Thermionic emission is the heat-induced flow of charge carriers from a surface or over a potential-energy barrier. This occurs because the thermal energy given to the carrier overcomes the forces restraining it. The charge carriers can be electrons or ions, and in older literature are sometimes referred to as "thermions". After emission, a charge will initially be left behind in the emitting region that is equal in magnitude and opposite in sign to the total charge emitted. But if the emitter is connected to a battery, then this charge left behind will be neutralized by charge supplied by the battery, as the emitted charge carriers move away from the emitter, and finally the emitter will be in the same state as it was before emission. The thermionic emission of electrons is also known as thermal electron emission.
The classical example of thermionic emission is the emission of electrons from a hot metal cathode into a vacuum (known as the Edison effect) used in vacuum tubes. However, the term "thermionic emission" is now used to refer to any thermally excited charge emission process, even when the charge is emitted from one solid-state region into another. This process is crucially important in the operation of a variety of electronic devices and can be used for power generation or cooling. The magnitude of the charge flow increases dramatically with increasing temperature. However, vacuum emission from metals tends to become significant only for temperatures over 1000 K. The science dealing with this phenomenon has been known as thermionics, but this name seems to be gradually falling into disuse.
Cold cathode is an element used within some Nixie tubes, gas discharge lamps, gas filled tubes, and vacuum tubes. The term 'cold cathode' refers to the fact that the cathode is not independently heated. In spite of this, the cathode itself may still operate at temperatures as high as if the cathode were heated.
Cold cathode fluorescent lamps (CCFLs) are usually also called cold cathodes. Neon lamps are a very common example of a cold cathode lamp.
Cold Cathodes remain popular for LCD backlighting and enthusiast computer case modders.
A cathode is any electrode that emits electrons. When used in electrical and electronic devices (most fluorescent lamps, vacuum tubes, etc.), the cathode is explicitly heated, creating a hot cathode. By taking advantage of thermionic emission, electrons can overcome the work function of the cathode without an electric field to pull the electrons out. But if sufficient voltage is present, electrons can still be stripped even out of a cathode operating at ambient temperature. Because it is not deliberately heated, such a cathode is referred to as a cold cathode, although several mechanisms may eventually cause the cathode to become quite hot once it is operating. Most cold cathode devices are filled with a gas which can be ionized. A few cold cathode devices contain a vacuum.
The thermoelectric effect is the direct conversion of temperature differences to electric voltage and vice versa. A thermoelectric device creates a voltage when there is a different temperature on each side. Conversely when a voltage is applied to it, it creates a temperature difference (known as the Peltier effect). At atomic scale (specifically, charge carriers), an applied temperature gradient causes charged carriers in the material, whether they are electrons or holes, to diffuse from the hot side to the cold side, similar to a classical gas that expands when heated; hence, the thermally-induced current.
This effect can be used to generate electricity, to measure temperature, to cool objects, or to heat them or cook them. Because the direction of heating and cooling is determined by the sign of the applied voltage, thermoelectric devices make very convenient temperature controllers.
Traditionally, the term thermoelectric effect or thermoelectricity encompasses three separately identified effects, the Seebeck effect, the Peltier effect, and the Thomson effect. In many textbooks, thermoelectric effect may also be called the Peltier–Seebeck effect. This separation derives from the independent discoveries of French physicist Jean Charles Athanase Peltier and Estonian-German physicist Thomas Johann Seebeck. Joule heating, the heat that is generated whenever a voltage is applied across a resistive material, is somewhat related, though it is not generally termed a thermoelectric effect (and it is usually regarded as being a loss mechanism due to non-ideality in thermoelectric devices). The Peltier–Seebeck and Thomson effects can in principle be thermodynamically reversible, whereas Joule heating is not.