Mechanism of Spontaneous Surface Modifications on Polycrystalline Cu Due to Electric Fields

K Kuppart and S Vigonski and A Aabloo and Y Wang and F Djurabekova and A Kyritsakis and V Zadin, MICROMACHINES, 12, 1178 (2021).

DOI: 10.3390/mi12101178

We present a credible mechanism of spontaneous field emitter formation in high electric field applications, such as Compact Linear Collider in CERN (The European Organization for Nuclear Research). Discovery of such phenomena opens new pathway to tame the highly destructive and performance limiting vacuum breakdown phenomena. Vacuum breakdowns in particle accelerators and other devices operating at high electric fields is a common problem in the operation of these devices. It has been proposed that the onset of vacuum breakdowns is associated with appearance of surface protrusions while the device is in operation under high electric field. Moreover, the breakdown tolerance of an electrode material was correlated with the type of lattice structure of the material. Although biased diffusion under field has been shown to cause growth of significantly field-enhancing tips starting from initial nm- size protrusions, the mechanisms and the dynamics of the growth of the latter have not been studied yet. In the current paper we conduct molecular dynamics simulations of nanocrystalline copper surfaces and show the possibility of protrusion growth under the stress exerted on the surface by an applied electrostatic field. We show the importance of grain boundaries on the protrusion formation and establish a linear relationship between the necessary electrostatic stress for protrusion formation and the temperature of the system. Finally, we show that the time for protrusion formation decreases with the applied electrostatic stress, we give the Arrhenius extrapolation to the case of lower fields, and we present a general discussion of the protrusion formation mechanisms in the case of polycrystalline copper surfaces.

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