Electron emission processes in cold cathode thermal arcs
In this Thesis the processes of electron emission from cathode electrodes are studied theoretically, and the applicability of these mechanisms to the non refractory cathodes that can be used to sustain thermal arcs was examined. Apparatus that was used to generate and manipulate thermal arcs along rail electrodes is described in this thesis. Techniques for driving arcs over polished sample electrodes with magnetic or aerodynamic forces are outlined. Scanning electron microscopy was used to study emission site formation on highly polished electrodes with a natural 2.5 nm oxide layer. Theoretical maximum electron current densities that can be extracted by the arc were calculated and these were used, in conjunction with information from the experimental work, to make estimates of the lifetime of emission spots that are seen on the cathode electrodes of thermal arc devices. The lifetime was found to be dependent on the arc velocity over a range of velocity values from 3 to 80 ms(^-1). The lifetime measured ranged from 2.4 µs to 0.024 µs. Experiments on arcs driven at a constant velocity using a combination of aerodynamic and magnetic forces showed that the formation of emission spots was independent of die applied external magnetic field. The presence of artificially grown copper (11) oxide layers, 50 nm and 100 nm thick, were found to influence the lifetime. The effect of the oxide layer was predicted using a simple model accounting for the change of resistance that such an oxide layer would be expected to cause. Additional experiments showed that the resistance of the arc was independent of the oxide layer thickness, as predicted by the model.