A group of international researchers has developed a new surface coating technology that has the potential to significantly increase electron emission in materials. This breakthrough is expected to enhance the production of high-efficiency electron sources and improve the performance of electron microscopes, electron beam lithography systems, and synchrotron radiation facilities.
The Importance of Free Electrons and Work Function
Free electrons are essential in numerous applications, from photoreactors to accelerators and microscopes. The performance of free electrons is measured by work function. The minimum energy required for electrons to escape from a material’s surface into a vacuum is the work function. Materials with a low work function require less energy to remove electrons and make them free to move around, while materials with a high work function require more energy.
Lower work function is crucial for enhancing the performance of electron sources and contributing to the development of advanced materials and technologies that have practical applications in various fields, such as electron microscopy, accelerator science, and semiconductor manufacturing.
The Breakthrough Surface Coating Technology
To enhance the efficiency of electron sources, researchers have been relying on hexaboride lanthanum (LaB6). LaB6 is widely used for electron sources due to its high stability and durability. However, to improve its efficiency, researchers turned to hexagonal boron nitride (hBN), a versatile chemical compound that is thermally stable, has a high melting point, and is useful in harsh environments.
The research group discovered that coating LaB6 with hBN lowered the work function from 2.2 eV to 1.9 eV and increased electron emission. Shuichi Ogawa, co-author of the study and current associate professor at Nihon University (formerly at Tohoku University’s Institute of Multidisciplinary Research for Advanced Materials), stated that the group confirmed the lower work function compared to non-coated and graphene-coated regions through photoemission electron microscopy and thermionic emission electron microscopy.
Moving forward, Ogawa and his colleagues aim to refine the coating technique. They intend to develop a way to coat hBN onto the non-oxidized surface of LaB6 and coat LaB6 electron sources with a pointed triangular shape.
In conclusion, this new surface coating technology breakthrough has the potential to enhance electron emission in materials and improve the efficiency of electron sources, which can have practical applications in various fields.