Skip to Main Content
Field emission dc cold cathodes continue as an important area of research for uses such as electron microscopy, novel X-ray sources, vacuum electronic devices, terahertz sources, and high-power microwave tubes. Each of these applications typically requires high current densities with high-brightness electron beams driven by cathodes exhibiting long lifetime in the presence of deleterious conditions such as ion back bombardment and excessive heating. The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) now investigates cathodes operating in dc mode for use in a terahertz traveling wave tube (TWT). The TWT requires an electron beam of 50 μm in diameter or less, at 10s of kiloelectronvolt energy with energy spreads of less than 10 eV. While AFRL has tested numerous cathodes in this regime, this paper reports on the first demonstration of a dc cathode utilizing a highly aligned carbon nanotube (CNT) rope for the electron emitter. The rope consists of individual single-walled CNTs that have been subjected to a nitrogen-enhanced acid etch and then spun into a rope configuration. Thus, the single rope emitter has an overall diameter of 100 m and a length of 1.5 mm. We report on preliminary results from this cathode, in particular the fabrication of the cathode, the dc cathode test system, and the cathode operation up to a voltage of 5 kV. The cathode operates stably to within 0.6% with a 5-mm anode-cathode gap at 5 keV and 1.0-mA current for hundreds of hours. Finally, we provide estimates of the cathode parameters such as the effective field enhancement factor (βeff) and emitting area (A) through a Fowler-Nordheim plot and comparison of the experimental data with simulations utilizing the particle-in-cell code Improved Concurrent Electromagnetic Particle-in-Cell.