Purdue University Graduate School
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posted on 2020-07-29, 16:14 authored by Russell S BrayfieldRussell S Brayfield
Developments in modern electronics drive device design to smaller scale and higher electric fields and currents. Device size reductions to microscale and smaller have invalidated the assumption of avalanche formation for the traditional Paschen’s law for predicting gas breakdown. Under these conditions, the stronger electric fields induce field emission driven microscale gas breakdown; however, these theories often rely upon semi-empirical models to account for surface effects and the dependence of gas ionization on electric field, making them difficult to use for predicting device behavior a priori.
This dissertation hypothesizes that one may predict a priori how to tune emission physics and breakdown conditions for various electrode conditions (sharpness and surface roughness), gap size, and pressure. Specifically, it focuses on experiments to demonstrate the implications of surface roughness and emitter shape on gas breakdown for microscale and nanoscale devices at atmospheric pressure and simulations to extend traditional semi-empirical representations of the ionization coefficient to the relevant electric fields for these operating conditions.
First, this dissertation reports the effect of multiple discharges for 1 μm, 5 μm, and 10 μm gaps at atmospheric pressure. Multiple breakdown events create circular craters to 40 μm deep with crater depth more pronounced for smaller gap sizes and greater cathode surface roughness. Theoretical models of microscale breakdown using this modified effective gap distance agree well with the experimental results.
We next investigated the implications of gap distance and protrusion sharpness for nanoscale devices made of gold and titanium layered onto silicon wafers electrically isolated with SiO2 for gas breakdown and electron emission at atmospheric pressure. At lower voltages, the emitted current followed the Fowler-Nordheim (FN) law for field emission (FE). For either a 28 nm or 450 nm gap, gas breakdown occurred directly from FE, as observed for microscale gaps. For a 125 nm gap, emission current begins to transition toward the Mott-Gurney law for space-charge limited emission (SCLE) with collisions prior to undergoing breakdown. Thus, depending upon the conditions, gas breakdown may directly transition from either SCLE or FE for submicroscale gaps.
Applying microscale gas breakdown theories to predict this experimental behavior requires appropriately accounting for all physical parameters in the model. One critical parameter in these theories is the ionization coefficient, which has been determined semi-empirically with fitting parameters tabulated in the literature. Because these models fail at the strong electric fields relevant to the experiments reported above, we performed particle-in-cell simulations to calculate the ionization coefficient for argon and helium at various gap distances, pressures, and applied voltages to derive more comprehensive semi-empirical relationships to incorporate into breakdown theories.
In summary, this dissertation provides the first comprehensive assessment of the implications of surface roughness on microscale gas breakdown, the transition in gas breakdown and electron emission mechanisms at nanoscale, and the extension of semi-empirical laws for ionization coefficient. These results will be valuable in developing theories to predict electron emission and gas breakdown conditions for guiding nanoscale device design.


ONR N00014-17-1-2702


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Agricultural and Biological Engineering

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Allen Garner

Additional Committee Member 2

Sally P. Bane

Additional Committee Member 3

Robert S. Bean

Additional Committee Member 4

Bernard Y. Tao