A detailed optimization study for laser-produced steel plasmas using time-integrated, spatially resolved emission spectroscopy in the vacuum ultraviolet (VUV) (40-160 nm) is presented. The influences of the laser focusing lens type, laser power density, laser wavelength, laser pulse energy, ambient atmospheres, and pressure, as well as spatial distribution of emitting species, on the emission characteristics of the steel plasmas are investigated. The aim of the work is to improve the detection power of the technique for the quantitative determination of carbon in solid steel alloys. In most of the work, Q-switched Nd:YAG (1064 nm, 820 mJ max. energy) laser pulses were used to create the steel plasmas. For the laser harmonics investigations, a second Q-switched Nd:YAG laser system that generated radiation at the second, third, and fourth harmonics as well as at the fundamental was employed. Air, argon, and helium were used as the surrounding atmospheres, and the pressure was varied from 0.005 mbar to 5.0 mbar depending on the gas composition. A 1 m normal incidence vacuum spectrometer, equipped with a 1200 grooves/mm concave reflective grating, was used to disperse the VUV radiation. The radiation was detected by a back-illuminated, anti-reflection coated, charge-coupled device (CCD) array detector. In general, the emission characteristics of the VUV spectral lines studied are similar to those previously investigated in the UV-visible spectral range. An unprecedented limit of detection for carbon in steels of 1.2 ± 0.2 μg/g was measured in this work.

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