Today I detected the first electron trapping in our polywell! I started by mounting everything in the chamber. I decided to use the 3D printed plastic polywell because it can hold much stronger magnetic fields compared to the steel frame polywell.
Positioning everything in the chamber took about two hours. On my first try, the wires became tangled, changing the orientation of the langmuir probe. I had to take everything out and start over.
Next I pumped down the chamber and hooked up the oscilloscope. Pressures were 20 mTorr — low enough for initial electron well testing. This should be lower with the diffusion pump but I did not have time to troubleshoot leaks in the main flange. The plastic polywell will also outgas significantly at lower pressures.
The oscilloscope gave me no results at first. It was rolling on a 1 volt scale with no trigger setting. I thought I would be able to see pulses of electron well formation in real time. As I learned later, this was a mistake. Confused by the lack of results, I tried swapping electrical connections and making differential measurements in attempt to avoid grounding issues. Like last time, grounding a lead to the chamber gave noise. Interestingly, the filament supply was also connected to the same ground and induced noice on the oscilloscope when it was turned on (even when it was completely disconnected to the filaments). This shows the grounding issue detailed my last post — an oscilloscope lead cannot be grounded to the chamber because this closes a circuit with significant noise. I made sure to ground my oscilloscope independently of other power supplies for minimal noise.
In my last half hour, I used the trigger setting on the oscilloscope to track capacitor bank discharges. I connected the hot wire and a built-in 50 Ohm resistor to my capacitor bank. While capacitor bank discharges triggered Channel 1, I used Channel 2 to measure the langmuir probe potential. This was successful because it could catch the microsecond pulses of the potential well formation and capacitor bank discharge, unlike running the oscilloscope in real time.
Originally, I had channel 2 inverted so it would give a positive spike with the electron well formation. When I undid the invert setting, channel 2 dropped off the map. I changed this in the last few minutes of experimenting and did not have time to look closer.
It feels great to get these results! Tomorrow I will have more time for data collection at a variety of magnetic field strengths. In theory, our polywell coils can hold up to 100kAT (kilo amp-turns), but this will likely explode the plastic and scorch the wires.