Review of Leonid P. Babich book by Leanne Pitchford

On one of the inside cover pages it is stated that the objectives of the ISTC are to provide the opportunity for experts in the CIS to redirect their talents to peaceful activities and to integrate CIS scientists into the global scientific community. My main comment on this book is that I admire these objectives and I think that the realization of this book is a milestone on the way to their achievement.

A book on “High-energy phenomena in electric discharges in dense gases” is an ambitious undertaking. The high-energy phenomena in electric discharges that are discussed in this book are mainly related to runaway electrons, but Prof. Babich also covers briefly a few other high-energy phenomena. For example, there is a section on experimental studies and modeling of the generation of x-rays in sliding discharges and another section on the production of neutrons in gas discharges in deuterium at high overvoltages. The latter is not well known in the electric discharge literature and it is interesting to see it discussed here.

This book is lengthy because is a fairly complete and detailed review of the scientific literature on the subject. Prof. Babich begins by tracing the history of the concept of runaway electrons from the original idea in 1925 to the present day. Much of the early work was in the context of the generation of penetrating radiation in thunderstorm activity. Prof. Babich presents results from a number of experiments in this context arguing that the penetrating radiation is related to the production of runaway electrons and that the same phenomena can be observed in laboratory experiments in electric discharges.

I found the third chapter on the contemporary status of the theory of runaway electrons in weakly ionized gases to be the most interesting chapter in the book. In this chapter, Prof. Babich compares and contrasts different theoretical approaches developed to describe runaway electrons. Especially useful for me were the criticisms (I mean this in a positive sense) made by Prof. Babich and his views as to the particular advantages or disadvantages of each approach.

The fourth chapter treats the problem of gas breakdown with particular emphasis on streamers and their dynamics. This chapter is amply illustrated with useful figures and numerical results drawn from the literature. In this chapter, the author succeeds in showing the links between work from different groups, and the synthesis presented in this chapter should be useful for both experts and newcomers to the field.

Results from laboratory experiments in gas discharges “governed or accompanied by runaway electrons” is the main thrust of the fifth chapter. The sheer number of references (207!) discussed in this chapter is impressive and Prof. Babich manages to put some order to the vast amount of work in this area.

Overall, I like this book. And, although there are some rough spots, I think that Prof. Babich has managed to bridge the gap that has sometimes separated East/West researchers in this complex subject area. His English is quite readable and this work should help to establish a common terminology, which has been complicated by the uneven translations of the Russian literature into English. He recounts material from a number of Russian works in a pedagogical style that is much easier to follow than in the original references.

Although applications of these phenomena are not the main point of the book, Prof. Babich does take care to point out the practical aspects and in which applications these phenomena are important. During Prof. Babich’s research career, he has personally made many contributions to our current understanding of the phenomena discussed here. He is a very gracious man and is careful to give credit where it is deserved. This makes for a pleasantly even-handed presentation of the material.

Leanne Pitchford

Directeur de Recherche,
Centre de Physique des Plasmas et Applications de Toulouse,
Université Paul Sabatier
CPAT, 118 route de Narbonne
31062 Toulouse, France

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