Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Nikolaos A. Gatsonis, Advisor

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Gretar Tryggvason, Committee Member

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

John J. Blandino, Committee Member

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

George E. Karniadakis, Committee Member

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Mark W. Richman, Committee Member




The development and numerical implementation of a three-dimensional Particle-In-Cell (PIC) methodology on unstructured Voronoi-Delauney tetrahedral grids is presented. Charge assignment and field interpolation weighting schemes of zero- and first-order are formulated based on the theory of long-range constraints for three-dimensional unstructured grids. The algorithms for particle motion, particle tracing, particle injection, and loading are discussed. Solution to Poisson's equation is based on a finite-volume formulation that takes advantage of the Voronoi-Delauney dual. The PIC methodology and code are validated by application to the problem of current collection by cylindrical Langmuir probes in stationary and moving collisionless plasmas. Numerical results are compared favorably with previous numerical and analytical solutions for a wide range of probe radius to Debye length ratios, probe potentials, and electron to ion temperature ratios. A methodology for evaluation of the heating, slowing-down and deflection times in 3D PIC simulations is presented. An extensive parametric evaluation is performed and the effects of the number of computational particles per cell, the ratio of cell-edge to Debye length, and timestep are investigated. The unstructured PIC code is applied to the simulation of Field Emission Array (FEA) cathodes. Electron injection conditions are obtained from a Field Emission microtip model and the simulation domain includes the FEA cathode and anode. Currents collected by the electrodes are compared to theoretical values. Simulations show the formation of the virtual cathode and three-dimensional effects under certain injection conditions. The unstructured PIC code is also applied to the simulation of a micro-Retarding Potential Analyzer. For simple cases the current at the collector plate is compared favorably with theoretical predictions. The simulations show the complex structure of the potential inside the segmented microchannel, the phase space of plasma species and the space-charge effects not captured by the theory.


Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Degree Name



Mechanical Engineering

Project Type


Date Accepted





PIC, unstructured grid, plasma simulation, Coordinates, Tetrahedral, Numerical grid generation (Numerical analysis), Voronoi polygons, Nanostructured materials