Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Tobin Munsat

Second Advisor

Mihaly Horanyi

Third Advisor

Sascha Kempf

Fourth Advisor

Zoltan Sternovsky

Fifth Advisor

Robert Ergun


Dust is defined as macroparticles as small as a few molecules up to several micrometers in diameter. In the context of space exploration, it was originally seen only as a technical obstacle to applications; dust can damage instrument surfaces, coat mating surfaces preventing proper seals, and impair or obstruct measurements. Because of the ubiquity of dust in the solar system and its role in the origin of planets and other bodies, the study of dust and related phenomena has evolved to a scientific subdiscipline which can provide us insight into the origins and evolution of our solar system.

In order to facilitate this, a hypervelocity dust accelerator has been built at the University of Colorado at Boulder and is being used to probe impact phenomena, dust mitigation techniques, dust detection techniques, and more. One such dust detector is a Polyvinylidene Fluoride (PVDF) dust detector. The PVDF dust detector is very lightweight and consumes little power. Due to these properties, PVDF detectors can potentially be used on any spacecraft to gain information on the local dust environment. It is not fully understood how this PVDF dust detector signal is generated, so at present can only be used as a dust counter.

In this thesis I discuss the importance of the study of dust phenomena, describe the accelerator experiment, and describe a study conducted to determine the underlying physical principles of PVDF dust detectors. This included measuring crater size scaling laws, measuring the detailed shape of craters, and applying this data to simulations of the signals being generated by PVDF detectors.