Origins of plateau formation in ion energy spectra under target normal sheath acceleration
Journal article, 2017
Target normal sheath acceleration (TNSA) is a method employed in laser–matter interaction experiments to accelerate light ions (usually protons). Laser setups with durations of a few 10 fs and relatively low intensity contrasts observe plateau regions in their ion energy spectra when shooting on thin foil targets with thicknesses of the order of 10 μm. In this paper, we identify a mechanism which explains this phenomenon using one-dimensional particle-in-cell simulations. Fast electrons generated from the laser interaction recirculate back and forth through the target, giving rise to time-oscillating charge and current densities at the target backside. Periodic decreases in the electron density lead to transient disruptions of the TNSA sheath field: peaks in the ion spectra form as a result, which are then spread in energy from a modified potential driven by further electron recirculation. The ratio between the laser pulse duration and the recirculation period (dependent on the target thickness, including the portion of the pre-plasma which is denser than the critical density) determines if a plateau forms in the energy spectra.