Plasmas produced in a cold-cathode Penning discharge have been studied for possible use as an active ionizing medium in commercial quadrupole mass/energy analyzers for detection of low-energy neutral beams. Two distinct Penning discharge modes have been examined: (1) high-pressure (HP) mode and (2) high magnetic field (HMF) mode. It is shown that the ionization efficiency in the HP mode is independent of the length of ionization region; however, somewhat high working pressures (p> 10-4 Torr) and large discharge currents limit the practical use of this mode. This is not the case in the HMF mode, which appears at lower pressures, with an effective ionization region length of the order of electron cyclotron radius. The design and operation of a compact (5×4×4 cm3), low-maintenance ionizer based on a Penning cell with permanent magnets is described. The ability to ionize 40 eV neutral-argon beams with subsequent detection in a Hiden EQP energy-resolved mass spectrometer is shown. The ionization efficiency of the ionizer was found to be as high as 10-3. Unlike conventional electron impact ionizers, the Penning discharge configuration allows to eliminate the thermal background component in the detected signal. The ionizer has potential application for the detection of hyperthermal neutral beams of various species.
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