We have fabricated arrays of silicon field emitters using semiconductor lithography techniques. The density of the tips was 105/cm2. The maximum current that can be extracted from each emitter is limited by resistive heating. We have investigated how the electron current emitted changes under constant applied voltage. We found that the current is very sensitive to the vacuum conditions. We attribute this to sputtering of the emitters due to ionized residual gas molecules. The poorer the vacuum, the higher the instability in the current. We studied this phenomenon at 10−6 and 10−8 Torr. The model of two concentric spherical shells is used to obtain the ion energy distribution. This is then used to calculate the rate of ion bombardment and the rate of atoms sputtered. A lifetime of the tip can be deduced from these calculations.  

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