Gas-filled tube

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A compact fluorescent bulb is a household application of a gas-filled tube Compact-Fluorescent-Bulb.jpg
A compact fluorescent bulb is a household application of a gas-filled tube

A gas-filled tube, also known as a discharge tube, is an arrangement of electrodes in a gas within an insulating, temperature-resistant envelope. Gas-filled tubes exploit phenomena related to electric discharge in gases, and operate by ionizing the gas with an applied voltage sufficient to cause electrical conduction by the underlying phenomena of the Townsend discharge. A gas-discharge lamp is an electric light using a gas-filled tube; these include fluorescent lamps, metal-halide lamps, sodium-vapor lamps, and neon lights. Specialized gas-filled tubes such as krytrons, thyratrons, and ignitrons are used as switching devices in electric devices.

Electrode electrical conductor used to make contact with a nonmetallic part of a circuit (e.g. a semiconductor, an electrolyte or a vacuum)

An electrode is an electrical conductor used to make contact with a nonmetallic part of a circuit. The word was coined by William Whewell at the request of the scientist Michael Faraday from two Greek words: elektron, meaning amber, and hodos, a way.

Gas One of the four fundamental states of matter

Gas is one of the four fundamental states of matter. A pure gas may be made up of individual atoms, elemental molecules made from one type of atom, or compound molecules made from a variety of atoms. A gas mixture, such as air, contains a variety of pure gases. What distinguishes a gas from liquids and solids is the vast separation of the individual gas particles. This separation usually makes a colorless gas invisible to the human observer. The interaction of gas particles in the presence of electric and gravitational fields are considered negligible, as indicated by the constant velocity vectors in the image.

Dielectric electrically poorly conducting or non-conducting, non-metallic substance of which charge carriers are generally not free to move

A dielectric is an electrical insulator that can be polarized by an applied electric field. When a dielectric is placed in an electric field, electric charges do not flow through the material as they do in an electrical conductor but only slightly shift from their average equilibrium positions causing dielectric polarization. Because of dielectric polarization, positive charges are displaced in the direction of the field and negative charges shift in the opposite direction. This creates an internal electric field that reduces the overall field within the dielectric itself. If a dielectric is composed of weakly bonded molecules, those molecules not only become polarized, but also reorient so that their symmetry axes align to the field.


The voltage required to initiate and sustain discharge is dependent on the pressure and composition of the fill gas and geometry of the tube. Although the envelope is typically glass, power tubes often use ceramics, and military tubes often use glass-lined metal. Both hot cathode and cold cathode type devices are encountered.

Ceramic inorganic, nonmetallic solid prepared by the action of heat

A ceramic is a solid material comprising an inorganic compound of metal, non-metal or metalloid atoms primarily held in ionic and covalent bonds. Common examples are earthenware, porcelain, and brick.

Hot cathode Type of electrode.

In vacuum tubes and gas-filled tubes, a hot cathode or thermionic cathode is a cathode electrode which is heated to make it emit electrons due to thermionic emission. This is in contrast to a cold cathode, which does not have a heating element. The heating element is usually an electrical filament heated by a separate electric current passing through it. Hot cathodes typically achieve much higher power density than cold cathodes, emitting significantly more electrons from the same surface area. Cold cathodes rely on field electron emission or secondary electron emission from positive ion bombardment, and do not require heating. There are two types of hot cathode. In a directly heated cathode, the filament is the cathode and emits the electrons. In an indirectly heated cathode, the filament or heater heats a separate metal cathode electrode which emits the electrons.

Cold cathode Type of electrode and part of cold cathode fluorescent lamp.

A cold cathode is a cathode that is not electrically heated by a filament. A cathode may be considered "cold" if it emits more electrons than can be supplied by thermionic emission alone. It is used in gas-discharge lamps, such as neon lamps, discharge tubes, and some types of vacuum tube. The other type of cathode is a hot cathode, which is heated by electric current passing through a filament. A cold cathode does not necessarily operate at a low temperature: it is often heated to its operating temperature by other methods, such as the current passing from the cathode into the gas.

Gases in use


Hydrogen is used in tubes used for very fast switching, e.g. some thyratrons, dekatrons, and krytrons, where very steep edges are required. The build-up and recovery times of hydrogen are much shorter than in other gases. [1] Hydrogen thyratrons are usually hot-cathode. Hydrogen (and deuterium) can be stored in the tube in the form of a metal hydride, heated with an auxiliary filament; hydrogen by heating such storage element can be used to replenish cleaned-up gas, and even to adjust the pressure as needed for a thyratron operation at a given voltage. [2]

Hydrogen Chemical element with atomic number 1

Hydrogen is the chemical element with the symbol H and atomic number 1. With a standard atomic weight of 1.008, hydrogen is the lightest element in the periodic table. Hydrogen is the most abundant chemical substance in the Universe, constituting roughly 75% of all baryonic mass. Non-remnant stars are mainly composed of hydrogen in the plasma state. The most common isotope of hydrogen, termed protium, has one proton and no neutrons.

Thyratron type of gas filled tube

A thyratron is a type of gas-filled tube used as a high-power electrical switch and controlled rectifier. Thyratrons can handle much greater currents than similar hard-vacuum tubes. Electron multiplication occurs when the gas becomes ionized, producing a phenomenon known as Townsend discharge. Gases used include mercury vapor, xenon, neon, and hydrogen. Unlike a vacuum tube (valve), a thyratron cannot be used to amplify signals linearly.


In electronics, a Dekatron is a gas-filled decade counting tube. Dekatrons were used in computers, calculators and other counting-related products during the 1950s and 1960s. "Dekatron," now a generic trademark, was the brand name used by Ericsson Telephones Limited (ETL), of Beeston, Nottingham.


Deuterium is used in ultraviolet lamps for ultraviolet spectroscopy, in neutron generator tubes, and in special tubes (e.g. crossatron). It has higher breakdown voltage than hydrogen. In fast switching tubes it is used instead of hydrogen where high voltage operation is required. [3] For a comparison, the hydrogen-filled CX1140 thyratron has anode voltage rating of 25 kV, while the deuterium-filled and otherwise identical CX1159 has 33 kV. Also, at the same voltage the pressure of deuterium can be higher than of hydrogen, allowing higher rise rates of rise of current before it causes excessive anode dissipation. Significantly higher peak powers are achievable. Its recovery time is however about 40% slower than for hydrogen. [2]

Deuterium Isotope of hydrogen with 1 neutron

Deuterium is one of two stable isotopes of hydrogen. The nucleus of deuterium, called a deuteron, contains one proton and one neutron, whereas the far more common protium has no neutron in the nucleus. Deuterium has a natural abundance in Earth's oceans of about one atom in 6420 of hydrogen. Thus deuterium accounts for approximately 0.02% of all the naturally occurring hydrogen in the oceans, while protium accounts for more than 99.98%. The abundance of deuterium changes slightly from one kind of natural water to another.

Ultraviolet Electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength shorter than that of visible light, but longer than X-rays

Ultraviolet (UV) designates a band of the electromagnetic spectrum with wavelength from 10 nm to 400 nm, shorter than that of visible light but longer than X-rays. UV radiation is present in sunlight, and contributes about 10% of the total output of the Sun. It is also produced by electric arcs and specialized lights, such as mercury-vapor lamps, tanning lamps, and black lights. Although long-wavelength ultraviolet is not considered an ionizing radiation because its photons lack the energy to ionize atoms, it can cause chemical reactions and causes many substances to glow or fluoresce. Consequently, the chemical and biological effects of UV are greater than simple heating effects, and many practical applications of UV radiation derive from its interactions with organic molecules.

Neutron generator source of neutrons from linear particle accelerators

Neutron generators are neutron source devices which contain compact linear particle accelerators and that produce neutrons by fusing isotopes of hydrogen together. The fusion reactions take place in these devices by accelerating either deuterium, tritium, or a mixture of these two isotopes into a metal hydride target which also contains deuterium, tritium or a mixture of these isotopes. Fusion of deuterium atoms results in the formation of a He-3 ion and a neutron with a kinetic energy of approximately 2.5 MeV. Fusion of a deuterium and a tritium atom results in the formation of a He-4 ion and a neutron with a kinetic energy of approximately 14.1 MeV. Neutron generators have applications in medicine, security, and materials analysis.

Noble gases

Noble gas discharge tubes; from left to right: helium, neon, argon, krypton, xenon Edelgase in Entladungsroehren.jpg
Noble gas discharge tubes; from left to right: helium, neon, argon, krypton, xenon

Noble gases are frequently used in tubes for many purposes, from lighting to switching. Pure noble gases are employed in switching tubes. Noble-gas-filled thyratrons have better electrical parameters than mercury-based ones. [3] The electrodes undergo damage by high-velocity ions. The neutral atoms of the gas slow the ions down by collisions, and reduce the energy transferred to the electrodes by the ion impact. Gases with high molecular weight, e.g. xenon, protect the electrodes better than lighter ones, e.g. neon. [4]

Noble gas group of chemical elements tend to be chemically inert and thus form odorless, colorless, monatomic gases with low reactivity; consists of helium, neon, argon, krypton, xenon, radon, and possibly oganesson

The noble gases make up a group of chemical elements with similar properties; under standard conditions, they are all odorless, colorless, monatomic gases with very low chemical reactivity. The six noble gases that occur naturally are helium (He), neon (Ne), argon (Ar), krypton (Kr), xenon (Xe), and the radioactive radon (Rn). Oganesson (Og) is variously predicted to be a noble gas as well or to break the trend due to relativistic effects; its chemistry has not yet been investigated.

Helium Chemical element with atomic number 2

Helium is a chemical element with the symbol He and atomic number 2. It is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, non-toxic, inert, monatomic gas, the first in the noble gas group in the periodic table. Its boiling point is the lowest among all the elements. After hydrogen, helium is the second lightest and second most abundant element in the observable universe, being present at about 24% of the total elemental mass, which is more than 12 times the mass of all the heavier elements combined. Its abundance is similar to this figure, in the Sun, and in Jupiter. This is due to the very high nuclear binding energy of helium-4, with respect to the next three elements after helium. This helium-4 binding energy also accounts for why it is a product of, both, nuclear fusion, and radioactive decay. Most helium in the universe is helium-4, the vast majority of which was formed during the Big Bang. Large amounts of new helium are being created by nuclear fusion of hydrogen in stars.

A helium–neon laser or HeNe laser, is a type of gas laser whose gain medium consists of a mixture of 75% helium and 25% neon at a total pressure of about 1 mm of Hg inside of a small electrical discharge. The best-known and most widely used HeNe laser operates at a wavelength of 632.8 nm, in the red part of the visible spectrum.

Neon Chemical element with atomic number 10

Neon is a chemical element with the symbol Ne and atomic number 10. It is a noble gas. Neon is a colorless, odorless, inert monatomic gas under standard conditions, with about two-thirds the density of air. It was discovered in 1898 as one of the three residual rare inert elements remaining in dry air, after nitrogen, oxygen, argon and carbon dioxide were removed. Neon was the second of these three rare gases to be discovered and was immediately recognized as a new element from its bright red emission spectrum. The name neon is derived from the Greek word, νέον, neuter singular form of νέος (neos), meaning new. Neon is chemically inert, and no uncharged neon compounds are known. The compounds of neon currently known include ionic molecules, molecules held together by van der Waals forces and clathrates.

Elemental vapors (metals and nonmetals)

Other gases

Other gases in discharge tubes; from left to right: hydrogen, deuterium, nitrogen, oxygen, mercury Gase-in-Entladungsroehren.jpg
Other gases in discharge tubes; from left to right: hydrogen, deuterium, nitrogen, oxygen, mercury

Insulating gases

In special cases (e.g., high-voltage switches), gases with good dielectric properties and very high breakdown voltages are needed. Highly electronegative elements, e.g., halogens, are favored as they rapidly recombine with the ions present in the discharge channel. One of the most popular choices is sulfur hexafluoride, used in special high-voltage applications. Other common options are dry pressurized nitrogen and halocarbons.

Gas-tube physics and technology

Voltage-current characteristics of electrical discharge in neon at 1 Torr (130 Pa), with two planar electrodes separated by 50 cm.
A: random pulses by cosmic radiation
B: saturation current
C: avalanche Townsend discharge
D: self-sustained Townsend discharge
E: unstable region: corona discharge
F: sub-normal glow discharge
G: normal glow discharge
H: abnormal glow discharge
I: unstable region: glow-arc transition
J: electric arc
K: electric arc
The A-D region is called a dark discharge; there is some ionization, but the current is below 10 microamperes and there is no significant amount of radiation produced.
The D-G region exhibits a negative differential resistance
The F-H region is a region of glow discharge; the plasma emits a faint glow that occupies almost all the volume of the tube; most of the light is emitted by excited neutral atoms.
The I-K region is a region of arc discharge; the plasma is concentrated in a narrow channel along the center of the tube; a great amount of radiation is produced. Glow discharge current-voltage curve English.svg
Voltage-current characteristics of electrical discharge in neon at 1 Torr (130 Pa), with two planar electrodes separated by 50 cm.
A: random pulses by cosmic radiation
B: saturation current
C: avalanche Townsend discharge
D: self-sustained Townsend discharge
E: unstable region: corona discharge
F: sub-normal glow discharge
G: normal glow discharge
H: abnormal glow discharge
I: unstable region: glow-arc transition
J: electric arc
K: electric arc
The A-D region is called a dark discharge; there is some ionization, but the current is below 10 microamperes and there is no significant amount of radiation produced.
The D-G region exhibits a negative differential resistance
The F-H region is a region of glow discharge; the plasma emits a faint glow that occupies almost all the volume of the tube; most of the light is emitted by excited neutral atoms.
The I-K region is a region of arc discharge; the plasma is concentrated in a narrow channel along the center of the tube; a great amount of radiation is produced.

The fundamental mechanism is the Townsend discharge, which is the sustained multiplication of electron flow by ion impact when a critical value of electric field strength for the density of the gas is reached. As the electric field is increased various phases of discharge are encountered as shown in the accompanying plot. The gas used dramatically influences the parameters of the tube. The breakdown voltage depends on the gas composition and electrode distance; the dependencies are described by Paschen's law.

Gas pressure

The gas pressure may range between 0.001 and 1,000 Torr (0.13–130,000 Pa); most commonly, pressures between 1–10 torr are used. [1] The gas pressure influences the following factors: [1]

Above a certain value, the higher the gas pressure, the higher the ignition voltage. High-pressure lighting tubes can require a few kilovolts impulse for ignition when cold, when the gas pressure is low. After warming up, when the volatile compound used for light emission is vaporized and the pressure increases, reignition of the discharge requires either significantly higher voltage or reducing the internal pressure by cooling down the lamp. [8] For example, many sodium vapor lamps cannot be re-lit immediately after being shut off; they must cool down before they can be lit up again.

The gas tends to be used up during the tube operation, by several phenomena collectively called clean-up. The gas atoms or molecules are adsorbed on the surfaces of the electrodes. In high voltage tubes, the accelerated ions can penetrate into the electrode materials. New surfaces, formed by sputtering of the electrodes and deposited on e.g. the inner surfaces of the tube, also readily adsorb gases. Non-inert gases can also chemically react with the tube components. Hydrogen may diffuse through some metals. [1]

For removal of gas in vacuum tubes, getters are used. For resupplying gas for gas-filled tubes, replenishers are employed. Most commonly, replenishers are used with hydrogen; a filament made from a hydrogen-absorbing metal (e.g. zirconium or titanium) is present in the tube, and by controlling its temperature the ratio of absorbed and desorbed hydrogen is adjusted, resulting in controlling of the hydrogen pressure in the tube. The metal filament acts as a hydrogen storage. This approach is used in e.g. hydrogen thyratrons or neutron tubes. Usage of saturated mercury vapor allows using a pool of liquid mercury as a large storage of material; the atoms lost by clean-up are automatically replenished by evaporation of more mercury. The pressure in the tube is however strongly dependent on the mercury temperature, which has to be controlled carefully. [1]

Large rectifiers use saturated mercury vapor with a small amount of an inert gas. The inert gas supports the discharge when the tube is cold.

The mercury arc valve current-voltage characteristics are highly dependent on the temperature of the liquid mercury. The voltage drop in forward bias decreases from about 60 volts at 0 °C to somewhat above 10 volts at 50 °C and then stays constant; the reverse bias breakdown ("arc-back") voltage drops dramatically with temperature, from 36 kV at 60 °C to 12 kV at 80 °C to even less at higher temperatures. The operating range is therefore usually between 18–65 °C. [9]

Gas purity

The gas in the tube has to be kept pure to maintain the desired properties; even small amount of impurities can dramatically change the tube values; presence of non-inert gases generally increases the breakdown and burning voltages. The presence of impurities can be observed by changes in the glow color of the gas. Air leaking into the tube introduces oxygen, which is highly electronegative and inhibits the production of electron avalanches. This makes the discharge look pale, milky, or reddish. Traces of mercury vapors glow bluish, obscuring the original gas color. Magnesium vapor colors the discharge green. To prevent outgassing of the tube components during operation, a bake-out is required before filling with gas and sealing. Thorough degassing is required for high-quality tubes; even as little as 10−8 torr (≈1 μPa) of oxygen is sufficient for covering the electrodes with monomolecular oxide layer in few hours. Non-inert gases can be removed by suitable getters. for mercury-containing tubes, getters that do not form amalgams with mercury (e.g. zirconium, but not barium) have to be used. Cathode sputtering may be used intentionally for gettering non-inert gases; some reference tubes use molybdenum cathodes for this purpose. [1]

Pure inert gases are used where the difference between the ignition voltage and the burning voltage has to be high, e.g. in switching tubes. Tubes for indication and stabilization, where the difference has to be lower, tend to be filled with Penning mixtures; the lower difference between ignition and burning voltages allows using lower power supply voltages and smaller series resistances. [1]

Lighting and display gas-filled tubes

Fluorescent lighting, CFL lamps, mercury and sodium discharge lamps and HID lamps are all gas-filled tubes used for lighting.

Neon lamps and neon signage (most of which is not neon based these days) are also low-pressure gas-filled tubes.

Specialized historic low-pressure gas-filled tube devices include the Nixie tube (used to display numerals) and the Decatron (used to count or divide pulses, with display as a secondary function).

Xenon flash lamps are gas-filled tubes used in cameras and strobe lights to produce bright flashes of light.

The recently developed sulfur lamps are also gas-filled tubes when hot.

Gas-filled tubes in electronics

Since the ignition voltage depends on the ion concentration which may drop to zero after a long period of inactivity, many tubes are primed for ion availability:

Power devices

Some important examples include the thyratron, krytron, and ignitron tubes, which are used to switch high-voltage currents. A specialized type of gas-filled tube called a Gas Discharge Tube (GDT) is fabricated for use as surge protectors, to limit voltage surges in electrical and electronic circuits.

Computing tubes

The Schmitt trigger effect of the negative differential resistance-region can be exploited to realize timers, relaxation oscillators and digital circuits with neon lamps, trigger tubes, relay tubes, dekatrons and nixie tubes.

Thyratrons can also be used as triodes by operating them below their ignition voltage, allowing them to amplify analog signals as a self-quenching superregenerative detector in radio control receivers. [10]


There were special neon lamps besides nixie tubes:

Noise diodes

Hot-cathode, gas-discharge noise diodes were available in normal radio tube glass envelopes for frequencies up to UHF, and as long, thin glass tubes with a normal bayonet light bulb mount for the filament and an anode top cap, for SHF frequencies and diagonal insertion into a waveguide.

They were filled with a pure inert gas such as neon because mixtures made the output temperature-dependent. Their burning voltage was under 200 V, but they needed optical priming by an incandescent 2-watt lamp and a voltage surge in the 5-kV range for ignition.

One miniature thyratron found an additional use as a noise source, when operated as a diode in a transverse magnetic field. [11]

Voltage-regulator tubes

In the mid-20th century, voltage-regulator tubes were commonly used.

Elapsed-time measurement

Cathode sputtering is taken advantage of in the Time Totalizer, a metal-vapor coulometer-based elapsed time meter where the sputtered metal is deposited on a collector element whose resistance therefore decreases slowly. [12]

List of -tron tubes


See also

Related Research Articles

Electric light A device that produces light from electricity

An electric light is a device that produces visible light from electric current. It is the most common form of artificial lighting and is essential to modern society, providing interior lighting for buildings and exterior light for evening and nighttime activities. In technical usage, a replaceable component that produces light from electricity is called a lamp. Lamps are commonly called light bulbs; for example, the incandescent light bulb. Lamps usually have a base made of ceramic, metal, glass or plastic, which secures the lamp in the socket of a light fixture. The electrical connection to the socket may be made with a screw-thread base, two metal pins, two metal caps or a bayonet cap.

Fluorescent lamp Light source

A fluorescent lamp, or fluorescent tube, is a low-pressure mercury-vapor gas-discharge lamp that uses fluorescence to produce visible light. An electric current in the gas excites mercury vapor, which produces short-wave ultraviolet light that then causes a phosphor coating on the inside of the lamp to glow. A fluorescent lamp converts electrical energy into useful light much more efficiently than incandescent lamps. The typical luminous efficacy of fluorescent lighting systems is 50–100 lumens per watt, several times the efficacy of incandescent bulbs with comparable light output.

Neon lamp Light source based on gas discharge

A neon lamp is a miniature gas discharge lamp. The lamp typically consists of a small glass capsule that contains a mixture of neon and other gases at a low pressure and two electrodes. When sufficient voltage is applied and sufficient current is supplied between the electrodes, the lamp produces an orange glow discharge. The glowing portion in the lamp is a thin region near the cathode; the larger and much longer neon signs are also glow discharges, but they use the positive column which is not present in the ordinary neon lamp. Neon glow lamps were widely used as indicator lamps in the displays of electronic instruments and appliances.

Neon sign electrified, luminous tube lights

In the signage industry, neon signs are electric signs lighted by long luminous gas-discharge tubes that contain rarefied neon or other gases. They are the most common use for neon lighting, which was first demonstrated in a modern form in December 1910 by Georges Claude at the Paris Motor Show. While they are used worldwide, neon signs were popular in the United States from about 1920–1960. The installations in Times Square, many originally designed by Douglas Leigh, were famed, and there were nearly 2,000 small shops producing neon signs by 1940. In addition to signage, neon lighting is used frequently by artists and architects, and in plasma display panels and televisions. The signage industry has declined in the past several decades, and cities are now concerned with preserving and restoring their antique neon signs.

Flashtube Incoherent light source

A flashtube, also called a flashlamp, is an electric arc lamp designed to produce extremely intense, incoherent, full-spectrum white light for very short durations. Flashtubes are made of a length of glass tubing with electrodes at either end and are filled with a gas that, when triggered, ionizes and conducts a high voltage pulse to produce the light. Flashtubes are used mostly for photographic purposes but are also employed in scientific, medical, industrial, and entertainment applications.

A buffer gas is an inert or nonflammable gas. In the Earth's atmosphere, nitrogen acts as a buffer gas. A buffer gas adds pressure to a system and controls the speed of combustion with any oxygen present. Any inert gas such as helium, neon, or argon will serve as a buffer gas.

Plasma globe

A plasma globe or plasma lamp is a clear glass container filled with a mixture of various noble gases with a high-voltage electrode in the center of the container.

High-intensity discharge lamp

High-intensity discharge lamps are a type of electrical gas-discharge lamp which produces light by means of an electric arc between tungsten electrodes housed inside a translucent or transparent fused quartz or fused alumina arc tube. This tube is filled with noble gas and often also contains suitable metal or metal salts. The noble gas enables the arc's initial strike. Once the arc is started, it heats and evaporates the metallic admixture. Its presence in the arc plasma greatly increases the intensity of visible light produced by the arc for a given power input, as the metals have many emission spectral lines in the visible part of the spectrum. High-intensity discharge lamps are a type of arc lamp.

Geissler tube gas-discharge lamp

A Geissler tube is an early gas discharge tube used to demonstrate the principles of electrical glow discharge, similar to modern neon lighting. The tube was invented by the German physicist and glassblower Heinrich Geissler in 1857. It consists of a sealed, partially evacuated glass cylinder of various shapes with a metal electrode at each end, containing rarefied gasses such as neon, argon, or air; mercury vapor or other conductive fluids; or ionizable minerals or metals, such as sodium. When a high voltage is applied between the electrodes, an electrical current flows through the tube. The current dissociates electrons from the gas molecules, creating ions, and when the electrons recombine with the ions, the gas emits light by fluorescence. The color of light emitted is characteristic of the material within the tube, and many different colors and lighting effects can be achieved. The first gas-discharge lamps, Geissler tubes were novelty items, made in many artistic shapes and colors to demonstrate the new science of electricity. In the early 20th century, the technology was commercialized and evolved into neon lighting.


The krytron is a cold-cathode gas-filled tube intended for use as a very high-speed switch, somewhat similar to the thyratron. It consists of a sealed glass tube with four electrodes. A small triggering pulse on the grid electrode switches the tube on, allowing a large current to flow between the cathode and anode electrodes. The vacuum version is called a vacuum krytron, or sprytron. The krytron was one of the earliest developments of the EG&G Corporation.

Mercury-vapor lamp

A mercury-vapor lamp is a gas discharge lamp that uses an electric arc through vaporized mercury to produce light. The arc discharge is generally confined to a small fused quartz arc tube mounted within a larger borosilicate glass bulb. The outer bulb may be clear or coated with a phosphor; in either case, the outer bulb provides thermal insulation, protection from the ultraviolet radiation the light produces, and a convenient mounting for the fused quartz arc tube.

Metal-halide lamp

A metal-halide lamp is an electrical lamp that produces light by an electric arc through a gaseous mixture of vaporized mercury and metal halides. It is a type of high-intensity discharge (HID) gas discharge lamp. Developed in the 1960s, they are similar to mercury vapor lamps, but contain additional metal halide compounds in the quartz arc tube, which improve the efficiency and color rendition of the light. The most common metal halide compound used is sodium iodide. Once the arc tube reaches its running temperature, the sodium dissociates from the iodine, adding orange and reds to the lamp's spectrum from the sodium D line as the metal ionizes. As a result, metal-halide lamps have high luminous efficacy of around 75–100 lumens per watt, which is about twice that of mercury vapor lights and 3 to 5 times that of incandescent lights and produce an intense white light. Lamp life is 6,000 to 15,000 hours. As one of the most efficient sources of high CRI white light, metal halides as of 2005 were the fastest growing segment of the lighting industry. They are used for wide area overhead lighting of commercial, industrial, and public spaces, such as parking lots, sports arenas, factories, and retail stores, as well as residential security lighting and automotive headlamps.

Mercury-arc valve electrical equipment for converting high-voltage or -current alternating current into direct current

A mercury-arc valve or mercury-vapor rectifier or (UK) mercury-arc rectifier is a type of electrical rectifier used for converting high-voltage or high-current alternating current (AC) into direct current (DC). It is a type of cold cathode gas-filled tube, but is unusual in that the cathode, instead of being solid, is made from a pool of liquid mercury and is therefore self-restoring. As a result, mercury-arc valves were much more rugged and long-lasting, and could carry much higher currents than most other types of gas discharge tube.

Gas-discharge lamp artificial light sources powered by ionized gas electric discharge

Gas-discharge lamps are a family of artificial light sources that generate light by sending an electric discharge through an ionized gas, a plasma. Typically, such lamps use a noble gas or a mixture of these gases. Some include additional substances, like mercury, sodium, and metal halides, which are vaporized during startup to become part of the gas mixture. In operation, some of the electrons are forced to leave the atoms of the gas near the anode by the electric field applied between the two electrodes, leaving these atoms positively ionized. The free electrons thus released flow onto the anode, while the cations thus formed are accelerated by the electric field and flow towards the cathode. Typically, after traveling a very short distance, the ions collide with neutral gas atoms, which transfer their electrons to the ions. The atoms, having lost an electron during the collisions, ionize and speed toward the cathode while the ions, having gained an electron during the collisions, return to a lower energy state while releasing energy in the form of photons. Light of a characteristic frequency is thus emitted. In this way, electrons are relayed through the gas from the cathode to the anode. The color of the light produced depends on the emission spectra of the atoms making up the gas, as well as the pressure of the gas, current density, and other variables. Gas discharge lamps can produce a wide range of colors. Some lamps produce ultraviolet radiation which is converted to visible light by a fluorescent coating on the inside of the lamp's glass surface. The fluorescent lamp is perhaps the best known gas-discharge lamp.

A Penning mixture, named after Frans Michel Penning, is a mixture of gases used in electric lighting or displaying fixtures. Although the popular phrase for the most common of these is a neon lamp, it is more efficient to have the glass tube filled not with pure neon, but with a Penning mixture, which is defined as a mixture of one inert gas with a minute amount of another gas, one that has lower ionization voltage than the main constituent.

Frans Michel Penning Dutch physicist

Frans Michel Penning was a Dutch experimental physicist. He received his PhD from the University of Leiden in 1923, and studied low pressure gas discharges at the Philips Laboratory in Eindhoven, developing new electron tubes during World War II. Many detailed observations of gas ionization were done with colleagues, finding notable results for helium and magnetic fields. He made precise measurements of Townsend discharge coefficients and cathode voltage fall. Penning made important contributions to the advancement of high resolution Mass spectrometry.

The pseudospark switch, also known as a cold-cathode thyratron due to the similarities with regular thyratrons, is a gas-filled tube capable of high speed switching. Advantages of pseudospark switches include the ability to carry reverse currents (up to 100%), low pulse, high lifetime, and a high current rise of about 1012 A/sec. In addition, since the cathode is not heated prior to switching, the standby power is approximately one order of magnitude lower than in thyratrons. However, pseudospark switches have undesired plasma phenomena at low peak currents. Issues such as current quenching, chopping, and impedance fluctuations occur at currents less than 2-3 kA while at very high peak currents (20-30 kA) a transition to a metal vapor arc occurs which leads to erosion of the electrodes. Pseudospark switches are functionally similar to triggered spark gaps.

Electric discharge in gases occurs when electric current flows through a gaseous medium due to ionization of the gas. Depending on several factors, the discharge may radiate visible light. The properties of electric discharges in gases are studied in connection with design of lighting sources and in the design of high voltage electrical equipment.


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