Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2017

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Skiff, Frederick N.

First Committee Member

Howes, Gregory

Second Committee Member

Kletzing, Craig

Third Committee Member

Spangler, Steven

Fourth Committee Member

Cheatum, Christopher


Inertial Alfvén waves occur in plasmas where the Alfvén speed is greater than the electron thermal speed and the scale of wave field structure across the background magnetic field is comparable to the electron skin depth. Such waves have an electric field aligned with the background magnetic field that can accelerate electrons. It is likely that electrons are accelerated by inertial Alfvén waves in the auroral magnetosphere and contribute to the generation of auroras. While rocket and satellite measurements show a high level of coincidence between inertial Alfvén waves and auroral activity, definitive measurements of electrons being accelerated by inertial Alfvén waves are lacking. Continued uncertainty stems from the difficulty of making a conclusive interpretation of measurements from spacecraft flying through a complex and transient process. A laboratory experiment can avoid some of the ambiguity contained in spacecraft measurements.

Experiments have been performed in the Large Plasma Device (LAPD) at UCLA. Inertial Alfvén waves were produced while simultaneously measuring the suprathermal tails of the electron distribution function. Measurements of the distribution function use resonant absorption of whistler mode waves. During a burst of inertial Alfvén waves, the measured portion of the distribution function oscillates at the Alfvén wave frequency. The phase space response of the electrons is well-described by a linear solution to the Boltzmann equation. Experiments have been repeated using electrostatic and inductive Alfvén wave antennas. The oscillation of the distribution function is described by a purely Alfvénic model when the Alfvén wave is produced by the inductive antenna. However, when the electrostatic antenna is used, measured oscillations of the distribution function are described by a model combining Alfvénic and non-Alfvénic effects. Indications of a nonlinear interaction between electrons and inertial Alfvén waves are present in recent data.


Alfvén waves, Auroral generation, Electron acceleration, Kinetic plasma physics, Laboratory plasma astrophysics, Plasma waves


xvii, 188 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 182-188).


Copyright © 2017 James William Ryan Schroeder

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