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Phys Rev E Stat Nonlin Soft Matter Phys. 2010 Jan;81(1 Pt 2):016404. Epub 2010 Jan 22.

Dimensional phase transition in small Yukawa clusters.

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Department of Physics and Astronomy, Ohio Northern University, Ada, Ohio 45810, USA.


We investigate the one- to two-dimensional zigzag transition in clusters consisting of a small number of particles interacting through a Yukawa (Debye) potential and confined in a two-dimensional biharmonic potential well. Dusty (complex) plasma clusters with n<or=19 monodisperse particles are characterized experimentally for two different confining wells. The well anisotropy is accurately measured, and the Debye shielding parameter is determined from the longitudinal breathing frequency. Debye shielding is shown to be important. A model for this system is used to predict equilibrium particle configurations. The experiment and model exhibit excellent agreement. The critical value of n for the zigzag transition is found to be less than that predicted for an unshielded Coulomb interaction. The zigzag transition is shown to behave as a continuous phase transition from a one-dimensional to a two-dimensional state, where the state variables are the number of particles, the well anisotropy and the Debye shielding parameter. A universal critical exponent for the zigzag transition is identified for transitions caused by varying the Debye shielding parameter.

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