Vacuum Tube

In electronics, a vacuum tube, electron tube (in North America), thermionic valve, tube, or valve is a device controlling electric current through a vacuum in a sealed container. The container is often thin transparent glass in a roughly cylindrical shape. The simplest vacuum tube, the diode, is essentially an incandescent light bulb with an extra electrode inside. When the bulb's filament is heated white-hot, electrons are boiled off its surface and into the vacuum inside the bulb. If the extra electrode (also called a "plate" or "anode") is made more positive than the hot filament, a direct current flows through the vacuum to the anode (a demonstration of the Edison effect). As the current only flows in one direction, it makes it possible to convert from AC current applied to the filament to DC current.

The introduction of a third electrode, a grid between the filament and the plate, also yields another function. If a signal is applied to the grid, it modulates the current flowing from the filament to the plate. Thus, it allows the device to act as an electronic amplifier.

Vacuum tubes are thus used for rectification, amplification, switching, or similar processing or creation of electrical signals.

The vast majority of modern day tubes consist of a sealed container with a vacuum inside, and essentially rely on thermionic emission of electrons from a hot filament or hot cathode. Some exceptions to this are dealt with in the section about gas-filled tubes below.

Vacuum tubes were critical to the development of electronic technology, which drove the expansion and commercialization of radio broadcasting, television, radar, sound reinforcement, sound recording and reproduction, large telephone networks, analog and digital computers, and industrial process control. Although some applications had counterparts using earlier technologies such as the spark gap transmitter or mechanical computers, it was the invention of the vacuum tube with three electrodes triode and its capability of electronic amplification that made these technologies widespread and practical.

In most applications, solid-state devices such as transistors and semiconductor devices have replaced tubes. Solid-state devices last longer and are smaller, more efficient, more reliable, and cheaper than tubes. Tubes can be fragile, sometimes generate significant unwanted heat, and can take many seconds—many minutes in critical applications—after powering on to warm to a temperature where they perform within operational tolerance. However, tubes still find uses where solid-state devices have not been developed, are impractical, or where a tube has superior performance, as with some devices in professional audio and high-power radio transmitters. Tubes are still produced for such applications.

Tubes are less likely than semiconductor devices to be destroyed by the electromagnetic pulse produced by nuclear explosions and geomagnetic storms produced by giant solar flares.

Read more about Vacuum TubeClassifications, Description, History and Development, Heat Generation and Transfer, Tube Packages, Names, Special-purpose Tubes, Reliability, Cooling, Other Vacuum Tube Devices

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Famous quotes containing the words tube and/or vacuum:

    One of the great natural phenomena is the way in which a tube of toothpaste suddenly empties itself when it hears that you are planning a trip, so that when you come to pack it is just a twisted shell of its former self, with not even a cubic millimeter left to be squeezed out.
    Robert Benchley (1889–1945)

    No, it wasn’t an accident, I didn’t say that. It was carefully planned, down to the tiniest mechanical and emotional detail. But it was a mistake. It was a beaut. In the end, somehow granted the time for examination, we shall find that our so-called civilization was gloriously destroyed by a handful of vacuum tubes and transistors. Probably faulty.
    John Paxton (1911–1985)