ECE 59500 - Plasmas and Electric Discharges


Also runs as AAE 59000.

Course Details

Lecture Hours: 3 Credits: 3

Areas of Specialization:

  • Fields and Optics

Counts as:

  • EE Elective
  • CMPE Special Content Elective

Normally Offered:

Each Fall


On-campus only

Requisites by Topic:

A good knowledge of electricity and magnetism at the level of PHYS 241/272 is recommended.

Catalog Description:

This is an introductory course on weakly ionized plasmas and electric discharges. Some modern applications include plasma flow control, plasma-assisted combustion, plasma- tunable RF systems, and materials processing; however, the course focuses on fundamentals, i.e. on understanding the physics and the ability to do simple estimates, rather than on applications. Major topics include: elementary processes in plasmas; motion of charged particles in electric and electromagnetic fields; electron energy and its relation to ionization and de-ionization processes; electrical breakdown; nonequilibrium electric discharges; survey of selected applications.

Required Text(s):


Recommended Text(s):


Learning Outcomes

A student who successfully fulfills the course requirements will have demonstrated an understanding of:

  • Basic processes in low-temperature weakly ionized plasmas and their properties, as well as of fundamental properties of DC, RF, corona, and spark electric discharges in gases.

Lecture Outline:

Major Topics
1 Part I: Elementary Processes in Plasmas: Fundamental processes in plasmas; Elastic and inelastic collisions of neutral and charged particles; Equilibrium and non-equilibrium plasmas; Excitation and ionization in plasmas
2 Part II: Charged Particles in Electric and Magnetic Fields: Electron and ion drift in d.c. and oscillating electric fields; Electron energy in electric discharges; Diffusion of electrons and ions; ambipolar diffusion; Motion of charged particles in magnetic field; Basic electromagnetic properties of plasmas
3 Part III: Ionization and De-Ionization Processes: Mechanisms of ionization: electron-impact and stepwise ionization, ionization in collisions of excited particles; Electron-ion recombination; Attachment, detachment, and kinetics of negative ions
4 Part IV: Electron Emission from Surfaces: Thermionic emission and thermionic energy conversion; Field emission; Secondary emission
5 Part V: Kinetic Equation for Electrons in Weakly Ionized Gases: Kinetic equation for electrons in electric field; Non-Maxwellian energy distributions and rates of ionization and excitation in cold plasmas
6 Part VI: Nonequilibrium Electric Discharges: Breakdown, Glow and RF Discharges: Electric breakdown in d.c., microwave, and laser fields; scaling laws; Steady-state non-equilibrium plasmas; glow discharge; Cathode sheath; Discharges in electronegative gases; Discharge in fast flow; Glow discharge instabilities: striations and constriction; RF discharges: mechanisms, sheaths, alpha and gamma regimes; Ionization enhancement and stability control in cold plasmas
7 Part VII: Spark and Corona Discharges: Electron avalanche and the concept of streamers; Spark channel; Corona discharge; Streamer propagation and leader formation
8 Part IX: A Survey of New Applications: Plasma aerodynamics and plasma-assisted combustion; Plasma antennas and plasma-reconfigurable RF systems; Other applications

Assessment Method:

Homework, midterm, final exam. (8/22)