A thin film triode type carbon nanotube field electron emission cathode
Sanborn, Graham Patrick
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The current technological age is embodied by a constant push for increased performance and efficiency of electronic devices. This push is particularly observable for technologies that comprise free electron sources, which are used in various technologies including electronic displays, x-ray sources, telecommunication equipment, and spacecraft propulsion. Performance of these systems can be increased by reducing weight and power consumption, but is often limited by a bulky electron source with a high energy demand. Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) show favorable properties for field electron emission (FE) and performance as electron sources. This dissertation details the developments of a uniquely designed Spindt type CNT field emission array (CFEA), from initial concept to working prototype, to specifically prevent electrical shorting of the gate. The CFEA is patent pending in the United States. Process development enabled fabrication of a CFEA with a yield of up to 82%. Furthermore, a novel oxygen plasma etch process was developed to reverse shorting after CNT synthesis. CFEA testing demonstrates FE with a current density of up to 293 μA/cm² at the anode and 1.68 mA/cm² at the gate, with lifetimes in excess of 100 hours. A detailed analysis of eighty tested CFEAs revealed three distinct types of damage. Surprisingly, about half of the damaged chips are not electrically shorted, indicating that the CFEAs are very robust. Potential applications of this technology as cathodes for spacecraft electric propulsion were explored. Exposure to an operating electric propulsion thruster showed no significant effect or damage to the CFEAs, marking the first experimental study of CNT field emitters in an electric propulsion environment. A second effort in spacecraft propulsion is a collaboration with the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT). CFEAs are the payload on an AFIT developed Cube Satellite, called ALICE, to test electron emission in the space environment. ALICE has passed flight tests and is awaiting launch scheduled for 5 December 2013.