On Monday 23rd of September, Rémi Bérard (center of the picture) presented his PhD thesis entitled Formation and growth by plasma of laboratory stardust analogues : investigation of the role of the c/o ratio and metals”, that was carried out at the IRAP in the framework of the Nanocosmos projet under the direction of Kremena Makasheva (LAPLACE, right side of the picture) and Christine Joblin (IRAP, on the left).
Dust formation is a fundamental topic in both cold plasma physics and astrophysics. This PhD thesis, carried out at the interface between the two fields, aims to better understand the formation of stardust. The problem is treated experimentally in cold plasmas and discussed in the context of the environment of evolved stars.
We observe the formation of successive generations of dust due to pulsed injection of hexamethyldisiloxane (HMDSO: Si2O(CH3)3) in a capacitively-coupled radiofrequency asymmetric plasma sustained in argon. The used molecular precursor contains potential stardust forming elements, like carbon, oxygen, silicon and hydrogen. Our approach involves different steps: study of the dust formation in the plasma, dust collection, characterization of the dust properties and correlation of the plasma parameters with the dust characteristics. We have thus succeeded to identify optimum conditions for the formation of organosilicon dust with typical size of 50 nm.
A major factor impacting dust formation in evolved stars is the variation of the C/O ratio, which is though to determine two large families of stardust, silicates (C/O < 1) and carbonaceous dust (C/O > 1). To explore this effect, we have enriched the Ar/HMDSO mixture with oxygen aiming at a variation of the C/O ratio in the plasma. Above a certain quantity of oxygen, dust is not formed anymore in the plasma. The abundance of oxygen limits dust formation through inhibition of the dust seeds in the gas phase. Instead, deposition of a silica- like matrix is favored.
The role of metals is studied through sputtering of a silver target during organosilicon dust formation. We have demonstrated the formation of dust with composite structure in this case. Dust contains crystalline silver nanoparticles that attach to the amorphous organosilicon dust during their growth phase. Moreover, the presence of silver leads to a large variety of molecules composed of species containing Ag and/or Si and hydrocarbon species. Those molecules reveal a complex chemistry around three competitive processes at molecular scale: dust formation involving molecules such as SiCH3 or SiOCH3, metallic grains with clusters of Agn and aromatic molecules of large size such as C16H10 and C24H12, whose formation path involves radicals and possibly an organometallic chemistry as revealed by AgC5H6 and AgC13H8. The above results demonstrate the undoubted necessity to tackle stardust formation by taking into account the chemical complexity of these media.