Long-term drifts of stray electric fields in a Paul trap
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We investigate the evolution of quasi-static stray electric fields in a linear Paul trap over a period of several months. Depending on how these electric fields are initially induced, we observe very different timescales for the field drifts. Photo-induced electric fields decay on timescales of days. We interpret this as photo-electrically generated charges on insulating materials which decay via discharge currents. In contrast, stray fields due to the exposure of the ion trap to a beam of Ba atoms mainly exhibit slow dynamics on the order of months. We explain this observation as a consequence of a coating of the trap electrodes by the atomic beam. This may lead to contact potentials which can slowly drift over time due to atomic diffusion and chemical processes on the surface. In order not to perturb the field evolutions, we suppress the generation of additional charges and atomic coatings in the Paul trap during the measurements. For this, we shield the ion trap from ambient light and only allow the use of near-infrared lasers. Furthermore, we minimize the flux of atoms into the ion trap chamber. Long-term operation of our shielded trap led us to a regime of very low residual electric field drifts of less than 0.03 V/m per day.
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