Piezoelectrically Enhanced Photocathodes

Attributes would include stability, high efficiency, and relative ease of fabrication.

Doping of photocathodes with materials that have large piezoelectric coefficients has been proposed as an alternative means of increasing the desired photoemission of electrons. Treating cathode materials to increase emission of electrons is called “activation” in the art. It has been common practice to activate photocathodes by depositing thin layers of suitable metals (usually, cesium). Because cesium is unstable in air, fabrication of cesiated photocathodes and devices that contain them must be performed in sealed tubes under vacuum. It is difficult and costly to perform fabrication processes in enclosed, evacuated spaces. The proposed piezoelectrically enhanced photocathodes would have electron-emission properties similar to those of cesiated photocathodes but would be stable in air, and therefore could be fabricated more easily and at lower cost.

Candidate photocathodes include nitrides of elements in column III of the periodic table — especially compounds of the general formula AlxGa1–xN (where 0≤x≤1). These compounds have high piezoelectric coefficients and are suitable for obtaining response to ultraviolet light. Fabrication of a photocathode according to the proposal would include inducement of strain in cathode layers during growth of the layers on a substrate. The strain would be induced by exploiting structural mismatches among the various constituent materials of the cathode. Because of the piezoelectric effect in this material, the strain would give rise to strong electric fields that, in turn, would give rise to a high concentration of charge near the surface.

Examples of devices in which piezoelectrically enhanced photocathodes could be used include microchannel plates, electron-bombarded charge-coupled devices, image tubes, and night-vision goggles. Piezoelectrically enhanced photocathode materials could also be used in making highly efficient monolithic photodetectors. Highly efficient and stable piezoelectrically enhanced, ultraviolet-sensitive photocathodes and photodetectors could be fabricated by use of novel techniques for growing piezoelectrically enhanced layers, in conjunction with thinning and dopant-selective etching techniques.

This work was done by Robert A. Beach, Shouleh Nikzad, Lloyd Douglas Bell, and Robert Strittmatter of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

This invention is owned by NASA, and a patent application has been filed. Inquiries concerning nonexclusive or exclusive license for its commercial development should be addressed to the Patent Counsel, NASA Management Office–JPL. NPO-40407

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