A method for the optical detection of the resonance ionization signal of mercury atoms in a buffer gas is described that is based on the emission from buffer gas atoms that are collisionally excited by interactions with electrons in a strong electric field. The first observations of this phenomenon are reported here, along with comparisons between optical and electrical detection. Advantages of a pulsed electric field over a continuous field are described. A wide range of possible applications for this type of gas phase detector are suggested.

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