Channeling the electrical breakdown of air by optically heated plasma filaments

Maik Scheller, Norman Born, Weibo Cheng, Pavel Polynkin

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Femtosecond laser pulses with sufficiently high peak power leave tracks of dilute plasma in their wakes. Potential use of this plasma for channeling electrical discharges in the atmosphere has been discussed and demonstrated in laboratory-scale experiments. However, the electron density in femtosecond laser-generated plasma decays rapidly on the nanosecond time scale, due to recombination and electron attachment to air molecules. The finite plasma lifetime limits the maximum extent of the guided electrical breakdown to a few meters. Here, we experimentally demonstrate that the limitation associated with the short plasma lifetime can be overcome though optical heating of the plasma filaments by an auxiliary energetic laser pulse with a duration in the nanosecond range. We show that the breakdown electric field can be reduced by up to a factor of 4 with a heater fluence of about 1 kJ/cm2. This approach could have applications in channeling long-range electrical discharges in the atmosphere and, potentially, in channeling lightning strikes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)125-128
Number of pages4
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2014


  • Ionization
  • Laser-induced breakdown
  • Strong field laser physics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials
  • Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics


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