Polyethylene granules of diameter 2 mm were treated with a low-pressure weakly ionized air plasma created in a metallic chamber by a pulsed microwave discharge of pulse duration 180 μs and duty cycle 70%. Optical emission spectroscopy showed rich bands of neutral nitrogen molecules and weak O-atom transitions, but the emission from N atoms was below the detection limit. The density of O atoms in the plasma above the samples was measured with a cobalt catalytic probe and exhibited a broad peak at the pressure of 80 Pa, where it was about 2.3 × 1021
. The samples were characterized by X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy. Survey spectra showed oxygen on the surface, while the nitrogen concentration remained below the detection limit for all conditions. The high-resolution C1s peaks revealed formation of various functional groups rather independently from treatment parameters. The results were explained by extensive dissociation of oxygen molecules in the gaseous plasma and negligible flux of N atoms on the polymer surface.
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