The interaction of potassium(nd) Rydberg atoms with an amorphous gold surface
Gray, Damien Francis
Dunning, F. B.
Doctor of Philosophy
This thesis reports the first controlled study of the interactions of Rydberg atoms with a metal surface. In these experiments, a collimated beam of potassium Rydberg atoms is directed at a plane surface at near grazing incidence. Positive ions formed by surface ionization are attracted to the surface by their image charge, which is counterbalanced by an external electric field applied perpendicular to the surface. The ions are detected by a position-sensitive detector (PSD). At some critical value of the external field, the ion trajectories just miss the surface, suggesting that analysis of the dependence of the ion signals on external electric field can be used to determine the distance from the surface at which ionization occurs. This distance, and thus the corresponding critical electric field, is expected to be n-dependent. Experimentally, however, it was observed that the ion signal had a sudden n-independent onset when only a small positive perpendicular electric field was applied at the surface. This observation requires, surprisingly, that the ions produced by surface ionization can readily escape from the surface. The data do, however, show that Rydberg atoms are efficiently ionized in collisions with the surface. This process may provide a useful new detection technique for Rydberg atoms.