Entry Date:
February 21, 2013

Photo-Assisted Field Emission Cold Cathodes

A collaboration of the Research Lab or Electronics (RLE) and Microsystems Technology Laboratories (MTL) investigators is creating the scientific and engineering knowledge for a compact coherent X-ray source for phase contrast medical imaging based on inverse Compton scattering of relativistic electron bunches. The X-ray system requires a low emittance electron source that can be switched at timescales of tens of femtoseconds or faster; the focus of our work has been the design, fabrication and characterization of massive arrays of a nanostructured high aspect-ratio silicon (Si) structures to implement low-emittance and high-brightness cathodes that can be triggered very fast using laser pulses to produce spatially uniform electron bunches. Si nanostructure arrays with highly uniform sub-10 nm tip radii have been fabricated via a combined optical lithography and diffusion limited oxidation technique. The fabrication process allows nanometer-level control over the dimensions of the electron emitter structures. We show an array of Si tips with 1.25 µm hexagonal pitch have an average radius of curvature of 6.2 nm and standard deviation of 1.1 nm (n=29); when the radius of curvature is changed to 21.6nm, the standard deviation remains approximately the same, i.e., 1.25 nm (n=69).

The tips are illuminated at a grazing incidence of roughly 84 degrees with a 1 kHz titanium sapphire laser (800 nm wavelength) with a pulse duration of 35 fs; the high electric field of the laser pulse is amplified by the silicon tips so the electrons can quantum tunnel from the tips into the vacuum. Experimental results using a time of flight spectrometer show electron beamlet array emission with 3-photon absorption. Work is ongoing to optimize the tip geometry for both low emittance and high current. We are also designing and building a new vacuum chamber to test the devices. The chamber will pump down to 10-7 torr in ~15min with an anode bias up to 1100V.