When a nitrogen microwave-induced plasma produced with an Okamoto-cavity was employed as a source for the nitridation of steel samples, the characteristics of the plasma were investigated by analyzing a spatially-resolved emission image of nitrogen excited species obtained with a two-dimensionally imaging spectrograph. Our previous study had reported on an excellent performance of the Okamoto-cavity microwave-induced plasma (MIP), enabling a nitrided layer having a several-micrometer-thickness to form on an iron substrate, even if the treatment is completed within 1 min, which is superior to a conventional plasma nitriding using low-pressure glow discharges requiring a prolonged treatment time. In this paper, the reason for this is discussed based on a spectrometric investigation. The emission images of band heads of nitrogen molecule and nitrogen molecule ion extended toward the axial/radial directions of the plasma at larger microwave powers supplied to the MIP, thus elevating the number density of the excited species of nitrogen, which would activate any chemical reaction on the iron substrate. However, a drastic increase in the growth rate of the nitrided layer when increasing the microwave power from 600 to 700 W, which had been observed in our previous study, could not be explained only from such a variation in the excited species of nitrogen. This result is probably because the growth process is dominantly controlled by thermal diffusion of nitrogen atom after it enters into the iron substrate, where the substrate temperature is the most important parameter concerning the mobility in the iron lattice. Therefore, the Okamoto-cavity MIP could contribute to a thermal source through radiative heating as well as a source of nitrogen excited species, especially in the growth process of the nitrided layer.
2014 by The Japan Society for Analytical Chemistry