this paper, except for
the neutron source. An enhancement of a few percent was
observed.
Other Laser Types
The C02 laser is not, of course, the only gas laser
candidate for nuclear pumping experiments. Other gases on
which experiments have been performed to date are inert-gas
and oxygen mixtures in coated tubes,^ Helium-neon,^8-22
23
and mercury-hellum-3.
Of these experiments, none have shown conclusive
evidence that nuclear pumping might work, but some have
shown promising results. Andrlakhin et al. at Moscow State
University report 10 milliwatts light output from a iiiercury-
hellum-3 laser tube at slightly less than 0.5 atmosphere
16 P
pressure. A pulsed neutron source of 5 x 10 n cm" sec
was employed.


15
In another series of pulsed-reactor experiments by
Eerkins and Rusk,1^ boron and uranium-lined tubes filled
with various gas mixtures gave peak outputs of up to 50
watts with a neutron flux of less than 10^. The investigators
in this work and in the Moscow State University research
were unable to determine whether the light output was due
to stimulated emission.
To summarize, this Introductory chapter has outlined
the status of nuclear-pumped laser research to date, with
emphasis on experimental work. The potential rewards of
such research have been shown to be significant, with
nuclear lasers offering characteristics not available from
other systems. Experimental results have tended to
indicate that very high neutron fluxes, 10x^ or higher,
will be needed for direct nuclear pumping. Only Oanley
et al. 5 at /~5 x 1011 and Aliarlo et a^.1^ at ^<10^
have noted enhancement at lower fluxes. Other gases and
gas mixtures, while showing promise in certain instances,
have not been investigated other than in pulsed, high-flux
reactor experiments.


CHAPTER II
POSSIBLE NUCLEAR EFFECTS
ON C02 LASER OPERATION
The purposes of this chapter will be to offer an
introductory description of C02 laser physios and to discuss
the effects nuclear radiation might have on C02 and other
molecular lasers. Basio calculation techniques for the
experimental conditions described later in this study will
be derived.
Accurate prediction of the performance of any laser
system using a theoretical approach is quite difficult,
and the high-power C02 laser is easily one of the most
complex lasers yet developed. A measure of this complexity
is seen in the history of C02 laser studies: some five
years of vigorous research by many Individuals elapsed
before close agreement between theory and experiment was
obtained.
C. K. N. Patel first reported laser action at 10.6
micrometers in pure C02 with one milliwatt output from a
P4
5-meter-long discharge tube. He and others discovered
that adding nitrogen and helium to the 002, flowing the
gas mixture through the discharge, and cooling the tube
walls improved output power and efficiency to the surprising
16


17
levels of tens of watts at 20% efficiency. Even today, the
C02-N2-He electric discharge laser Is virtually unmatched
In performance by any other laser system. The reasons for
this excellent performance are now well understood.
Before proceeding further, It would be well to describe
the spectroscopic notation used for molecular vibrational
energy level discussions. The energy levels of the C02
molecule (or of any linear triatomio molecule) are fre
quently referred to In the literature by number groups
suoh as (01^0), (001), (021) and so on. These numbers
are simply a list of the vibrational quantum numbers of
the molecule and, indirectly, they specify the molecule's
vibrational energy.
A system of N atoms has 3N degrees of freedom of motion
that Is, each atom has a velocity component In the x, y
and z directions. When the N atoms are bound together In
a molecule, the molecule as a whole has three rotational
and three translational degrees of freedom, so that the
remaining 3N-6 are Internal vibrational degrees of freedom.
In the case of linear molecules (such as C02), there are
only two rotational degrees of freedom, so there are 3N-5
degrees of vibrational freedom.
In the case of 002, there are 3N-5 = 4 vibrational
degrees of freedom, but It turns out that two of the
vibrations are degenerate In energy. Three quantum numbers
are thus sufficient to speolfy the vibrational state of
C02. The three possible vibrational modes are shown In
figure 1A.


18
*
(A)
v (Bending modes, which differ
2 only in orientation and are
equal in energy degenerate)
(Asymmetric stretch mode)
v,
(Symmetric stretch mode)
o
One quantum V3, 00 1
(C)
CO Laser Transition
2
symmetric stretch
FIGURE 1: Molecular Vibration


19
The energy contained In each vibrational mode ia given
by2 ^
Ei = hvl + E where = energy of i vibrational mode
h = Planck's constant
x-u
V. = classical i -mode vibration frequency of the
1 system of atoms bound in the molecule's
electrostatic potential field
v^ = vibrational quantum numbers
=0, 1, 2, 3, ... specifying the number of
vibrational quanta excited in this mode
E(V-R) = Term to account for effects of interaction of
vibrational and rotational motions of the molecule
small compared to
The notation of three-number groups is simply a listing
of the vibrational quantum numbers in order. For example,
the (100) level has v1 =1, v2 = v^ = 0. Similarly, (021)
has Vj. = 0, v2 = 2, Vj = 1. The number groups tell the
number of quanta excited for eaoh of the three vibrational
modes.
The superscript over the v2 quantum number in Ol'^O
shows that "vibrational angular momentum" is present as a
result of the degeneraoy of the v2 mode. The displacement
of the nuclei from the molecular axis in the v2 (bending)
mode allows the molecule to have an angular momentum along
that axis, as shown in figure IB.
The C02 laser transition occurs between the (001) and
(100) levels of the 002 molecule (figure 1C). The figure


20
Is oversimplified In that it shows only a transition from
a single upper energy level to a single lower level. Eaoh
of these levels is split into many sublevels by the
vibration-rotation interaction given by the term E(V-R) in
equation 2. This interaction on the energy levels appears
in infrared spectra as "rotational fine structure" on the
vibrational transitions. Instead of a single line at a
wavelength corresponding to the energy difference between
the two vibrational levels, a band of lines near that wave
length is observed. Each single line in the band has an
Identifying letter and number suoh as R(l8) or P(20)
determined by the rotational sublevels It represents. The
rotational effect is not crucial to this disousslon, however.
Figure 2 shows the lower vibrational levels of the C02
and N2 molecules, which are the important active species
in the laser. In a glow discharge, the excited states are
populated by collisions with electrons and with other atoms
and molecules in the gas. Electron collisions can directly
excite the CC>2 (001) upper laser level, but the pumping
rate for suoh collisions is small at typioal glow discharge
conditions;2^ this partly accounts for the low efficiency
of "pure" C02 lasers.
Electron collisions are far more efficient in exciting
the lower vibrational levels of the nitrogen moleoule. As
the figure shows, the first exoited N2 state is very close
in energy to the C02 (001) upper laser level; this allows
the excited N2 to populate the (001) level very efficiently
by resonant collisions with C02 molecules in the ground


r
200
to
M
FIGURE 2: C02 and N2 Vibrational Energy Levels


22
state. At typioal glow dlsoharge conditions, this process
gives rise to the population Inversion between the (001)
and (100) levels responsible for the 10.6/cm CO2 laser
emission.
After the stimulated emission event, the CO^ molecule
in the lower laser level must be returned to the ground
state for the population inversion to be maintained. This
is accomplished by collisional de-excitation at the walls,
with electrons, and with helium atoms. Helium produces an
increase in efficiency by this oolllsional de-excitation
of the lower laser level and by increasing the thermal
diffusivity of the gas, producing lower temperatures in
all regions of the discharge tube.
How may the laser power output be increased? Obviously,
the population inversion must be improved--the processes
populating the upper level and emptying the lower level
must be accelerated. If the N2 C02 resonant collision
is used to populate the upper laser level, more excited Ng
must be available. Since electrons exoite the Ng, the laser
output may be increased by providing (l) more electron?, or
(2) "better eleotrons--eleotrons whose energies match
the maximum of nitrogen's oross-Beotion for excitation.
Unfortunately, laser aotion is not the only process
of importance in the electric-discharge laser. A stable,
uniform, low-temperature glow discharge must be maintained
for efficient CW (oontinous-wave) lasing. If we attempt
to increase electron density by increasing ourrent density,


23
the uniform glow becomes a narrow, filamented arc with
temperatures too high for efficient lasing. If we attempt
to reduce electron energy to match the peak in the Ng
excitation cross-seotion, the discharge will go out; high-
energy electrons are required to ionize the gas constituents
and maintain a sufficient electron population.
Another way to get a larger population inversion is
to increase the amount of and CO2 in the laser tube.
In this case, the increased pressure requires larger power
supplies and increases the likelihood of transition from
glow to arc. Increasing the volume of the discharge vessel
is not practical due to the natural tendency of the
discharge to constrict into a small volume.
The physics of the COg electric discharge laser has
26 2*7
been investigated by several authors, with some of
the most comprehensive work coming from a United Airoraft
group led by W. L. Nighan. ~J Using a numerical
technique and newly measured electron-oollision cross
sections, they arrived at the conclusion that laser perfor
mance changes rapidly with average electron energy. Electron
energy is determined by the ratio of the electric field
- to total neutral particle density in the discharge. The
rates at which different processes were found to occur are
shown as functions of and electron energy in figure 3,
N
taken from reference 28. The vertical axis gives the fraction
of the electrical energy input to the positive oolumn which
is absorbed by the various processes through electron


24
Figure 3: Fractional Electron Power Transfer
for 1:1:8 CC^^sHe Laser Mixture
From R. H. Bullis _et a^.,"Physics of CO Electric
Discharge Lasers," AIAA Paper No. 71-647 January
1971.
15


25
impacts. This "fractional electron power transfer" is closely-
related to the laser efficiency. The nitrogen vibrational
excitation values are summed over several vibrational states
for clarity of presentation. Some of the processes
covered in reference 28 are not included here for the same
reason.
E
From figure 3, it is olear that the optimum jj- for
exciting N2 and thus pumping the laser is less than
2 x 10"16 V cm2. Excitation of higher electronic states
E
in COg and N2 above this jjp is useless to the laser processes.
Only the necessity for ionization of the gas, maintaining
the electron population and gas conductivity, forces the
laser to be operated with ^ higher than the optimum.
A number of techniques have been successfully applied
to the problem of lowering In one method, a gas with
a low ionization potential is introduced into the discharge,
lowering the effective ionization potential of the gas.
Xenon and cesium have been added in small amounts to
pQ
improve laser gain and efficiency.
Particle beams have been used to provide all or part
of the ionization required to balance recombination and
diffusion losses in the laser tube; the previously described
it
proton beam wort of Andriakhin e^ al. is believed to have
demonstrated this effect. Intense eleotron beams have been
used to produce short-lived high-current discharges in
C02 lasers at atmospheric and higher pressures.v


26
It Is possible that nuolear reactions may provide
sufficient ionization to maintain stable discharges at the
low H values desired. In the following section, an Improved
calculation technique for determining energy deposition and
ionization rates for a volume souroe of charged particles
In a laser tube will be derived. For the case of wall
sources of particles, e.g., uranium- and boron-lined tubes,
an adequate theory has been developed elsewhere.
Volume-Source Irradiation of Laser Gases
The goal of this section will be to develop a
generally applicable technique for determining power
deposition and ionization rates due to a distributed souroe
of charged particles in a low-presBure gaseous medium.
Wherever figures are required, data for the ^He(n,p)T
reaction will be used since it is of primary Interest in
this paper. The basic principles may be readily applied
to other sources such as UFg (fission) and ^B(n, oe )^Li
so long as assumptions made here apply.
The rate of nuclear reactions in a gaseous target
material is given by
R = NTtr (3)
Nr= number density of target nuclei
(T= cross section for reaction studied
= neutron fluenoe rate C^flux")
Of the energy released, a fraotion f^ will be absorbed
in the gas. The value of f^ depends in detail upon the


27
pressure and composition of the gas and upon the dimensions
of the enclosure. For present purposes, It will be assumed
that pressures are sufficiently low that all particles pro
duced In the gas reach the walls of the vesseli.e., that
the particle range Is much larger than the laser dimensions.
To know the energy deposited In the gas by each
partile, we must have an estimate of the average path
length of the particles In the cylinder. Appendix IV of
reference 34 estimates this path length by assuming that
all partiles are born in the center of the tube of radius
a and half-length b, resulting In a path length p of
p = a 0 + (2 A ) b (4)
rr
2
with d = arctan b
Yo
This approximation clearly overestimates the path
length since the minimum track length traced out by any
particle pair is the tube diameter. Some particles born
near the tube walls have much shorter flights, A more
realistic path length is obtained here by estimating the
mean length of all chords traversing a finite oylinder,
beginning by calculating the mean chord length of the
circles at the cylinder ends.
Estimate of Mean Chord Through a Cylinder
The length of the cirole's mean chord is obtained
readily using the geometry of figure 4A. The length C
of any chord subtending an angle of 2 0 at the circle's
center is


28
(B)
(A)
FIGURE 4: Geometry for Determining Mean Chord '
Length of a Cylinder


29
C = 2a sin 9 (5)
and the average value c is obtained by integrating this
over a complete half-circle:
c
f29 = /T
J 2a sin 9 d (29)
J20=0
f 29= 7f
d(29)
J 29=0
(6)
Now consider a vertical plane defg through the cylinder
whose intersection with the end circles forms chords of
length (figure 4B). The mean chord length of the
cylinder will be obtained by finding the average chord
length of plane defg. Referring to figure 5, we obtain
OC, = arotan 2b~ arotan 2L (2b-zl (7)
' 4a4a
Of, = arc tan
1 4a (8)
J = 4a tan o< = k tanc< (9)
7T
using 4a = k; and
7T
= £k2 tan2c< + k^J ^ = k sec <=< (10)
Similar application of Pythagoras' theorem and
trlgonometrio identities yields
Px = (2b- esc oc (11)
Pg = Z CSC CX


30
= h
FIGURE 5:
Geometry for Derivation of
Cylinder Mean Chord Length


31
The only types of chords not considered so far are the
"end-to-end" chords of length 2b which would Intersect
both (de) and (gf) In figure 5. For lasers considered
In this study, d f or, In terms of length and radius,
b>>a. This Implies that there are very few end-to-end
tracks and, while they would not be dlffloult to incorporate,
their contribution to the average chord length is not great
for the long-thin-tube geometries considered here.
The mean length of all ohords terminating in the
tube wall at point z is determined by integrating over all
angles x ¡
P(z) =
rr
J Pyio< + J + J P^dc< +J
dC + I p d*
(12)
I
%
d %
whioh results in
P(z) = 1 ¡K log tan ( J + ) + K log tan ( # + |*)
- ( 2b z) log tan ( %) z log tan ( )
(13)
To get the average chord length for all z, equation
(13) would have to be integrated over all z. While this
integration is not particularly difficult, it is quite
tedious. For instance, the last term in (13) becomes,
upon substitution of (8),
z log tan ~ = z log ( ^ ) + z log ^/jL + ( )^ +1J
this is the simplest term in (13).


32
( 2b _
For large b a good approximation of P (z) dz la
a
obtained by evaluating P(z) at z=b. This results in
oc,= o 4a k
P(b) = | [k log tan ( J + ^arctan^-) -b log tan(^arctai^)J
(13)
where k= 4a as before.
For a laser tube one meter long and 2.5 cm diameter,
this gives P = 3.21 cm.
Interaction of Charged Particles
with the Laser das
The interaction of charged particles with gases has
been studied for deoades in oonneotlon with the development
of gas-filled radiation counters. Some of the data and
relationships resulting from Buch studies will be used here
to determine the energy deposition and ionization by
products of the ^He(n,p)T reactions in 00laser gas
mixtures. The procedures used here may be readily extended
to other gases, gas mixtures, and sources.
The proton and triton share the reaction energy of
760 KeV with the proton taking 570 KeV, and the triton
190 KeV. The energy of the neutron initiating the reaction
is negligible, o that the charged particles travel in
opposite directions.


33
Reference 34 gives stopping power data for protons and
tritons in helium and neon gases. The stopping power of
helium for 570 KeV protons is 105 eV cm1 torr1 and for
190 KeV tritons is 270 eV cm1 torr1. These small energy
losses at low pressure over the distances of interest here
allow us to assume the particle energies do not ohange
in the laser volume.
The laser gas mixture is not, of course, pure helium.
The effect of the C0 and No on the stopping power is
2 dx
accounted for by noting that, for constant particle
velocity, is proportional to Nz, the bound electron den
sity of the absorber material.^ The electron density of
1:1:8 C02iN2:He laser gas is determined relative to that
of helium by observing that, at a given temperature, the
particle density N at 1 torr pressure is independent of
the partile typeHe atom, or N2 or CO2 molecule. Thus
the total electron density for any gas mixture at 1 torr
is given by
Nzav = N ^fj[z1 (16)
where f is the fraotion of component i present, z^ is
its electron count (the sum of its atomio numbers if a
molecule), and the summation is over all atomic and
molecular species present. For pure He at one torr,
NzHe = 2N; for 1:1:8 C02:N2:He at one torr,
NzAV = N 0-8) zHe + *1zN2 + '1ZC02-¡ ~ 5o2N
alnoe aHe = 2, z^ = 14, zQQ^
= 22


34
Thus the stopping power for the standard laser mixture
Is 2.6 times that of pure helium. Clearly, nuclear pumping
by charged partiles might be most effective for hlgh-z
gases which would raise the stopping power of the gas at .a
given pressure. For example, If we use a small xenon (z=54)
fraction In the laser gasfor example, an 8:l:l:l
HesCO^:N^:Xe mixture, the result of (16) becomes
Nz = 9.65 N
AV
or nearly twice that of the 8:1:1 mixture without Xe.
It must be emphasized that the stopping power discussed
here Is a function of the total (bound and unbound) electron
density In the laser, not the free electron density nQ
usually discussed In connection with plasma physios. The
C02 laser plasma Is such that the number density of Ions
I A
and free electrons Is vanishingly small (n0 10 cm ),
so that the Interaction of protons and tritons with the
plasma electrons will be neglected In the determination of
dE .
dx
For the original 8:1:1 laser gas mixture, It has been
dE
determined that In the mixture at a given pressure is
2.6 times that of pure He at the same pressure. Using the
data for He at one torr, we obtain for the laser gas
(||)proton = (105)(2.6) = 273 eV cm-1 torr"1
hv -i -i (17>
()Triton = i270) (2-6) = 702 eV cra torr
for the particles from ^He(n,p)T.


35
To avoid the necessity of dual calculations, the effects
of the proton and triton will be "homogenized" by representing
dE
each particle pair with a single "pT" particle with (7=)
dx pT
the average of ()p and ()T :
() m = 487 eV cm-1 torr"1 (18)
dx pT
in the laser gas. In this way, each (n,p) reaction may be
thought of as giving off a single "piT" particle of (|)pip
which completely traverses one mean chord length in
the laser tube. The approximation in an accurate one only
so long as the pressure is low enough and the tube small
enough that the partiles lose only a small fraotion of
their reaction energy before striking the walls of the laser
tube.
The last requirement for a determination of the
ionization density along a particle track is a value for
the energy W expended to produce an ion pair. In pure
gases, the values measured for W are given in reference 35
V = 36-3 aV
wN2 = 38-1 aV
WHe = 42.4 eV
These values are for 1.2 MeV alpha particles, but the
35
type and energy of radiation have little effect on W.
The energy lost by a particle in producing an ion pair


36
Is somewhat higher than the Ionization potential since some
energy Is given up to non-ionizing reactions suoh as
excitation and molecular dissociation.
The value of W for a gas mixture will he approximated
here by the expression
W = Ef.W. (19)
C i 1
where f^ Is the fraction of species 1 and is the accepted
value of W in the pure gas. The validity of this assumption
may be estimated by comparing the results of (19) for a
mixture of 80% N2 and 20$ 02 with the measured value of W
for air, using the data in reference 35 the measured and
calculated values agree within less than 2%. Suoh close
agreement might not be found for the laser gas due to the
different species present, however. A helium metastable
that would not affect W in pure He has more than enough
energy to ionize a 00^ or N2 molecule. Further, a
significant fraction of CO is generated in the static laser
discharge and there is no W available for this gas. Its
value will be near that for the CO2 and N^, however.
The result of (19) for the 8:1:1 mixture is
W = 41.3 V per'ion pair. (20)
This is the best estimate available without experimentally
measuring W, and is probably well within 10$ of the true
value


37
Wall and Eleotrode Phenomena
The treatment thus far has focused on the effects the
radiation produces In the laser gasIn particular, the
number of ion pairs produced. If the relations developed
above are applied to the experimental conditions to be
described In Chapter III, however, it develops that only
1% or perhaps 2% of the nuclear reaction energy Is actually
given up to the gas. At pressures on the order of six torr,
almost the entire reaction energy Is absorbed by solid
materials with which the particles collide. Depending upon
the type and energy of the charged particles and the nature
of the surfaoe they strike, a number of electrons are
released. For fission fragments striking metalB, about
36
50 to 200 electrons are ejected; for protons and ions
striking metals at energies of hundreds of KeV, typically
37,38
2 to 20 electrons are produced. The number of
secondary electrons produced depends upon the metal struck,
the ion energy, the condition of the surfaoe (dirt, oxides
and adsorbed gases generally Increase the electron yield)
and the ion's angle of inoidence (normal lnoidenoe gives
minimum electron yield).
The calculations in Chapter IV will show that, for
the experimental situation of Chapter III, effeots of
nuclear reactions in the main body of the laserthe laser
tube and positive columnare very small. Nuolear effects
will become important only at high pressures and/or neutron


38
fluxes many orders of magnitude higher than are available
to the present project. The addition of another 20
electrons per nuclear reaction to the positive column due
to partiles striking the tube walls should not have a
measurable effect.
It may be more likely that the nuclear reactions
could have a significant effeot upon the plasma parameters
near the cathode. In a glow discharge like that in the
C02 laser, the most important processes oocur very near
the electrodes. The positive column in which all the laser
action occurs is not of crucial importance to the maintenance
of the glow discharge; It serves merely as a conducting
path.
The maintenance of a glow discharge depends upon
39 40
the production of electrons from the cathode surface. *
These electrons are accelerated in the oathode fall. a
strong potential gradient In the spaoe Immediately
adjacent to the cathode, until they have sufficient energy to
ionize atoms and molecules in their path. Eaoh electron
which the cathode emits may create 100 or more ion pairs
within a few centimeters of the oathode, depending upon
the gas and the cathode material. The process of electron
multiplication is known as "field-intensified ionization"
and is the same effeot dominant in the nuclear proportional
counter.
In the self-sustained glow discharge, the positive
ions created by the electrons are of central importance.
The initial electrons released at the oathode which start


39
the ionization avalanohes are produced mostly toy positive-
ion bombardment of the oathode surface. For a discharge
to be self-sustaining, each electron leaving the cathode
must produce enough positive ions to bombard the cathode
and release a replacement electron. This requires that
the cathode potential drop be on the order of 50 to 500
volts to give the cathode electrons enough energy.
Depending upon the ionic species and oathode surface,
10 to 100 positive ions must strike the cathode to release
a single electron; the electron must, in turn, create 10
to 100 ion pairs to provide for its own replacement.
The above description neglects some effects which are
important in certain cases--for example, the production
of UV photons in the discharge which may promote photo
electrons from the cathode surface. Such processes are
covered in detail in references 39 and 40, which provide
thorough treatments of all the important discharge
phenomena. The positive-ion bombardment is the electron-
produoing effect of most importance to this discussion.
The possible effects of nuclear reaction products
upon the self-sustaining glow discharge are perhaps best
apprached by first considering the conditions in the
non-self-sustalnlng dark discharge, where breakdown has
not yet occurred. For simplicity, a pair of plane
parallel electrodes separated by a distance d with a
uniform applied electric field E will be oonsidered.
Electrons accelerated in this field will produce ion


40
pairs per centimeter path length as they collide with gas
molecules, so that n eleotrons/second espaping the oathode
c
are multiplied exponentially in the gap:
d
n. = n e
A c
where n = number of electrons reaching the anode per
A
second.
The n electrons are produced at the cathode by two
c
mechanisms, external radiation (n^) and ion bombardment (ng):
"a = nR + nB)e
An Independent expression for n0 is needed. The
number of positive ions produoed in the gap is equal to
the difference between the electron currents at the anode
and oathode, (n nc). If electrons are produced per
inoident positive ion,
nB = (nA nc)r
= K (nR + nB^ X
Eliminating n0 between the two equations,
n. = nR9< -i d v
1 5(e -D
ei d
For most gas discharge tubes, e is much greater
than unity. The equation may thus be rewritten
*d
nA =
nR 0
- Ye An equation similar to this was derived by J. S.
30
Townsend:


4
J = J 9 (21)
1 re-14
where JQ= oathode electron current due to external11
sourcesradiation lnoident on the cathode
in this case
cx = number of ionizing collisions per centimeter
of electron path in the field direction
d = distance over which electrons have sufficient
energy to produce ions
X= number of electrons produced per bombarding
positive ion. Note that these are ions created
in the discharge with energies of a few eV at
most, not nuclear reaction products.
cx. and if are functions of the ratio (or -), and
N P
are strongly dependent on the nature of the cathode surface.
V ocd
5 is typically near 0.01 to 0.2, and the factor e is
typically 5 to 100.
The parameter in this equation whioh is most direotly
affected by the nuolear reactions is the initial current
1 whioh in the usual discharge tube is due to photoeleo-
"o
trons produced by room light or other radiation. The
value of JQ is independent of discharge conditions and
is generally quite small (less than a microampere), but
this external source of electronic is necessary for the
initiation of a discharge.


42
In a self-sustained disoharge~e.g., the continuous
glow disoharge of a 00. laserthe contribution of J to
o
the total current would be negligible oompared to the
electron-multlplloatlon effects In the cathode fall.
However, Inoreases In JQ have been found to change both
the breakdown voltage and continuous-burning voltage in
glow discharges. In reference 4l, production of photo
electric currents from the cathode of a glow discharge
was found to cause a decrease in the cathode potential
drop and concurrent alterations In the total disoharge
voltage. Nuclear reaction products and gamma rays might
be expected to produce Bimilar effeots which could, in
theory at least, be predicted using equation (2l) and
the specifications of the present experimental apparatus.
Unfortunately, useful calculations on the nuclear
effects are not possible due to the laok of data for
protons and tritons striking this cathode surface. The
electrodes used in these experiments were nickel plated,
but the appearance (and the composition) of the surfaoes
changed markedly after a short interval of operation
due to chemical reactions with the laser discharge.
Calculations are further complicated by the oomplex
geometry of the electrode regions.
Even for the case of clean electrodes in a simple
configuration, many approximations and outright guesses
would be required. For Instance, some of the ejected
electrons would have initial energies above the ionization


43
potential. An unknown number of electrons Is produced
when nuclear particles strike the glass tube walls. Volume
Ionization In the cathode fall and negative glow could
produce the most Important effeots of all, but combining
these with the phenomena In the electrode material would
be a formidable task.
In spite of the difficulty of a quantitative develop
ment, equation 21 (which was developed for plane-parallel
electrodes) does offer a basis for qualitative comments.
The equations most Important feature is the exponential
dependence of current upon ex which In turn Is exponentially
dependent upon An approximate relation for was derived
by Townsend and is repeated in reference 39, pages 148-130:
(22)
A, B = constants depending on gas composition
p = pressure, proportional to N.
Jf, the number of electrons released per bombarding
positive ion, is related to in the self-sustaining
discharge by assuming that J -> 00 at breakdown. This
implies, from equation 21, that
, v oc d _
1 0 6 = 0
or
e
= X
(23)
From equations (21) (23) It is clear that relatively
small changes in the values of and if required to maintain


44
the glow discharge may have large effects on such important
discharge parameters as which is known to drastically
affect CO2 laser performance. These effects would appear
to be particularly important to discharge behavior at and
near the breakdown conditions. Experiments in whioh the
cathode is illuminated with intense UV light to produoe
large photoelectric currents have shown that this is indeed
4l 42
the case. The experiments reported in the next ohapter
strongly suggest that nuclear reaction products are equally
effective.


CHAPTER III
EXPERIMENT
This chapter will describe In detail the apparatus
and procedures used In the experimental phase of thlB
study, along with the results obtained. The results will
be summarized and their Implications discussed In
Chapter IV.
Apparatus
Reactor
Two lasers were constructed for this study, each
designed to operate In a different location In the Univer
sity of Florida Training Reactor (UFTR), shown In figure
6. The UFTR Is an Argonaut-type reactor licensed to
operate at 100 KW but limited during this project to power
levels at or below 60 KW.
The experimental facilities used for this study were
the shield tank, where all of the actual laser work was
done, and the thermal column, which was used to study glow
discharge behavior. The shield tank Is filled with
demineralized water to a depth of about 14 feet and allows
the Irradiation of large objects with a minimum of shielding
problems. The position used here was against the wall of
45


ttwcmttwsnfcs
ti
er
figure 6: UFTR cross
Section


47
the tank nearest the reactor core, at a level even with
the center of the fuel boxes. This offered the maximum
neutron fluence rate available In the shield tank, more
than 10 thermal neutrons cm sec at 100 KW reactor
power.
There were a few annoying problems Inherent In experi
mental work In the shield tank. The remote looatlon forced
the use of vaouum, high-voltage, and Instrument lines some
ten meters In length. The underwater looatlon made direct
viewing of the laser apparatus possible, but it was Imprac
tical to view the laser beam wavelength or resonant mode.
Water leaks were a problem to be dealt with, and the neutron
flux was two to three orders of magnitude lower than In
other UFTR locations.
The thermal column location complemented and extended
the capabilities of the shield tank. A smaller laser was
designed to replace the removable graphite stringers shown
In figure 6 to take advantage of the higher neutron flux
available there. A set of thermal column aooese plugs,
with penetrations for service lines and the laser beam
Itself, was constructed to replace the original solid plugs.
By using mirrors to deflect the laser beam In conjunction
with appropriate gamma and neutron shielding, It was possible
to measure the laser output with a variety of Instruments
In a single run. Some of the shield tank's features are
not available In the thermal columnthe entire discharge
cannot be observed and external shielding Is required.


48
Future work may require some experiments In the lower-flux
shield tank location to insure completeness.
NUBILE I (N-I) Laser and Support Equipment
The acronym NUBILE was adopted for the Nuclear-Boosted
Infrared Laser Experiment. NUBILE I designates the COg
laser designed for the shield tank experiments, shown
schematically in figure 7. The disoharge is maintained in
a quartz tube surrounded by a quartz water Jacket through
whioh cooling water circulates. The discharge tube is 2.5 cm
in diameter and about one meter in overall length, with the
active laser discharge region 75 cm long.
The electrodes were hollow cylinders of high-purity
iron, with the surface nickel plated to about 0.005" thick
ness. After a few hours* operation, the electrode surfaces
changed from the original bright nlokel plate to an irregular
charcoal grey which was thought to be niokel oxide. A
ceramic ring was fixed to the open end of eaoh electrode
to inhibit cathode sputtering. The ceramic, a proprietary
compound known as "Steatite," is manufactured by Centralab
(Milwaukee, Wisconsin) and Is composed of magnesium and
silicon oxides, and glass. The electrode assemblies were
manufactured by ECJL Company of Newark, New Jersey, and
correspond to that company's type THC.
The laser mirrors were 2 inches in diameter and
dielectric-coated for 10.6/fm wavelength. The silicon
total-reflecting flat was manufactured to give better than


FIGURE 7: N-I Laser Schematic


50
99 % reflectivity at that wavelength, and the 10-m-radius
concave germanium output coupler was specified to have 65%
reflectivity. The mirror reflectivities were not measured
after the experimental work, so that the actual reflectivities
could not be determined. This was not particularly important
for this study. It had been feared that the optical
properties of the mirrors would be adversely affected by
the neutron, gamma, and/or proton bombardment during nuolear
laser experiments. Changes In laser performance which might
be attributable to such radiation damage were not observed
at any time, although other materials in the experimental
apparatus (glass and Plexiglas parts) were strongly
darkened after an hour or so at full reactor power.
Each mirror was set In a mount attached by flexible
metal bellows to the laser tube, allowing precise mirror
alignment with the three micrometer screws on eaoh mount.
The laser was held rigidly in an aluminum frame.
To the extent possible, materials were selected to
minimize neutron aotivation radiation hazards. Major
components such as the laser frame and mirror mounts were
made of aluminum; quartz tubing was selected for glass
components. The steel micrometers, the springs used to
hold them in plaoe, and the mirrors were the only major
components for whioh other materials oould not be easily
substituted. At the neutron fluxes and exposure times used
here, these parts presented no serious radiation problems.


51
The laser assembly was enclosed In an 18-Inch-dameter
cylindrical watertight aluminum canister which waB fitted
with a Plexiglas window for dlreot viewing of the discharge
from the top of the shield tank. The canister was mounted
In a carriage with threaded legs allowing the adjustment of
the lasers height above the shield tank floor; the height
was always set to correspond with the oenter of the reactor
core. The canister was lowered and raised using a block
and tackle, and the reactor cell crane. The laser and its
canister are shown In figure 8.
The canister's large displacement (18 inch diameter x
54 inches long) made the use of lead blocks necessary to
overcome buoyancy. Some 300 pounds of ballast were attached
to the carriage frame, with the lead plaoed as far possi
ble from the reactor oore. The shield tank water attenuated
neutrons sufficiently to prevent significant neutron
activation of the lead.
A few different arrangements for running service lines
into the canister were experimented with. The most
satisfactory method was to run the hoses in through special
fittings sealed into the Plexiglas window. The high-voltage
and instrumentation cables were enclosed in separate hoses
to insure watertightness and avoid electrical interference.
To speed pumping, large-diameter hoses (5/8 inch I.D.)
were used in the vacuum system. As stated before, electrical
lines and vacuum hoses were approximately ten meters long.


FIGURE 8: N-I Laser and Canister
Ul
to


53
Cooling water for the laser was drawn from the shield
tank, since the demineralized water presented a minimal
neutron-activation risk. The demineralizer pump, which
normally circulates 30 gpm through the tank, had a small
part of its output diverted to the laser cooling Jacket
through hoses from the top of the shield tank.
The power supply used was oapable of delivering
30 KVDC at 200 mA current with less than 5% ripple. No
load resistance was placed in series with the laser; the
internal resistance of the power supply was sufficient to
stabilize and control the discharge.
The vacuum system consisted of needle valves to regulate
flow from the gas bottles, a 2-liter mixing flask connected
to a vacuum-oil manometer, a Wallace and Tiernan gauge with
a range of 0 50 torr, and the pump. The arrangement
allowed precise adjustment of the gas mixture in flowing
or static-fill laser runs. The vacuum pump exhaust,
which could contain radioactive gases from neutron activation
during reactor runs, was connected with the UFTR's air-
handling system for filtration, dilution and disposal.
Commercial bottle gases were used, except that "normal
grade helium-3 (as opposed to "low-tritium" grade), supplied
by Mound Laboratories, was employed to produce nuclear
reaction products.
NUBILE II (N-II) Laser
The most important feature of the NUBILE II laser
(figure 9) is the versatility offered by the ready


FIGURE 9: N-II Laser and Gas Fill System


55
Interchangeability of Its components. Its completely
modular design and O-ring seals allow its use in investi
gations of almost any nuclear laser concept yet advanced.
As a side benefit, downtime due to glass breakage is
greatly reduced.
The components offering this versatility are the
Teflon cylindrical endpieces, into which all other compo
nents may be "plugged." The endpieces have permanent
fittings for gas and coolant lines. All other penetrations
for electrodes, laser tube, water Jaoket, mirror mounts
and/or Brewster windows, are equipped with O-rlng vacuum .
seals. When VIton O-rings are used and chemically
compatible materials are selected for other components,
the apparatus may be used with suoh oorroslve gases as
UFg, BRj, BCl^, and HF. A tube of similar design has
already been used to establish a glow discharge in UF^
by F. Southworth and R. T. Schneider at the University of
Florida.
The laser can be operated with internal mirrors or
external mirrors with Brewster angle windows. For all
work in this study, the ends were simply fitted with
aluminum plugs (as shown in figure 9) and data were taken
on the non-lasing glow discharge properties.
The electrodes used were similar to those fitted in
the N-I laser except that they were smaller and did not
have Steatite rings. The limited space in the thermal
oolumn prevented the 45-degree mounting angle for electrodes


56
aa used In N-I; the N-II electrodes are positioned 90 degrees
to the discharge axis. The overall discharge length was
55 om for these experiments, although any tube length
could be used with minor modifications to the frame,. The
tube ID was 2.5 cm.
An aluminum 1-meter optical bench and aluminum carriers
were adapted for use as the laser mount. These oommeroially
available items provide a sufficiently stable base and, with
aluminum's short radioactive half-life, offered no neutron
activation hazard. The optical benoh was bolted to a nylon
phenolic plank; a sheet aluminum cover could be attached to
the plank to oontain any fragments In case breakage should
occur In the reaotor thermal column.
The support equipment for the N-II laser Is the same
as that for N-I, except that the thermal column location
allows the use of shorter service lines. For the glow
discharge experiments, the special thermal oolumn access
plugs constructed for use with this laser were employed.
The hole left for bringing the laser beam out was filled
with neutron shielding material and lead to reduce the
shielding requirements outside the reaotor.
Ins trumentatlon
Laser discharge current and voltage were monitored
on the power supply panel meters. A Coherent Radiation
model 201 laser power meter was used to measure laser
output power when the laser was not sealed in the oanister.


57
An Eppley linear thermopile, whioh was calibrated against
the 201 power meter, was used in the N-I canister since
it was more compaot. The thermopile was positioned on a
diameter of the 1-inch laser beam and its output was recorded
using both a Keithley null detecting miorovoltmeter and a
Honeywell-Brown Electronlk strip ohart recorder. Thermopile
output was approximately 20 mV/watt and was not significantly
influenced by reactor radiation.
Proper optical alignment of the laser cavity was
determined by direct observation of the beam cross seotlon
on a set of fluorescent thermal image plates. The soreens
on these plates fluoresce when exposed to UV light at room
temperature, but darken when heated by the incident IR laser
beam. Optimum laser mirror alignment was quickly reached
by observing the beam's oross section and power while ad
justing the mirror micrometers with the laser operating.
A C02 laser spectrum analyzer was used to determine
the laser output wavelength. The spectrum analyzer is a
grating spectrograph with the output spectrum displayed on
a thermal image plate; its normal range covers the C02
laser wavelengths from 9.4 to 11.4 ^m.
Procedure
Outside Reaotor; N-I Laser
Preliminary reference data and baseline observations
were made outside the reactor. The N-I laser beam power
exceeded 15 watts with fast-flowing C02-N2-He mixtures in


58
proportions near 1:1:8 at 15 to 20 torr. The power was
somewhat lower in reactor experiments due to the longer
hoses and slow flowrates. The laser was operated In the
flowing-gas mode only with natural helium. No observations
were made on the effects of ^He(n,p)T radiation on the
flowing C02 laser due to the high oost of -^He.
The procedure for all static-fill runs was to pump
the vacuum system down to a pressure of 20 to 30 microns
Hg after pre-flushing the system with natural helium. The
laser gases were then admitted to the mixing flask In the
desired proportions as lndloated on the vacuum-oil
manometer. The gases were always admitted In the order
of their molecular weights: C02 first, then Ng, then
He, to Insure uniform mixing. Several minutes were allowed
for the gases to diffuse to a uniform mixture before
releasing them from the mixing flask to the laser system.
This procedure was found to give completely repeatable
results In terms of laser performance and discharge
properties.
It was not possible to establish a reliable breakdown
voltage for the discharge. Breakdown could ocour between
5 and 8 KV, depending upon the rapidity of the inorease
in voltage. "Second breakdowns" reignitlon after an
Initial glow was extinguished generally seemed to ooour
at higher voltage, possibly due to molecular dissociation
and temperature effects from the Initial discharge.
Attempts were made to establish a particular breakdown


59
voltage In fresh gas mixtures "by inoreaslng the voltage
in steps of 500 volts or less. Breakdown by this procedure
generally occurred at least 2 KV above the "normal" break
down range near 7 KV (observed when the voltage was increased
smoothly and fairly quickly); the result would not be a glow
but a brief, high-current discharge which the power supply
could not maintain.
Once the discharge was ignited, the voltage changed
slowly over a wide range of currents. The current could
be freely varied from the power supply's 200 mA maximum
to the minimum current at which the discharge could be
maintained, about 33 mA. Laser output was found to be
strongly dependent on discharge ourrent, with minimum cur
rent giving best power output; maximum power was 1.05 W at
3.8 KV and 30 mA with mirror alignment optimized. Laser
performance will be described in detail in the "results"
section of this ohapter.
The laser spectrum analyzer showed that the laser
transitions were the P(l8) and P(20) C02 lines near 10.6^ m.
These are the lines most commonly observed in C02 laser
work. In the flowing-gas mode, both were observed to be
active simultaneously.
The thermal image plates showed that the laser never
operated in the TEMQ0 mode. The two mode patterns most
frequently observed appeared as two ooncentrlo rings or
(the more usual) a "bullseye" surrounded by two concentric
rings.


60
The use of helium-3 in lieu of natural helium in the
gas mixtures had no significant effect on the laser
performance. For a given gas mixture and pressure, the
instruments available were incapable of conclusively
indicating a change due to the substitution of helium-3.
The laser was disassembled and reassembled several
times in the course of the study. The mirrors were almost
always found to have a very light film on their surfaces,
which was probably vacuum oil. The mirrors were carefully
cleaned with acetone, alcohol and lens tissue, but no
improvements in performance after cleaning were ever noted.
It is probable that the oil film oaused significant
degradation of the mirror quality, limiting the laser power
to levels somewhat lower than those reported elsewhere.
For this particular study, such degradation was not impor
tant; the mirror losses remained constant and power changes
under nuclear irradiation were due only to changes in the
discharge properties.
Reactor Experiments: Shield Tank
The fill procedures used with the laser in the shield
tank were the same as described previously. With the
reactor power set at the desired level, the vacuum system
was purged and pumped down and the gas mixture prepared
and released as before. Laser power (from the in-oanister
thermopile) was observed on the Kelthley millivoltmeter
scale and simultaneously recorded on a strip-chart recorder.


61
Voltage and ourrent data were recorded by hand from the
power supply panel meters and were alBo plotted on strip
chart recorders. Pressure was reoorded periodically from
the Wallace and Tiernan meter.
A number of gas mixtures and pressures were tested,
but most work centered on the 1:1:8 COgJNg^e mixture.
This emphasis was Justified by the large nuolear effeots
observed and the extensive theoretloal work already pub
lished on standard C02 lasers with this near-optimum mix
ture. Observations also showed that maximum reaotor power
gave the maximum enhancement effect; for this reason, most
reaotor data was taken at the maximum reaotor power
available, 60 KW.
For reliable comparisons of laser performance with
and without nuclear enhancement, data with the reaotor
running was always matched with similar runs with the
reactor shut down. To eliminate all possible variables,
the laser would not be moved after a reactor run until
comparison data with the same gas mixture, current, and
running time had been taken. In many instances, identical
runs were performed before reactor startup, at full power,
and after shutdown.
To isolate effeots due to the ^He(n,p)T reaction,
several runs with natural helium were made with the reactor
running. Some data with 50/50 ^He + ^He in the laser
mixture were also recorded.
The possibility that imprecise gas proportions might
be responsible for the effeots observed was eliminated


62
by preparing several "erroneous" gas mixtures. Errors
much larger (10#) than those that might be missed in
careful data runs, were purposely introduced and their
performance recorded. The laser and discharge behavior
showed small changes, but in no case were the changes
nearly as large as those attributed to nuclear effects.
The neutron flux in the laser tube was measured by
removing the laser mirrors and inserting gold foils mounted
on an aluminum bar into the tube. A few gold foils were
also mounted outside the laser tube and around the inside
of the aluminum oaniBter to determine the neutron attenua
tion due to the laser's water Jacket. The foil activity
was determined with a proportional counter after reactor
irradiation. Neutron flux was determined by comparing
the test foil count rates with the activity of a reference
foil irradiated in a reactor position of known flux.
This measurement technique is not as precise as other foil-
activation procedures, but the accuracy of the results is
adequate for the purposes of this study. Figure 10 is a
plot of the neutron flux distribution obtained.
Thermal Column Discharge Studies
Several experiments were performed with the thermal
oolumn (N-II) laser to confirm the observations made in
the shield tank experiments and to estimate the importance
of the cathode effeots described in the previous chapter.
The laser mirrors were removed and the apparatus was set


FIGURE 10: N-I Laser Flux Distribution


64
up to provide ourrent and voltage information for the glow
discharge in laser gas mixtures.
A neutron flux determination similar to that described
in the preceding section was performed. In this case, two
of the gold foils were covered with cadmium discs to deter
mine the ratio of thermal to eplcadmium neutrons in the
tube. The results are shown in figure 11. The Important
difference between this flux distribution and that in
figure 10 (other than the higher total neutron flux) is
that the "Inside" electrodethe one nearest the reactor
core--ls exposed to a neutron flux more than an order of
magnitude higher than the "outside" electrode.
This asymmetric exposure of the two electrodes allowed
the separation of cathode nuclear effeots from positive-
column effects. The polarity of the inelde electrode could
be reversed by a simple switching process at the power
supply. If the nuclear effects on the discharge were seen
to be identical regardless of the discharge polarity, the
results would tend to indioate the positive-column volume
ionization to be the dominant nuolear process. If the
nuclear effects were observed only when the cathode was
the inside electrode, the cathode bombardment process would
appear to be most important. While the outcome of this
simple test could not be considered conclusive, the results
could indicate the most promising directions for future
experiments and analytical work to date.


65
FIGURE II: N-II Laser Flux Distribution


66
The general experimental technique for the thermal-
column work was similar to that for the shield tank experi
ments. The vacuum system was purged, pumped down, and
carefully filled, with the reactor set at the desired power
level. Breakdown voltage and the current-voltage charac
teristic of the steady discharge were noted for each gas
mixture and pressure combination.
Results
The principal effect of the nuolear reaction products
on the laser discharge was a reduction in the minimum
current at which a discharge oould be maintained. The
laser power, which increased with decreasing current in
all cases, reached a maximum with the reactor at full power.
The minimum discharge current was reduced by about 25# at
O
a neutron flux of 5 x 10 in the 1:1:8 mixture at 6 torr.
The laser output under these conditions was 100# greater
than the maximum output achieved without nuclear enhance
ment.
Discharge voltages changed only slightly as the
current was reduced to the new minima, so the eleotrlcal
power input (the product of current and voltage) decreased
while the laser output grew. The result was an increase
in the laser's electrical efficiency to more than twice
its original value.
Another important result was an inorease in the gaB
pressure at which laser action could occur. At pressures


Efficiently, Per cent; Laser Power, Watts
20
45


68
REACTOR POWER
C02^N2:He
ZERO
10 KW
60 KW (flO8)
i: i: e
1.0 W
1.2 W
4Hc
32 ma
32 ma
6 torr
0.86 % efficiency
0.97 %
i:i:e
1.05 W
1.26 W
1.95 W
3h
33 ma
27.5 ma
25 ma
6 torr
0.85 %
1.18 %
1.97 %
i:i:e
1.0 W
1.5 W
3He +4He
33 ma
29 ma
6 torr
0.85 %
1.4%
i:i:8
UNSTABLE
0.7 W
3He
DISCHARGE
46 ma 5.2 KV
14 torr
(OVERCURRENT)
0.3 %
table i : Effects of Nuclear Reactions
Data averaged over best performance
achieved in several runs.


69
higher than about 10 torr, It was difficult or Impossible
to maintain stable discharges in the 1:1:8 mixture. The
^He(n,p)T reaction at full reactor power made it possible
to achieve laser action at 14 torr. It seems likely that
even higher pressures could workparticularly at higher
neutron fluxbut experiments above 14 torr were not run
due to the limited amount of ^He available. Further high-
pressure work will be undertaken in the future with solid
uranium coatings on the tube walls and electrode surfaces^
Some results for the 6-torr 1:1:8 mixtures
in the shield tank laser are shown in figure 12 and Table
1. The data shown were taken during several runs; the
values in the table are averaged from the results presented
in more detail later in this section.
As shown on the first line of Table 1, some enhance
ment effects were seen even without hellum-3 present in
the discharge. The intense gamma radiation at 60 KW
reactor power apparently produced enough photoelectrons to
effect the 20$ improvement in laser power. The interaction
of gamma rays with gases at these low pressures (6 torr) is
very small; it seems more reasonable to believe that photo-
electrons produced at the cathode were primarily responsible
for the observed enhancement. No simple method for ascer
taining which process was most important could be developed,
however.
A few runs were made with a 50/50 mixture of helium-3
and hellum-4 used for the helium fraction of the standard


70
laser mixture. The third line of Table 1 shows that the
50$ reduction In the (nfp) reaotlon rate approximately
halved the magnitude of the enhancement effect.
The results outlined above have appeared In the liter-
p 44 45
ature before this writing, * but have never been dis
cussed In detail. Each of the effects noted will be
covered separately In the following pages, along with a
considerable amount of previously unpublished work.
1:1:8 COo:No :He. 6 Torr Static Fill, Lasing
The data of figure 12 are repeated In figure 13 with
additional Information on laser performance about 50 mA
discharge current. The effects of the ^He(n,p)T reaction
may be seen In the groupings of data points In runs with
(O) and without (y) the nuclear reactions.
A striking feature of figure 13 1b the gap from 40
to 55 mA for which no data could be taken. The discharge
could not be made to run In this region due to some
threshold effect, possibly a sudden Increase In effective
cathode area. As discharge current was Increased toward
40 mA, an abrupt shift would ooour with the current
Jumping to about 75 mA and voltage dropping by 10$ to
about 3.3 KV. As the current was reduced from this higher
level, an Increase In laser power would occur, Just as In
the lower-current regime. A threshold current would
finally be reached and the discharge would Jump back to
the low-current mode.


Laser Power, Watts
FIGURE 13: Laser Power vs. Current, 1:1:8 Mixture, 6 torr


72
The effect of the nuolear reactions In this high-
current mode was remarkably similar to the nuclear enhance
ment In the low-current mode. The minimum current attain
able before the ''High-Low" transition occurred was substan
tially reduced by the energetic particles. The higher
current led to gas heating whioh limited laser performance;
otherwise the observed laser power enhancement might have
been comparable to that observed at lower currents.
A current-voltage characteristic of the 1:1:8 discharge
Is presented in figure 14. It Is typical of I-V curves
43-51
for other CO2 lasers. The negative slope of the line
is sharpened by the narrow voltage range displayed on the
ordinate. The curve shows that the laser operated at the
low-current end of the "normal" glow-discharge region, in
which discharge voltage remains constant regardless of
current over a wide range. The Increase in voltage with
decreasing current is typical of the "subnormal" glow
discharge, In whioh the dimensions of the active cathode
area are comparable to the length of the oathode fall.
In the subnormal glow, the current density at the
cathode Is smaller and fewer electrons are released by
posltlve-ion bombardment of the cathode. In order to
maintain the discharge, a larger oathode potential fall
Is required to increase the electron multiplication
processes. Discharges in the subnormal glow region are
46
frequently intermittent.


Discharge Voltage, KVDC
FIGURE 14: Current-Voltage Characteristic of 1:1:8 Mixture, 6 torr


74
Such Intermittent behavior was sometimes observed In
the C02 laser discharge. At times, the discharge would
lapse Into a rapid flickering as the current control was
reduoed past the cutoff point of the continuous discharge.
The pulsations, at frequencies of about 1 to 20 Hz, were
generally too rapid to be accurately followed by the avail
able Instrumentation. The osoillatory behavior was unpre
dictable and could not be obtained at all times. The
voltage of such discharges was always higher and the
current always slightly lower than In the continuous-
discharge conditions, to the extent they could be deter
mined on the power supply panel meters. The average laser
power of these self-pulsed discharges was comparable to
the CW output of the continuous discharge.
Figures 13 and 14 show considerable scatter in data
points for two reasons. One is operator error in recording
instrument readings, which may account for perhaps 30
volts on individual voltage readings and -1 mA in current.
Another Is the effect of small day-to-day changes In laser
behavior.
The data for the Bhield tank laser were taken between
May 24 and June 29, 1971. Several irradiations of varying
lengths occurred In this interval, with a variety of gas
mixtures being Investigated. Some possible residual
effects were observed; for example, the behavior of the
1:1:8 mixture was noticeably altered In runs immediately
preceded by a long discharge maintained in pure CO^.
Such


75
effects would appear In spite of a thorough purging and
pump-down procedure, and would disappear after a few minutes'
running time In the 1:1:8 mixture. It Is conceivable the
effect was related to chemical changes In the electrode
surface.
It was also found that Individual data points could
be affected by the previous operation history of the dis
charge, particularly In the case of low-current points
immediately preceded by high-current runs in the same gas
fill. Reduced laser output in these cases was apparently
caused by the increased gas temperature and/or C02 disso
ciation, but the effect would disappear in a short time.
To eliminate these effects and others which might be
caused by slight position shifts of the canister in the
Bhield tank, by slight ohanges in cooling-water temperature
or room temperature, or by any other uncontrollable variables
an experiment emphasizing reproducibility was performed.
As previously stated, the gas-fill procedure used gave
results which could be repeated on consecutive runs within
the Instrumental accuracy. Two runs were performed with
the reactor at full power, the runs separated by less than
30 minutes. The only difference between the runs was the
use of natural helium or hellum-3* Previous runs outside
3
the reactor had shown the He to have no measurable effect
on discharge properties compared to ^e. An effort was
made to make the "history" of the runs as nearly identical


Discharge Voltage, KVDC
Figure 15: Current-Voltage Characteristics on Consecutive Runs


77
as possible. The results are presented, in the ourrent-
voltage oharaoteristio of figure 15.
The two sets of points Indicate that a given ourrent
could be maintained at a lower discharge voltage in the
presence of the ^He(n,p)T reactions. It thus appears that,
while the experimental soatter was small -5$ on the I-V
curves), it may have obsoured important effects such as the
reduction in voltage implied by figure 15. The geometry
of the apparatus and the type of Instrumentation used in
this project were not well suited to high-precision inves
tigations into glow discharge properties; the search here
was for relative ohanges in laser power by \0% or more.
Figure 15 suggests that a series of experiments specifically
designed to investigate nuclear effects in the glow dis
charge could yield some highly interesting results. Such
basic researoh, using probes and spectrosoopio techniques
to study and Isolate phenomena in the cathode-fall and
positive-column regions, would be of great value in deter
mining the processes of greatest Importance in the nuclear
laser enhancement effeot observed here.
Nearly all of the reaotor data were taken at 60 KW reactor
power, but smaller enhancement effects were observed at lower
reactor power levels. Most of these observations were made
during reactor startup or shutdown, when the neutron flux
was changing and truly reliable data could not be taken.
The enhancement recorded in the lO-KW oolumn of Table 1,
showing the discharge ourrent reduced to 27.5 mA, is one


78
of the few points for which valid confirming observations
are available.
l;l:8 CO^iN^iHe. F = 10 to 14 Torr. Static Fill
With the apparatus employed In this study, the optimum
gas pressure for laser action was near 6 torr. As the
pressure Increased, It became Increasingly difficult to
establish and maintain a Btable discharge In the 1:1:8 gas
mixture. Breakdown voltages Increased with pressure, and
the high-voltage breakdowns frequently resulted In high-
current arcs which the power supply could not maintain.
When a continuous glow at 10 torr could be established,
the operating current and voltage values were somewhat
higher than those typical of the 6-torr discharge. The
1-watt output attainable with the low-pressure mixture
could not be achieved, with 0.75-0.8 watt being the apparent
limit of performance. Attempts to Ignite glows In 13.6-
torr gas mixtures were never successful without nuclear
enhancement, despite repeated efforts.
3
With He In the mixture at full reactor power, the
14-torr glow discharge was easily managed. The behavior
of the discharge and the laser output were comparable to
those of the 10-torr gas mixture. Compared to the 6-torr
laser, the 14-torr discharge appeared somewhat brighter
and more constricted.
The range of operating currents in the 14-torr laser
was more restricted than at lower pressures, so typical


79
; are presented
here
in tabular rather
than graphic form:
40 raA
6.0
KV
0.5
W Average-Intermittent Discharge
45 mA
5.8
KV
0.85 W
Continuous Discharge
46 mA
5.75
KV
0.7
W
11
11
87.5 mA
5.0
KV
0.3
W
ti
11
95 mA
4.75
KV
0.3
w
11
11
100 mA
4.7
KV
0
w
11
11
The intermittent discharge effect reported for the
6-torr laser also appeared here. It is worth noting that
high-frequency intermittent discharges would appear con
tinuous to the investigator, for the same reason the 60-Hz
fluorescent lamp appears to glow continuously. The ourrent
and voltage needles on the power-supply panel were occasion
ally seen to vibrate very rapidly while an apparently con
tinuous glow was burning; such vibrations could be caused
by a high-frequency intermittent glow.
A point worth emphasizing here is that the "l4-torr
glow discharge" being disoussed here is not really a glow
discharge at all. The true glow discharge is self-sustaining;
the only external agent required to maintain it is the power
supply. The l4-torr glow, and the reduced-current glows
at lower pressures for which nuclear enhancement has been
reported, are non-self-sustaining discharges. They
behave like glows but, if the reactor is shut down, they
will go out.


80
This fact was clearly demonstrated In a run at 14 torr
from which some of the data tabulated above wene taken. The
current was set at 46 mA and nothing was touched while the
reactor was shut down from 60 KW. As reactor power dropped
past 10 KW, the discharge became unstable and noisy, finally
going out at 2 KW. It could be relit and run at higher
currents as reactor power dropped still further, but laser
performance never matched the pre-shutdown levels. When
the laser canister was moved to the rear of the shield tank
so that it was shielded by water from the core and its
intense gamma activity, the gas would not break down even
at the normal operating limit of 10 KV. The new breakdown
voltage was in excess of 17 KV, more than twice the 8-KV
breakdown voltage observed at full reaotor power.
1:4 COgiHe. 6 Torr Static Fill
The electrical behavior of the laser discharge was seen
to change noticeably in the absenoe of nitrogen, even when
the nitrogen fraction in the 1:1:8 mixture was simply
replaced by more C02. The current-voltage and current-power
relationships for the 1:4 mixture are presented in figures
16 and 17 respectively.
Most of the comments made for the 1:1:8 mixture apply
here as well. The same current gap in which the discharge
%
would not run was observed, although it was smaller in width.
Nuclear effeots seemed to reduce the "Kigh-Low" transition
point between the two current ranges to a slightly greater
degree than was observed in the 1:1:8 mixture.


Laser Power, Watts
1.0
0.75
0.5
0.25
0
0With nuclear reactions
Discharge Current, Milliamperes
FIGURE 16: Power vs. Current, 4:1 He:C2 6 torr
CD
80
90
100


Discharge Voltage,
4.0
FIGURE 17: Current-Voltage Characteristic of 4:1 He:CC>2 6 torr
o o


83
The smaller enhancement observed In the absence of
nitrogen shows that, whatever process oaused the 100%
enhancement In the 1:1:8 gas, the nitrogen figured prom
inently. This is an Important and useful indication that
E
the nuclear effect allowed a shift in which led to
enhancement. The next chapter will use this result and
others to demonstrate that the reduction in gas temperature
at lower currents was not the dominant effect in the
observed increases in power and efficiency.
Thermal Column Discharge Studies
The primary purpose of the thermal-column experiments
with the N-II discharge apparatus was to determine whether
the cathode-bombardment effect proposed at the end of
Chapter II was an Important factor in the nuolear enhance
ment effeot. The procedure was to take advantage of the
asymmetrlo flux distribution at the N-II electrodes by
reversing the electrode polarity and noting the changes,
If any, in the minimum discharge current with the reactor
at various power levels. If the discharge could be made
to run at lower currents with the cathode at the high-flux
end, but could not with reversed polarity, one could con
clude that Irradiation of the cathode region was essential
to the observed enhancement.
This was found to be the case. The minimum discharge
current outside the reactor, or at zero reactor power.with
the cathode at the low-flux end, was 38 mA. The minimum


Discharge Voltage, KVDC
4.0
7.8 torr, 1:1:8 mixture
He, 10 KW
Cathode on'High-Flux End'
in thermal column
He, 6 KW
55 milliamperes
CD
Figure 18: Current-Voltage Curves for N-II Laser


85
current in the reaotor at 10 KW was 36 mA with the oathode
at the low-flux end, and 33 mA with the cathode on the
high-flux end. Unfortunately, these results oould not he
accepted directly as explaining the nuclear effect in the
shield tank laser due to an unanticipated change in the
discharge behavior, as shown in figuro 18.
The current-voltage characteristic of the discharge
changed from the shallow negative slope typical of the
normal and subnormal glow discharge to the positive-sloping
lines drawn through the data points for 6 and 10-KW reactor
power. To the best of the author's knowledge, this
anomalous behavior has not been observed in conditions
typical of the glow discharge except in the nuclear-laser
work of T. Ganley et, al. at the University of Illinois.3>^3
With the fast-ion flux in their boron-lined tube orders of
magnitude larger than the source rate in the present study,
they observed a similar reversal of slope at the low-current
end of the glow-discharge characteristic. At higher cur
rents, the I-V curve returned to the same near-zero slope
observed with the reactor off.
In the N-II discharge at reactor power levels below
6 KW, the data points were so widely scattered (with the
cathode on the inside) that no smooth curve through the
points could be justified. It is conceivable that repeated
runs might show trends that were missed in the short series
of experiments reported here.


86
At zero reactor power with the cathode away from the
reactor core and its fission-product gamma radiation, a
negative-sloping I-V ourve resulted. With the cathode near
the core at zero reactor power, a positive-sloping character
istic was observed. This suggests that gamma radiation
can produce the change in slope, and that the dominant
phenomena occur near the cathode.
Experimental difficulties and lack of time have pro
hibited the gathering of further data on this interesting
effect to date, but its potential importance to nuclear
laser enhancement demands that it be studied in depth.
The possible significance of these results will be dis
cussed in the latter part of the next chapter.


CHAPTER IV
DISCUSSION
The results of the experimental work lead to the
following conclusions:
1. Continuous C02 laser power and efficiency may be
at least doubled by the ^He(n,p)T reaction at
low neutron flux.
2. The same reaction allows the laser to operate at
significantly higher pressure with a given power
supply.
These are the facts which the project was designed
to determine, and the experimental results demonstrate
them conclusively; they require little further discussion.
There are, however, some additional conclusions which
may be inferred with some degree of assurance from the
data:
3. The enhancement effect is due primarily to a
E
favorable adjustment of jy in the laser discharge.
4. Cathode effects dominate.
The cases supporting these assertions will be presented
first in this chapter, to be followed by a survey of the
implications of the experimental findings. Recommendations
for future research and speculations on the directions it
might take will conclude the chapter.
87


88
Evldenoe of E/N Modification
The indications that the observed improvements in laser
performance were due to a more favorable electron energy
distribution, brought about by a lowering of | (the ratio
of eleotric field to neutral particle density) in the
positive column, are in figures 13 and 16. Two meohanisms
which have been proposed to explain the enhancement are
(l) a lowering of gas temperature at the reduced currents,
and (2) the effect.
Gas temperature is determined almost exclusively
by the discharge current in the N-I laser. Higher currents
lead inevitably to higher gas temperatures, and this con
tributes to the decrease in output with current seen in
the current vs. power graphs. However, the temperature
rise oannot be the dominant effect causing the negative
slopes of figures 13 and 16; if it were, the sharp discon
tinuity in laser power across the central "forbidden zones"
could not occur.
Consider figure 16. The two "allowed" current zones,
below 48 and above 55 mA, will be designated "Low" and "High"
respectively. If the increase in temperature with current
were the factor oausing the decline of power with current
in "Low," we could expect the trend to continue across the
gap in "High." The "High" curve would then be an extension
of "Low," so that a laser output of about 0.35 W at 55 mA;;
would result. The observed output, 0.7 Watts, shows that
the Low-High transition is accompanied by an improvement


89
of which completely overcomes the detrimental temperature
N
effeot. The 55 mA point produces twloe the output power
of the 48-mA point In spite of the Increased temperature.
The greater width of the "forbidden1' gap In figure 13
provides further support for the argument. The temperature
Increase accompanying the 13-mA Jump between the high-
E
and low-current regions is overcome by the improved , to
the extent that the 53-mA ourrent produces twice the laser
power recorded at 40 mA. From these features of the graphs,
we may again conclude that increasing temperature is not
responsible for the negative slope of the "low" curve.
The remaining reasonable explanation is that ^ inoreases
rapidly with current between 25 and 40 mA, oausing laser
output power and efficiency to drop by a factor of four.
No other 15-mA interval exhibits such a dramatio decrease.
Additional circumstantial evidence is seen in the
lesser enhancement effeot shown for 4:1 He:C02 oompared to
8:1:1 He:C02:N2 (figures 13 and 16). The ourrent reduction
from 32 to 27.5 mA in 8:1:1 increases output 40$, while an
identical reduction in 4:1 brings only a 20$ improvement.
S 16 2
Figure 3 shows that, in the area near =3.0x10 Vcm,
the slope of the nitrogen excitation curve is much steeper
E -16
than the C02 curve (^-*3.0 x 10 in the N-I laser at
47 E
33 mA and 3.8 KV). A reduction in would be expeoted
to result in greater performance improvement in the presence
of nitrogen than in its absence.


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I certify that I have read this study and that In my
opinion It conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly
presentation and Is fully adequate, In scope and quality,
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Dennis R.
Assistant
Aerospaoe
Keefer
Professor of
Engineering
I certify that I have read this study and that in my
opinion It conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly
presentation and is fully adequate, In scope and quality,
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
U. H. Kurzwag
Associate Professor of
Engineering Science and Mechanics
I certify that I have read this study and that in my
opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality,
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Billy S. Thomas
Assistant Professor of Physics
This dissertation was submitted to the Dean of the College
of Engineering and to the Graduate Council, and was accepted
as partial fulfillment of the^requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy.
March, 1972
Dean, College of Engineering
, Graduate School
Dean
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
3 1262 08553 6059