Plasma-based accelerators can sustain accelerating gradients on the order of 100 GV/m. If the plasma is not fully ionized, fields of this magnitude will ionize neutral atoms via electron tunneling, which can completely change the dynamics of the plasma wake. Particle-in-cell simulations of a high-field plasma wakefield accelerator, using the OOPIC code [D. L. Bruhwiler et al., Phys. Rev. ST Accel. Beams 4, 101302 (2001)], which includes field-induced tunneling ionization of neutral Li gas, show that the presence of even moderate neutral gas density significantly degrades the quality of the wakefield. The tunneling ionization model in OOPIC has been validated via a detailed comparison with experimental data from the l’OASIS laboratory [W.P. Leemans et al., Phys. Rev. Lett. 89, 174802 (2002)]. The properties of a wake generated directly from a neutral gas are studied, showing that one can recover the peak fields of the fully ionized plasma simulations, if the density of the electron drive bunch is increased such that the bunch rapidly ionizes the gas.

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