What’s thermionic emission?

Print anything with Printful

Thermionic emission is the process by which charge carriers move over a surface or energy barrier by induction of heat. This allows for the flow of electrons and is used in vacuum tubes and solid-state devices. Richardson’s law explains why electrons can flow this way.

Thermionic emission, also known as thermal electron emission, is the process by which charge carriers, such as electrons or ions, move over a surface or some sort of energy barrier by induction of heat. Charge carriers naturally limit activity; however, in thermionic emission, thermal energy is introduced into the carriers, causing them to overcome these forces. The reason behind the ability of charge carriers to perform this action is because electrons and ions are mobile and not bound to the normal chains of atomic structure that affect other particles. Traditionally, these charge carriers were called “thermions”.

A property of the thermionic emission theory is that the emission region is carried by a charge opposite to the original but of equal magnitude. This means that the position of the charge carrier before emission will generate a positive charge in the case of electrons. However, this can be changed using a battery. The emission is neutralized when the carriers are further away from the region, not changing the original state.

Historically, the primary example of thermionic emission is that used in the Edison effect. The electrons are emitted from a hot metal cathode, which uses a polarized electrical device to cause electric current to flow in a vacuum tube. This allows a device to maintain control over the movement of electrons and to amplify or change the electrical signal.

Anything used to cool or generate power uses the concept of thermionic emission theory. As the temperature increases, the magnitude of the flow increases. In addition to the traditional use of vacuum tubes for electronics, solid-state devices can also be used to create the thermionic motion of electrons, enabling modern technology to function.

Thermionics was first reported by Frederick Guthrie in 1863. He was able to identify an alteration in the positive charge of a highly heated iron sphere that would not occur if the object was negatively charged. However, it wasn’t until the 1880s that science was promptly harnessed by Thomas Edison. When he worked with his incandescent light bulbs, he noticed that some areas remained dimmed. This allowed him to identify the flow of electrons due to heat, resulting in the creation of the diode.

Richardson’s law describes why electrons are able to flow this way. Specifically, metals contain two electrons in the atomic structure which are capable of moving from one atom to another. In 1928, Sir Owen Willans Richardson, a British physicist, discovered that some electrons are able to leave the atom without returning. This process requires a certain amount of energy depending on the metal. The term for this effect is work function.

Protect your devices with Threat Protection by NordVPN

Skip to content