Skip to Main Content
A theoretical investigation of high-pressure discharges ionized by an external electron beam (e-beam) was conducted. Only when secondary emission from the cathode and electron-impact ionization of metastable states were included in the analysis did calculated current-voltage (I-V) characteristics for argon and methane discharges compare well with experimental data. The I-V characteristics obtained reveal a sharp rise in the current at a certain threshold voltage. This threshold voltage and the entire I-V characteristic are shifted to lower voltages when metastable ionization is significant. Below the threshold voltage and at low external ionization source strengths, a region of negative differential conductivity is obtained. In the high-current region, the I-V slope is controlled by the secondary emission coefficient. The additional cathode sheath ionization from secondary emission and ionization from metastable states significantly reduces the discharge voltage. This important effect can be used to reduce e-beam switch losses and increase lifetime through judicious gas mixture selection and proper cathode conditioning.