Theses Doctoral

Pressure profiles of plasmas confined in the field of a dipole magnet

Davis, Matthew Stiles

Understanding the maintenance and stability of plasma pressure confined by a strong magnetic field is a fundamental challenge in both laboratory and space plasma physics. Using magnetic and X-ray measurements on the Levitated Dipole Experiment (LDX), the equilibrium plasma pressure has been reconstructed, and variations of the plasma pressure for different plasma conditions have been examined. The relationship of these profiles to the magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) stability limit, and to the enhanced stability limit that results from a fraction of energetic trapped electrons, has been analyzed. In each case, the measured pressure profiles and the estimated fractional densities of energetic electrons were qualitatively consistent with expectations of plasma stability. LDX confines high temperature and high pressure plasma in the field of a superconducting dipole magnet. The strong dipole magnet can be either mechanically supported or magnetically levitated. When the dipole was mechanically supported, the plasma density profile was generally uniform while the plasma pressure was highly peaked.

The uniform density was attributed to the thermal plasma being rapidly lost along the field to the mechanical supports. In contrast, the strongly peaked plasma pressure resulted from a fraction of energetic, mirror trapped electrons created by microwave heating at the electron cyclotron resonance (ECRH). These hot electrons are known to be gyrokinetically stabilized by the background plasma and can adopt pressure profiles steeper than the MHD limit. X-ray measurements indicated that this hot electron population could be described by an energy distribution in the range 50-100 keV. Combining information from the magnetic reconstruction of the pressure profile, multi-chord interferometer measurements of the electron density profile, and X-ray measurements of the hot electron energy distribution, the fraction of energetic electrons at the pressure peak was estimated to be about 35% of the total electron population. When the dipole was magnetically levitated the plasma density increased substantially because particle losses to the mechanical supports were eliminated so particles could only be lost via slower cross-field transport processes.

The pressure profile was observed to be broader during levitated operation than it was during supported operation, and the pressure appeared to be contained in both a thermal population and an energetic electron population. X-ray spectra indicated that the X-rays came from a similar hot electron population during levitated and supported operation; however, the hot electron fraction was an order of magnitude smaller during levitated operation (<3% of the total electron population). Pressure gradients for both supported and levitated plasmas were compared to the MHD limit. Levitated plasmas had pressure profiles that were (i) steeper than, (ii) shallower than, or (iii) near the MHD limit dependent on plasma conditions. However, those profiles that exceeded the MHD limit were observed to have larger fractions of energetic electrons. When the dipole magnet was supported, high pressure plasmas always had profiles that exceeded the MHD interchange stability limit, but the high pressure in these plasmas appeared to arise entirely from a population of energetic trapped electrons.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics
Thesis Advisors
Mauel, Michael E.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 4, 2013