Date of Award

Summer 2005

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Director

Colm T. Whelan

Committee Director

Peter Kneisel

Committee Member

Gail E. Dodge

Committee Member

Richard V. Gregory

Committee Member

Leposava Vuskovic


Radio-frequency (rf) superconducting cavities are widely used to increase the energy of a charged particle beam in particle accelerators. The maximum gradients of cavities made of bulk niobium have constantly improved over the last ten years and they are approaching the theoretical limit of the material. Nevertheless, rf tests of niobium cavities are still showing some "anomalous" losses (so-called "Q-drop"), characterized by a marked increase of the surface resistance at high rf fields, in absence of field emission. A low temperature "in-situ" baking under ultra-high vacuum has been successfully applied by several laboratories to reduce those losses and improve the cavity's quality factor. Several models have been proposed to explain the cause of the Q-drop and the baking effect. We investigated the effect of baking on niobium material parameters by measuring the temperature dependence of a cavity's surface impedance and comparing it with the Bardeen-Cooper-Schrieffer's theory of superconductivity. It was found that baking allows interstitial oxygen to diffuse from the surface deeper into the bulk. This produces a significant reduction of the normal electrons' mean free path, which causes an increase of the quality factor. The optimum baking parameters are 120°C for 24-48 h. We were also able to identify the origin of the Q-drop as due to a high magnetic field, rather then electric field, by measuring the quality factor of a cavity as function of the rf field in a resonant mode with only magnetic field present on the surface. With the aid of a thermometry system, we were able to localize the losses in the high magnetic field region. We measured the Q-drop in cavities which had undergone different treatments, such as anodization, electropolishing and post-purification, and with different metallurgical properties and we study the effectiveness of baking in each case. As a result, none of the models proposed so far can explain all the experimental observations. We elaborated a model proposing a reduction of the lower critical field due to oxygen contamination as the cause for the Q-drop, and the dilution of oxygen into the bulk during bake-out as the cause for its recovery.


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