Thermionic emission laws for general electron dispersion relations and band structure data

York Christian Gerstenmaier, Gerhard Wachutka

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In this article, a thermionic electron emission theory for general electron dispersion relations E(k) is presented, relating electron energy E to wave-vector magnitude k = |k|. This theory does not require the construction of a model Hamiltonian for the electrode's materials, like Dirac or Weyl Hamiltonians. Instead, use is made of the material's band structure data, e.g., the parabolic E(k) approximation for the Richardson-Dushman equation and linear E(k), as used for graphene and 3D Dirac semimetals. This new theory confirms previous findings on parabolic E(k), e.g., that the emission current is independent of effective electron mass in the material as long as it is larger than real electron mass m0. For effective mass lower than m0, the emission is reduced and tends to zero for vanishing effective mass. For materials with negative electron affinity, additional terms arise in the emission current equation. It turns out that the linear E(k) dispersion, e.g., for Dirac semimetals, does not have the potential to surpass the Richardson emission in materials with the same work function. In addition, a more rigorous electron emission theory is established by utilizing real anisotropic band structure data En(k) for electrode materials. For collimated electron emission normal to the surface, the transverse electron velocities tend to zero, i.e., the transverse derivatives of En(k) have to be comparatively small. If stable electrode materials of this kind can be realized, a considerable increase of electron emission by a factor 100 or more can be achieved, compared to the Richardson-Dushman theory, especially for small lattice constants perpendicular to the emission direction.

Original languageEnglish
Article number215105
JournalJournal of Applied Physics
Issue number21
StatePublished - 7 Jun 2019


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