Non-metallic cold-cathode electron emission from composite metal-insulator microstructures
A detailed investigation has been undertaken into a field-induced electron emission (FIEE) mechanism that occurs at microscopically localised `sites' on uncoated, dielectric-coated and composite-coated metallic cathodes. An optical imaging technique has been used to observe and characterize the spatial and temporal behaviour of the populations of emission sites on these cathodes under various experimental conditions, e.g. pulsed-fields, gas environment etc. This study has shown that, for applied fields of 20MVm^-1, thin dielectric (750AA) and composite metal-insulator (MI) overlayers result in a dramatic increase in the total number of emission sites (typically 30cm^-2), and hence emission current. The emission process has been further investigated by a complementary electron spectroscopy technique which has revealed that the localised emission sites on these cathodes display field-dependent spectral shifts and half-widths, i.e. indicative of a `non-metallic' emission mechanism. Details are also given of a comprehensive investigation into the effects of the residual gas environment on the FIEE process from uncoated Cu-cathodes. This latter study has revealed that the well-known Gas Conditioning process can be performed with a wide range of gas species (e.g. O_2, N_2 etc), and furthermore, the degree of conditioning is influenced by both a `Voltage' and `Temperature' effect. These experimental findings have been shown to be particularly important to the technology of high-voltage vacuum-insulation and cold-cathode electron sources. The FIEE mechanism has been interpreted in terms of a hot-electron process that is associated with `electroformed' conducting channels in MI, MIM and MIMI surface microstructures.