A Caltech Library Service

Nanoscale Field Emission Devices


Jones, William Maxwell (2018) Nanoscale Field Emission Devices. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/Z94B2ZHZ.


This thesis outlines work done to produce in-plane nanoscale field emission devices. Field emission, the process of quantum tunneling electrons from a conductor into a vacuum, has been theorized as a device concept for almost as long as integrated circuits have existed. This is because the micro- and nanoscale dimensions of integrated circuits make field emission possible at modest voltages, and because the physics of field emission and conduction in a vacuum channel suggest that field emission devices can operate at extremely high frequencies and in harsh environments where CMOS devices face challenges. Yet despite many attempts to make practical field emission devices none have risen to the level of commercial products. These attempts were stymied by short lifetimes, high operating voltages, and the necessity for vacuum enclosure. In this thesis work, I outline how new fabrication technologies like high resolution electron beam lithography, atomic layer deposition, and refinement in reactive ion etching make lateral field emission devices with extremely short vacuum channels practical. The demonstrated devices can operate at near CMOS voltages and at atmospheric pressures, and are robust to emitting tip destruction. These devices are prime candidates for integration into demonstration circuits.

The second part of this thesis outlines work done in an emerging field to combine field emission with plasmonics for practical devices. The tunneling process in field emission depends exponentially on the magnitude of the instantaneous electric field, either static or time-varying, at the emitting surface. While it has long been known that using extremely powerful pulsed lasers one can field emit electrons from a metallic surface, the combination of plasmonics into a field emitting device has the potential to dramatically lower the incident optical power needed to produce field emission. This could enable extremely fast opto-electronic devices. This thesis presents work in progress to realize a plasmonically enhanced field emission opto-electronic modulator that is designed to operate at 1550 nm and is integratable with existing silicon photonics platforms.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Field Emission, Nanoscale, Vacuum Tubes
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Engineering and Applied Science
Major Option:Electrical Engineering
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Scherer, Axel
Group:Kavli Nanoscience Institute
Thesis Committee:
  • Scherer, Axel (chair)
  • Yariv, Amnon
  • Emami, Azita
  • DeRose, Guy A.
  • Neches, Philip M.
Defense Date:6 December 2017
Non-Caltech Author Email:wmaxjones (AT)
Funding AgencyGrant Number
The Boeing CompanyUNSPECIFIED
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:12132017-132404589
Persistent URL:
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription in published content but not discussed in thesis. adapted for chapter 4. adapted for chapter 3. DocumentPatent stemming from work in thesis. InNYT article featuring our work.
Jones, William Maxwell0000-0002-8610-2176
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:10607
Deposited By: William Jones
Deposited On:21 Dec 2017 23:09
Last Modified:04 Oct 2019 00:19

Thesis Files

PDF - Final Version
See Usage Policy.


Repository Staff Only: item control page