Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Chemical and Materials Engineering

First Advisor

Dr. John Balk


Dispenser cathodes emit electrons through thermionic emission and are a critical component of space-based and telecommunication devices. The emission of electrons is enhanced when coated with a refractory metal such as osmium (Os), osmium-ruthenium (Os-Ru), or iridium (Ir). In this work the microstructure, thermionic emission, and work function of thin film Os-Ru coatings were studied in order to relate microstructural properties and thermionic emission.

Os-Ru thin film coatings were prepared through magnetron sputtering and substrate biasing to produce films with an array of preferred orientations, or texture. The effect of texture on thermionic emission was studied in detail through closely-spaced diode testing, SEM imaging, and x-ray diffraction. Results indicated that there was a strong correlation with emission behavior and specific preferred orientations.

An ultra-high vacuum compatible Kelvin Probe was used to measure the work function of W-Os-Ru ternary alloy films to determine the effect W interdiffusion has on work function. The results indicated that a high work function alloy coating corresponded to low work function cathodes, as expected. It was inferred that a high work function alloy coating results in a low work function cathode because it aligns more closely with ionization energy of Ba. The results also proved that this method of evaluating dispenser cathode coatings can distinguish small variations in microstructure and composition and may be a beneficial tool in the development of improved dispenser cathode coatings.

A novel experimental apparatus was constructed to measure the work function of dispenser cathode coatings in-vacuo using the ultra-high vacuum Kelvin Probe. The apparatus is capable of activating cathodes at high temperature and measuring the work function at elevated temperature. The design of this apparatus allows for more rapid evaluation of dispenser cathode coatings.