Gomer, Robert James Franck Institute, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois.
Last reviewed:June 2020
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The emission of electrons from a metal or semiconductor into vacuum (or a dielectric) under the influence of a strong electric field. In field emission, electrons tunnel through a potential barrier, rather than escaping over it as in thermionic emission or photoemission. The effect is purely quantum-mechanical, with no classical analog. It occurs because the wave function of an electron does not vanish at the classical turning point, but decays exponentially into the barrier (where the electron's total energy is less than the potential energy). Thus there is a finite probability that the electron will be found on the outside of the barrier. This probability varies as e−cA ½, where c is a constant and A the area under the barrier. See also: Nonrelativistic quantum theory; Photoemission; Thermionic emission
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