Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2014

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Goree, John

First Committee Member

Ratner, Albert

Second Committee Member

Merlino, Robert L.

Third Committee Member

Skiff, Frederick N.

Fourth Committee Member

Howes, Gregory G.

Fifth Committee Member

Spangler, Steven R.


I study dusty plasma produced by electrostatically confining melamine formaldehyde microparticles in a radio-frequency glow discharge plasma. Dusty plasma is a mixture of particles of solid matter (dust), electrons, ions, and neutral gas atoms. The dust particles have a very high charge and a mass compared to the electrons and ions in the ambient plasma. As a consequence, a dusty plasma exhibits collective phenomena such as dust acoustic waves, crystallization, and melting. The discrete nature of dust particles gives rise to compressibility.

In this thesis I report findings of four tasks that were performed to investigate dust acoustic waves, compressibility, and melting. First, the nonlinear phenomenon of synchronization was characterized experimentally for the dust acoustic wave propagating in a dust cloud with many layers. I find four synchronized states, with frequencies that are multiples of 1, 2, 3, and 1/2 of the driving frequency. Comparing to phenomena that are typical of the van der Pol paradigm, I find that synchronization of the dust acoustic wave exhibits the signature of the suppression mechanism but not that of the phaselocking mechanism. Additionally, I find that the synchronization of the dust acoustic wave exhibits three characteristics that differ from the van der Pol paradigm: a threshold amplitude that can be seen in the Arnold tongue diagram, a branching of the 1:1 harmonic tongue at its lower extremity, and a nonharmonic state.

Second, to assess which physical processes are important for a dust acoustic instability, I derived dispersion relations that encompass more physical processes than commonly done. I investigated how various physical processes affect a dust acoustic wave by solving these dispersion relations using parameters from a typical dust acoustic wave experiment. I find that the growth rate diminishes for large ion currents. I also find that the compressibility, a measure of the coupling between the dust particles, have a strong effect on the wave propagation. Comparing the kinetic vs. hydrodynamic descriptions for ions, I find that under typical laboratory conditions the inverse Landau damping and the ion-neutral collisions contribute about equally to the dust acoustic instability.

Third, I performed dust acoustic wave experiments to resolve a previously unremarked discrepancy in the literature regarding the sign of the compressibility of a strongly-coupled dust component in a dusty plasma. According to theories compressibility is negative, whereas experiments suggest that it is positive. I find that the compressibility is positive. This conclusion was reached after allowing for a wide range of experimental uncertainties and model dependent systematic errors.

Finally, the polygon construction method of Glaser and Clark was used to characterize crystallization and melting in a single-layer dusty plasma. Using particle positions measured in a previous dusty plasma experiment, I identified geometrical defects, which are polygons with four or more sides. These geometrical defects are found to proliferate during melting. I also identify a possibility of latent heat involvement in melting and crystallization processes of a dusty plasma.


Dusty plasmas, Nonlinear dynamics, Order-disorder transitions, Plasma instabilities, Structure of solids and liquids, Synchronization


xv, 106 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 96-106).


Copyright 2014 Wellalage Don Suranga Ruhunusiri

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