Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2018

Access Restrictions

Access restricted until 01/31/2020

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Baalrud, Scott

First Committee Member

Baalrud, Scott

Second Committee Member

Skiff, Frederick

Third Committee Member

Merlino, Robert

Fourth Committee Member

Howes, Gregory

Fifth Committee Member

Daligault, Jerome


Ultracold neutral plasmas (UNP) are laboratory plasmas formed by the photoionization of a magneto-optically trapped and cooled gas. Because of their unusually low temperatures, UNPs are an example of a strongly coupled plasma, meaning that the potential energy of Coulomb interactions between particles is comparable to or greater than their thermal kinetic energy. In the field of strongly coupled plasmas, which also includes dense plasmas found in astrophysics and inertial confinement fusion experiments, there is a pressing need to better understand the collisional transport of matter, momentum, and energy between electrons and ions. The main result of this thesis is to demonstrate the existence of a new physical effect that significantly influences the electron-ion collision rates of strongly coupled plasmas. The essence of the effect is that the electron-ion collision rate depends explicitly on the sign of the colliding charges. This runs counter to both traditional plasma kinetic theory and modern extensions to strong coupling, all of which predict collision rates that do not depend on the sign of the electron-ion interaction. The effect is similar to a phenomenon observed charged-particle stopping known as the Barkas effect.

The existence of the Barkas effect in the electron-ion collision rate of strongly coupled plasmas is first demonstrated using molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. A non-equilibrium simulation methodology is developed to extract the electron-ion collision frequency from the relaxation of an induced electron drift velocity. The simulations are carefully designed to ensure that the relaxation process can be modeled with a constant relaxation rate, which facilitates comparison with theoretical predictions developed later in the thesis. The Barkas effect becomes apparent when these simulations are repeated with positrons in place of electrons. It is seen that the positron-ion collision rate is always lower than the equivalent electron-ion one, and that this charge-sign asymmetry widens rapidly with increasing electron (or positron) coupling strength.

It is hypothesized that the observed Barkas effect can be explained by accounting for plasma screening in the kinematics of binary electron-ion collisions. This is the main tenet of Effective Potential Theory (EPT), which assumes transport occurs through binary collisions governed by the potential of mean force. In order to apply EPT to electron-ion transport in UNPs, several new theoretical developments are made. First, it is demonstrated that EPT is able to accurately predict near-equilibrium transport in ionic mixtures as compared with equilibrium MD simulations. Next, a previously proposed model for the potentials of mean force in two-temperature positron-ion plasma is validated using a new two-thermostat MD methodology. Finally, EPT is applied to electron-ion transport in UNPs using a semi-analytic mapping between a two-component plasma and a screened one-component plasma system, which alleviates numerical difficulties in the theory associated with attractive interactions. The EPT predictions for the electron-ion and positron-ion relaxation rates are in excellent agreement with the MD simulations over the range of coupling strengths attained in present-day UNP experiments. EPT is thus shown to be the first transport theory for strongly coupled plasmas that accounts for the close-interaction physics that give rise to the Barkas effect in electron-ion transport.


Kinetic Theory, Molecular Dynamics, Strongly Coupled Plasma, Transport, Ultracold Neutral Plasma


xvi, 220 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 210-220).


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Copyright © 2018 Nathaniel R. Shaffer

Available for download on Friday, January 31, 2020

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