Tunnel Ionization

Tunnel ionization is a process in which electrons in an atom (or a molecule) pass through the potential barrier and escape from the atom (or molecule). In an intense electric field, the potential barrier of an atom (molecule) is distorted drastically. Therefore, the length of the barrier that electrons have to pass decreases and electrons can escape from the atom (molecule) easily.

As an electric field of light is an alternating electric field, the direction of the electric field reverses after the half period of the field. Because electrons have a charge, electrons escaping by tunnel ionization come and go to the atom (molecule) in every half period. In this process, some electrons recombine with the nucleus (nuclei). Because the electrons have gained a large quantity of kinetic energy by acceleration from the electric field, surplus energy is released as light. The energy of this light is so high that this method is an effective way of generating ultraviolet light.

When the recombination does not occur, further ionization proceeds by collision between high-energy electrons and a parent atom (molecule). Consequently, a multivalent ion is created and this ion is collapsed by Coulomb repulsion. This is called Coulomb explosion.

Read more about Tunnel Ionization:  References and Background, Physical Process, Notation, DC Tunneling Ionization, AC Electric Field

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