A voltage-regulator tube (VR tube) is an electronic component used as a shunt regulator to hold a voltage constant at a pre-determined level.
Physically, these devices resemble vacuum tubes, but there are two main differences:
Electrically, these devices resemble Zener diodes, with the following major differences:
When sufficient voltage is applied across the electrodes, the gas ionizes, forming a glow discharge around the cathode electrode. The VR tube then acts as a negative resistance device; as the current through the device increases, the amount of ionization also increases, reducing the resistance of the device to further current flow. In this way, the device conducts sufficient current to hold the voltage across its terminals to the desired value.
Because the device would conduct a nearly unlimited amount of current, there must be some external means of limiting the current. Usually, this is provided by an external resistor upstream from the VR tube. The VR tube then conducts any portion of the current that does not flow into the downstream load, maintaining an approximately constant voltage across the VR tube's electrodes. The VR tube's regulation voltage was only guaranteed when conducting an amount of current within the allowable range. In particular, if the current through the tube is too low to maintain ionization, the output voltage can rise above the nominal output—as far as the input supply voltage. If the current through the tube is too high, it can enter an arc discharge mode where the voltage will be significantly lower than nominal and the tube may be damaged.
Some voltage-regulator tubes contained small amounts of radionuclides to produce a more reliable ionization.
The Corona VR tube is a high-voltage version that's hydrogen-filled at close to atmospheric pressure, for voltages ranging from 400 V to 30 kV at tens of microamperes. It has a coaxial form; the outer cylindrical electrode is the cathode and the inner one is the anode. The voltage stability depends on the gas pressure.
In America, VR tubes were given RETMA tube part numbers. Lacking a heater (filament), the tube's part numbers began with "0" (zero).
In Europe, VR tubes were given part numbers under the professional system ("ZZ1xxx") and under a dedicated system.
In USSR, glow-discharge stabilitrons were given designation in Cyrillic with serial number of development.For example, "СГ21Б", "СГ204К" and i.e.
VR tubes were only available in certain voltages. Common models were:
Octal-based tubes, 5–40 mA current:
Miniature tubes, 5–30 mA current:
Miniature tubes, 1–10 mA current:
Voltage reference 1.5–3.0 mA current:
Miniature corona tubes, 5–55 µA current:
Wire-ended, subminiature corona tubes:
Some voltage regulator tubes have an internal jumper connected between two of the pins. This jumper could be used in series with the secondary transformer winding. Then if the tube was removed rather than leaving the voltage unregulated, output would turn off.
Because the glow discharge is a "statistical" process, a certain amount of electrical noise is introduced into the regulated voltage as the level of ionization varies. In most cases, this could be easily filtered out by placing a small capacitor in parallel with the VR tube or using an RC decoupling network downstream of the VR tube. Too large a capacitance (>0.1μF for an 0D3, for instance), however, and the circuit will form a relaxation oscillator, definitely ruining the voltage regulation and possibly causing the tube to fail catastrophically.
VR tubes could be operated in series for greater voltage ranges. They could not be operated in parallel: because of manufacturing variations, the current would not be shared equally among several tubes in parallel. (Note the equivalent behavior with series and parallel connected Zener diodes.)
Presently, VR tubes have been almost-entirely supplanted by solid state regulators based on Zener diodes and avalanche breakdown diodes.
Correctly operating VR tubes glow during normal operation. The color of the glow varies depending upon the gas mixture used to fill the tubes.
Though they lack a heater, VR tubes often do become warm during operation due to the current and voltage drop through them.
Cathode rays are streams of electrons observed in vacuum tubes. If an evacuated glass tube is equipped with two electrodes and a voltage is applied, glass behind the positive electrode is observed to glow, due to electrons emitted from the cathode. They were first observed in 1869 by German physicist Julius Plücker and Johann Wilhelm Hittorf, and were named in 1876 by Eugen Goldstein Kathodenstrahlen, or cathode rays. In 1897, British physicist J. J. Thomson showed that cathode rays were composed of a previously unknown negatively charged particle, which was later named the electron. Cathode ray tubes (CRTs) use a focused beam of electrons deflected by electric or magnetic fields to render an image on a screen.
In electronics, a vacuum tube, an electron tube, or valve or, colloquially, a tube, is a device that controls electric current flow in a high vacuum between electrodes to which an electric potential difference has been applied.
A rectifier is an electrical device that converts alternating current (AC), which periodically reverses direction, to direct current (DC), which flows in only one direction.
A Zener diode is a type of diode that allows current to flow in the conventional manner - from its anode to its cathode i.e. when the anode is positive with respect to the cathode. When the voltage across the terminals is reversed and the potential reaches the Zener voltage, the junction will breakdown and current will flow in the reverse direction - a desired characteristic. This effect is known as the Zener effect, after Clarence Zener, who first described the phenomenon. Zener diodes are manufactured with a great variety of Zener voltages (Vz) and some are even variable.
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.
In electronics, a linear regulator is a system used to maintain a steady voltage. The resistance of the regulator varies in accordance with the load resulting in a constant voltage output. The regulating device is made to act like a variable resistor, continuously adjusting a voltage divider network to maintain a constant output voltage and continually dissipating the difference between the input and regulated voltages as waste heat. By contrast, a switching regulator uses an active device that switches on and off to maintain an average value of output. Because the regulated voltage of a linear regulator must always be lower than input voltage, efficiency is limited and the input voltage must be high enough to always allow the active device to drop some voltage.
In electronics, an avalanche diode is a diode that is designed to experience avalanche breakdown at a specified reverse bias voltage. The junction of an avalanche diode is designed to prevent current concentration and resulting hot spots, so that the diode is undamaged by the breakdown. The avalanche breakdown is due to minority carriers accelerated enough to create ionization in the crystal lattice, producing more carriers which in turn create more ionization. Because the avalanche breakdown is uniform across the whole junction, the breakdown voltage is nearly constant with changing current when compared to a non-avalanche diode.
A spark gap consists of an arrangement of two conducting electrodes separated by a gap usually filled with a gas such as air, designed to allow an electric spark to pass between the conductors. When the potential difference between the conductors exceeds the breakdown voltage of the gas within the gap, a spark forms, ionizing the gas and drastically reducing its electrical resistance. An electric current then flows until the path of ionized gas is broken or the current reduces below a minimum value called the "holding current". This usually happens when the voltage drops, but in some cases occurs when the heated gas rises, stretching out and then breaking the filament of ionized gas. Usually, the action of ionizing the gas is violent and disruptive, often leading to sound, light and heat.
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.
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.
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.
A glow discharge is a plasma formed by the passage of electric current through a gas. It is often created by applying a voltage between two electrodes in a glass tube containing a low-pressure gas. When the voltage exceeds a value called the striking voltage, the gas ionization becomes self-sustaining, and the tube glows with a colored light. The color depends on the gas used.
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.
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.
A voltage reference is an electronic device that ideally produces a fixed (constant) voltage irrespective of the loading on the device, power supply variations, temperature changes, and the passage of time. Voltage references are used in power supplies, analog-to-digital converters, digital-to-analog converters, and other measurement and control systems. Voltage references vary widely in performance; a regulator for a computer power supply may only hold its value to within a few percent of the nominal value, whereas laboratory voltage standards have precisions and stability measured in parts per million.
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 mercury battery is a non-rechargeable electrochemical battery, a primary cell. Mercury batteries use a reaction between mercuric oxide and zinc electrodes in an alkaline electrolyte. The voltage during discharge remains practically constant at 1.35 volts, and the capacity is much greater than that of a similarly sized zinc carbon battery. Mercury batteries were used in the shape of button cells for watches, hearing aids, cameras and calculators, and in larger forms for other applications.
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.
A noise generator is a circuit that produces electrical noise. Noise generators are used to test signals for measuring noise figure, frequency response, and other parameters. Noise generators are also used for generating random numbers.