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Magnetic reconnection is a fundamental plasma process where a change in field line connectivity occurs in a current sheet at the boundary between regions of opposing magnetic fields. In this process, energy stored in the magnetic field is converted into kinetic and thermal energy, which provides a source of plasma heating and energetic particles. Magnetic reconnection plays a key role in many space and laboratory plasma phenomena, e.g. solar flares, Earthâ€™s magnetopause dynamics and instabilities in tokamaks. A new linear device (VINETAII) has been designed for the study of the fundamental physical processes involved in magnetic reconnection. The plasma parameters are such that magnetic reconnection occurs in a collision-dominated regime. A plasma gun creates a localized current sheet, and magnetic reconnection is driven by modulating the plasma current and the magnetic field structure. The plasma current is shown to flow in response to a combination of an externally induced electric field and electrostatic fields in the plasma, and is highly affected by axial sheath boundary conditions. Further, the current is changed by an additional axial magnetic field (guide field), and the current sheet geometry was demonstrated to be set by a combination of magnetic mapping and cross-field plasma diffusion. With increasing distance from the plasma gun, magnetic mapping results in an increase of the current sheet length and a decrease of the width. The control parameter is the ratio of the guide field to the reconnection magnetic field strength. Cross-field plasma diffusion leads to a radial expansion of the current sheet at low guide fields. Plasma currents are also observed in the azimuthal plane and were found to originate from a combination of the field-aligned current component and the diamagnetic current generated by steep in-plane pressure gradients in combination with the guide field. The reconnection rate, defined via the inductive electric field, is shown to be directly linked to the time-derivative of the plasma current. The reconnection rate decreases with increasing ratio of the guide field to the reconnection magnetic field strength, which is attributed to the plasma current dependency on axial boundary conditions and the plasma gun discharge. The above outlined results offer insights into the complex interaction between magnetic fields, electric fields, and the localized current flows during reconnection.

The laser-matter interaction is a topic of current research. In this context, the interaction of intensive laser radiation with atomic clusters is of special interest. Du to the small cluster size, the laser field can penetrate the whole cluster volume, which leads to a high absorption of energy in the cluster. As a result, plasmas with high density and high temperature are produced. In the early phase of the laser-cluster interaction, free electrons are initially created in the cluster due to tunnel ionization or photoionization. Via collisions of these electrons with the cluster atoms, the ionization is increased and thus a dense nanoplasma is produced, which is heated by the laser. If free electrons leave the cluster during the laser-cluster interaction (outer ionization), a positive charge buildup is created. The associated charge repulsion finally can lead to the fragmentation of the cluster due to Coulomb explosion. Experimentally, interesting phenomena emerging from laser-excited clusters are observed, e.g., the creation of fast electrons, the production of highly charged ions, and X-ray emission. In this dissertation, the interaction of Gaussian laser pulses in the infrared regime with argon and xenon clusters is simulated by means of a nanoplasma model. Considering laser intensities in the non-relativistic regime, the relevant processes such as ionization, heating and expansion are theoretically described in this model with a set of coupled rate equations and hydrodynamic equations. One focus of the thesis is on the heating of the nanoplasma via inverse bremsstrahlung (IB), which is due to the absorption of laser photons in electron-ion collisions. In particular, the important question is investigated whether the consideration of the ionic structure â€“ that means, the nuclear charge and the bound electrons â€“ modifies the electron-ion collisions and thus the IB heating rate. Starting from a quantum statistical description, effective electron-ion potentials are used which account for both the screening due to the dense plasma and the inner ionic structure. Within the quantum mechanical first Born approximation, the consideration of the ionic structure leads to a drastic increase of the IB heating rate, in particular for high nuclear charges and low ionic charge states. However, for the parameters relevant in experiments, the applicability of the first Born approximation is questionable. Therefore, quantum mechanical calculations going beyond the first-order perturbation theory are performed. In addition, the IB heating rate is investigated with different classical methods. These are based either on transport cross sections for elastic electron-ion scattering or on classical simulations of inelastic scattering processes. Also within the classical approaches, the consideration of the ionic structure leads to an increase of the heating rate. However, this increase is shown to be only moderate. In a further part, the thesis focuses on the question how the dynamics of the laser-cluster interaction is influenced by the consideration of excited states. This is explored exemplarily for argon clusters excited by single or double laser pulses. The consideration of excitation processes in the nanoplasma leads to a decrease of the electron temperature and to an increase of the density of free electrons. Moreover, it is shown that the consideration of excitation processes results in an essential acceleration of the ionization dynamics. As a consequence, the mean ionic charge state in the plasma as well as the number of highly charged ions is significantly increased. For the population of ground states and excited states within an ionic charge state Z, collisional deexcitation processes play an important role. By means of an analytical relation between excitation and deexcitation cross sections, the rates for the respective processes in the presence of the laser field are calculated. The role of deexcitation processes is studied in detail, showing that the inclusion of these processes is essential for the correct theoretical description of the photon emission from laser-excited clusters. Based on these results, the photon yield is calculated for selected radiative transitions resulting from highly charged argon ions in the UV and X-ray regime.

The present thesis deals with dynamic structures that form during the expansion of plasma into an environment of much lower plasma density. The electron expansion, driven by their pressure, occurs on a much faster time scale than the ion expansion, owed to their mobility. The high inertia of the ions causes the generation of an ambipolar electric field that decelerates the escaping electrons while accelerating the ions. The ambipolar boundary propagates outwards and forms a plasma density front. For a small density differences, the propagation of the front can be described with the linear ansatz for ion acoustic waves. For a large density differences, experiments have shown that the propagation velocity of such a front is still related to the ion sound velocity. However, the reported proportionality factors are scattered over a wide range of values, depending on the considered initial and boundary conditions. In this thesis, the dynamics during plasma expansion are studied with the use of experiments and a versatile particle-in-cell simulation. The experimental investigations are performed in the linear helicon device Piglet. The experiment features a fast valve, which is used to shape the neutral gas density profile. During the pulsed rf-discharges, plasma is generated in the source region and expands collisionless into the expansion chamber. The computer simulation is tailored very close to the experiment and provides a deeper insight in the particle kinetics. The experimental results show the existence of a propagating ion front. Its velocity is typically supersonic and depends on the density ratio of the two plasmas. The ion front features a strong electric field. The front can have similar properties to a double layer is not necessarily a double layer by definition. The computer simulation reveals that the propagating electric field repels the downstream ambient ions. These ions form a stream with velocities up to twice as high as the front velocity. The observed ion density peak is due to the accumulation of the repelled ions and is located at their turning point. The ion front formation depends strongly on the initial ion density profile and is part of a wave-breaking phenomenon. The observed front is followed by a plateau of little plasma density variation. This could be confirmed for the expansion experiment by a comparison with virtual diagnostics in the computer simulation. The plateau has a plasma density determined by the ratio between the high and low plasma density. It consists of streaming ions that have been accelerated in the edge of the main plasma. The presented results confirm and extend findings obtained by independent numerical models and simulations.

During the past decade, various physical properties of the Yukawa ball, like structure and energy states, were unraveled using experiments. However, the dynamical features served further attention. Therefore, the main aim of my thesis was to investigate and understand how a finite system-represented by Yukawa clusters-evolves from a solid, crystalline structure to a liquid-like system, how it behaves in this phase and in what manner the reordering back into the solid state can be described. As a method of choice to reach this goal, laser heating has been proven successful. Moreover, the special importance of wakefields for dust clusters confined at low neutral gas pressure was addressed. Melting of finite dust clouds can be induced in two ways, either by altering the properties of the ambient plasma or by laser heating. The latter was shown to be a generic melting scenario, allowing to estimate a critical coupling parameter at the melting point. Moreover, the melting transition of finite 3D dust systems was found to be a two-step process where angular order is lost before the radial order starts to diminish at higher energies. Next, the mode dynamics of finite 3D dust ensembles in the solid and the liquid phase was studied. Crystal and fluid modes revealed the main spectral properties of the system. The normal modes are mainly suited to describe crystalline states. Fluid modes were excited naturally and via laser heating, with excitation frequencies almost independent of the coupling parameter in the solid and the liquid-like regime. Tuning the plasma parameters can be used to vary the particle-particle interaction via the ion focus. Both methods, even though assuming equilibrium situations, allowed to hint at these wakefields. The corresponding peaks in the fluid and normal mode spectra were no eigenmodes, confirming the nonequilibrium character of the ion focusing effect. First steps to extend the normal mode theory to achieve the dynamics of wake-affected nonequilibrium dust clusters were presented. Statistical quantities were obtained evaluating long-run experiments and transport coeffcients for finite dust systems were calculated via the instantaneous normal mode technique. Diffusion was found considerably higher for 3D than for 2D dust clusters. Using the configurational entropy, we have shown that in 2D and 3D disorder increases with increasing size of the system, in agreement with simulations. The temperature dependence of the configurational entropy differs for 2D and 3D dust clouds, with a threshold behavior found for finite 2D ensembles only. Finally, using instantaneous normal modes to reveal the total fraction of unstable modes, the predictive connection of Keyes (Phys Rev E 62, p7905, 2000), between transport and disorder was tested and verified for 2D, but not for 3D clusters. The reason for this has to be left open. Finally, laser-mediated recrystallization processes of finite 3D dust clouds were investigated. First, the temporal evolution of the Coulomb coupling parameter was traced during heating and recrystallization. A cooling rate has been determined from the initial phase of recrystallization. This cooling rate is lower than damping by the neutral gas, in agreement with simulations. We have observed a large fraction of metastable states for the final cluster configurations. Further, we have revealed that the time scale for the correlation buildup in the finite 3D ensemble was on even slower scales than cooling. Thus, different time scales can be attributed to the fast emergence of the shells and to the slower individual ordering within the shells.