Vacuum Tube Devices

Monday, June 21st, 2021 - Basic Electronics

Vacuum Tube Devices

A vast array of devices were built during the 1920-1960 period using vacuum-tube techniques. Most such tubes were rendered obsolete by semiconductors; some techniques for integrating multiple devices in a single module, sharing the same glass envelope have been discussed above, such as the Loewe 3NF. Vacuum-tube electronic devices still in common use include the magnetron, klystron, photomultiplier, x-ray tube and cathode ray tube. The magnetron is the type of tube used in all microwave ovens. In spite of the advancing state of the art in power semiconductor technology, the vacuum tube still has reliability and cost advantages for high-frequency RF power generation. Photomultipliers are still the most sensitive detectors of light. Many televisions, oscilloscopes and computer monitors still use cathode ray tubes, though flat panel displays are becoming more popular as prices drop.

Vacuum Tube Devices

The fluorescent displays commonly used on VCRs and automotive dashboards are actually vacuum tubes, using phosphor-coated anodes to form the display characters, and a heated filamentary cathode as an electron source. These devices are properly called “VFDs”, or Vacuum Fluorescent Displays. Because the filaments are in view, they must be operated at temperatures where the filament does not show a glow. Their big advantage is that it is relatively easy to create bespoke designs with all the legends required for a specific task. These devices are often found in automotive applications where their high brightness allows reading the display in daylight.

Some tubes, like magnetrons, traveling wave tubes, carcinotrons, and klystrons, combine magnetic and electrostatic effects. These are efficient (usually narrow-band) RF producers and still find use in radar, microwave ovens and industrial heating.

Gyrotrons or vacuum masers, used to generate high power millimetre band waves, are magnetic vacuum tubes in which a small relativistic effect, due to the high voltage, is used for bunching the electrons. Free electron lasers, used to generate high power coherent light and perhaps even X rays, are highly relativistic vacuum tubes driven by high energy particle accelerators.

Particle accelerators can be considered vacuum tubes that work backward, the electric fields driving the electrons, or other changed particles. (Like ordinary vacuum tubes many of their names end in “tron”.) In this respect, a cathode ray tube is a particle accelerator.

A tube in which electrons move through a vacuum (or gaseous medium) within a gastight envelope is generically called an electron tube. Vacuum tube can also literally mean a tube with a vacuum. It is e.g. used for demonstration of, and experiments with, free-fall.

Field Emitter Vacuum Tubes

In the early years of the 21st century there has been renewed interest in vacuum tubes, this time in the form of integrated circuits. The most common design uses a cold cathode field emitter, with electrons emitted from a number of sharp nano-scale tips formed on the surface of a metal cathode.

Field Emitter Vacuum Tubes

Their advantages include greatly enhanced robustness combined with the ability to provide high power outputs at low power consumptions. Operating on the same principles as traditional tubes, prototype device cathodes have been constructed with emitter tips formed using nanotubes, and by etching electrodes as hinged flaps (similar to the technology used to create the microscopic mirrors used in Digital Light Processing) that are stood upright by a magnetic field.

Such integrated microtubes may find application in microwave devices including mobile phones, for Bluetooth and Wi-Fi transmission, in radar and for satellite communication. Presently they are being studied for possible application to flat-panel display construction.

Vacuum Tube Solar Heaters

The term vacuum tube has recently been used to refer to the tubular elements of solar panels used for heating water. Vacuum tube solar heaters are becoming increasingly popular.

Vacuum Tube Solar Heaters

An electrode is an electrical conductor used to make contact with a nonmetallic part of a circuit (e.g. a semiconductor, an electrolyte or a vacuum). The word was coined by the scientist Michael Faraday from the Greek words elektron (meaning amber, from which the word electricity is derived) and hodos, a way.

Anode And Cathode In Electrochemical Cells

An electrode in an electrochemical cell is referred to as either an anode or a cathode, words that were also coined by Faraday. The anode is defined as the electrode at which electrons come up from the cell and oxidation occurs, and the cathode is defined as the electrode at which electrons enter the cell and reduction occurs. Each electrode may become either the anode or the cathode depending on the voltage applied to the cell. A bipolar electrode is an electrode that functions as the anode of one cell and the cathode of another cell.

Primary Cell

A primary cell is a special type of electrochemical cell in which the reaction cannot be reversed, and the identities of the anode and cathode are therefore fixed. The anode is always the negative electrode. The cell can be discharged but not recharged.

Secondary Cell

A secondary cell, for example a rechargeable battery, is one in which the reaction is reversible. When the cell is being charged, the anode becomes the positive (+) electrode and the cathode the negative (−). This is also the case in an electrolytic cell. When the cell is being discharged, it behaves like a primary or voltaic cell, with the anode as the negative electrode and the cathode as the positive.

Other Anodes And Cathodes

In a vacuum tube or a semiconductor having polarity (diodes, electrolytic capacitors) the anode is the positive (+) electrode and the cathode the negative (−). The electrons enter the device through the cathode and exit the device through the anode.

In a three-electrode cell, a counter electrode, also called an auxiliary electrode, is used only to make a connection to the electrolyte so that a current can be applied to the working electrode. The counter electrode is usually made of an inert material, such as a noble metal or graphite, to keep it from dissolving.

Types of electrode

  • Electrodes for medical purposes, such as EEG, ECG, ECT, defibrillator
  • Electrodes for electrophysiology techniques in biomedical research
  • Electrodes for execution by the electric chair
  • Electrodes for electroplating
  • Electrodes for arc welding
  • Electrodes for cathodic protection
  • Inert electrodes for hydrolysis (made of platinum)

Welding Electrodes

In arc welding an electrode is used to conduct current through a workpiece to fuse two pieces together. Depending upon the process, the electrode is either consumable, in the case of gas metal arc welding or shielded metal arc welding, or non-consumable, such as in gas tungsten arc welding. For a direct current system the weld rod or stick may be a cathode for a filling type weld or an anode for other welding processes. For an alternating current arc welder the welding electrode would not be considered an anode or cathode.

Alternating Current Electrodes

Alternating Current ElectrodesFor electrical systems which use alternating current the electrodes are the connections from the circuitry to the object to be acted upon by the electrical current but are not designated anode or cathode since the direction of flow of the electrons changes periodically, usually many times per second of vacuum tube.

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