Phase explosion is an explosive liquid-vapor phase change that occurs during short pulse laser ablation. Phase explosion results from homogenous vapor nucleation in a superheated liquid phase as the surface temperature approaches the thermodynamic critical temperature, Tc. For a metastable liquid, the upper limit of superheating is approximately 0.9Tc, above which the rate of homogeneous nucleation rises dramatically. Prior to reaching the superheat limit however, a “dielectric transition” is expected to occur at approximately 0.8Tc. The dielectric transition is the transition of an electrically conductive material to a non-conducting state due to large fluctuations in material properties. One consequence of the dielectric transition is that the material will become semi-transparent. Until now, little work has been performed to understand the role of the dielectric transition in laser ablation, and many questions remain about how the surface will rise above 0.8Tc if the surface is semitransparent and only weakly absorbing. This work investigates the role of the dielectric transition with a one-dimensional numerical model for heat transfer and phase change and includes the effect of the metal to dielectric transition. The model is used to simulate heating of aluminum by a Nd:YAG laser with a 7 nanosecond pulse width (FWHM) at the fundamental wavelength of 1064 nm. Calculations of the transient temperature field, melt depth, and depth of the dielectric layer are obtained. Estimates of the absorption coefficient of a metal surface above the metal-dielectric transition are made from correlations found in the research literature. The value of the absorption coefficient is shown to be a critical parameter for determining the energy density required to reach 0.9Tc.

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