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The generation of 1-5 MeV protons from the interaction of a 3 ps TW CO 2 laser pulse with a gas target with a peak density around the critical plasma density has been studied by 2D particle-in-cell simulations. The proton acceleration in the preformed plasma with a symmetric, linearly ramped density distribution occurs via formation of sheath of the hot electrons on the back surface of the target. The maximum energy of the hot electrons and, hence, net acceleration of protons is mainly defineddoi:10.1017/s0022377812000189 fatcat:hgoo3pyg6rerzhw77ixawmhnea