Electrical conduction (in gases)

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The process by means of which a net charge is transported through a gaseous medium. It encompasses a variety of effects and modes of conduction, ranging from the Townsend discharge at one extreme to the arc discharge at the other. The current in these two cases ranges from a fraction of 1 microampere in the first to thousands of amperes in the second. It covers a pressure range from less than 10-4 atm (10 pascals) to greater than 1 atm (100 kilopascals).

In general, the feature which distinguishes gaseous conduction from conduction in a solid or liquid is the active part which the medium plays in the process. Not only does the gas permit the drift of free charges from one electrode to the other, but the gas itself may be ionized to produce other charges which can interact with the electrodes to liberate additional charges. Quite apparently, the current voltage characteristic may be nonlinear and multi-valued.

The applications of the effects encountered in this area are of significant commercial and scientific value. A few commercial applications are thyratrons, gaseous rectifiers, ignitions, glow tubes, and gas-filled phototubes. These tubes are used in power sup plies, control circuits, pulse production, voltage regulators, and heavy-duty applications such as welders. In addition, there are gaseous conduction devices widely used in research problems. Some of these are ion sources for mass spectrometers and nuclear accelerators, ionization vacuum gages, radiation detection and measurement instruments, and thermonuclear devices for the production of power.

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