An important issue in field emission vacuum microelectronics is the stability of the field emitters with the residual ambient gas. Particularly important is that the field emitter tips made of refractory metals like molybdenum, niobium and tungsten are susceptible to oxidation. The corresponding metal oxides are insulating and adversely affect the emission current characteristic by increasing the width of the effective tunneling barrier. With this perspective, we studied iridium oxide field emitters to evaluate the characteristics of conductive oxide tips. We studied the field emission characteristics of iridium and thermally prepared iridium oxide field emitters using field emission microscopy and current-voltage measurements. We found that, upon oxidation, the voltage required to achieve the desired emission current desire dropped significantly. In addition, oxidation led to a decrease of emission current fluctuations. The development of stable conductive oxide field emitters should improve the performance of field emitter tips, especially under adverse vacuum conditions. (C) 2002 American Institute of Physics.
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