Sputtering of atoms and molecules from metal or semiconductor surfaces by ions has been investigated extensively by the use of the ion beam technique (see the references in the recent review article by Hofer), and investigations near the sputtering threshold have been carried out through the preparation of ion beams in the energy region of the sputtering threshold using a sophisticated ion-optical deceleration systems. The investigation of the process of sputtering itself requires well-defined projectile parameters (such as energy, incidence angle, mass, and charge state of the ions), in addition to a very clean surface, and the instruments for this purpose are rather complicated and expensive. It is desirable in practical applications or in a preliminary experiment to have a device to measure the threshold energy in a simpler way. We have shown that the electric field above the cathode surface in a conventional hollow cathode discharge can be derived by optogalvanic spectroscopy, and the measured field strength enables us to estimate the average energy of impinging ions.

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