How an electron multiplier works

This post will explain the basic concept of how an electron multiplier works.

Electron multipliers are used in surface analysis instruments to boost the detected signal to a level where it can be amplified and processed into data. For Auger Electron spectrometers and X-ray photo electron analyzers the detected signal are electrons. Secondary ion spectrometers detect ions.

In the 1960s electron multipliers were made out of a series of Oxygen treated copper beryllium (CuBe) plates.  Copper with 3 to 4% beryllium that is heat treated with oxygen has a secondary electron yield of approximately 3 (varies slightly for kinetic energies between 100 up to 1500V)

The drawing below shows the basic concept.  One electron impacts the first plate and then a few more secondary electrons are generated.  A positive voltage is applied across the multiplier array which is divided by a series of vacuum compatible resistors.  Each plate is progressively more positive and so emitted electrons are attracted to the next plate.  The resulting avalanche of electrons is attracted to the final collector plate where the signal is decoupled from the electron multiplier.  The total number of plates determines the gain of the multiplier. Most of the CuBe electron multipliers used on Auger spectrometers had a gain of 2 X 10E6discrete dynode electron multiplier gain








discrete dynode electron multiplier



When X-ray Electron spectrometers were first developed electron multipliers with higher gains were required in order to achieve better signal to noise.  During that time continuous dynode electron multipliers (Channeltrons) were developed.  Instead of a series of discrete plates, a Channeltron electron multiplier uses a high resistance semiconductor material that also has high secondary electron emissivity.  Gains of a Channeltron are typically 2 X 10E7 to 2 X 10E8. The drawing below shows the gain concept.  Many Channeltrons today are spiral instead of horn shaped to provide an even higher gain.continuous dynode electron multiplier gain









Channeltron multilplier





A third type of electron multiplier, the Micro Channel plate, was developed in order to obtain a larger detector surface area in conjunction with multi-channel detectors. Channel plates are essentially a lot of tiny Channeltron multipliers in parallel. Two plates are stacked on top of each other to increase the gain.  The drawing below shows the gain concept. Channel plate electron multipliers are commonly used on X-ray Photo electron spectrometers.MCD channel plates gain








Micro Channel plates









Electron multipliers typically last for several years with normal usage. With just occasional use they can last for decades.  Eventually the high secondary electron emissivity materials in the multiplier are depleted or the multiplier becomes contaminated and then the signal to noise degrades at which time the multiplier needs to be replaced.

Some additional reference links are listed below.   Most of these refer to ions and mass spectroscopy but it is the same principle for electron based detectors used in Auger Electron and X-ray photo electron spectrometers.

9103 Floating Ground Reference

The term “floating ground reference” in the title of this post refers to an electrical circuit that does not have a ground connected electrically to earth. (This type of connection is also referred to as “floating input”.)

The 9103 USB data logging picoammeter has the ability to float higher than earth ground by up to 1,500V DC. A new 9103 version coming out in early 2018 will be able to float up to 5,000V DC.

This post explains how the connections to the 9103 USB picoammeter are made and how the floating capability works.

The HV option for the 9103 uses SHV and MHV 5kV connectors instead of a BNC.  The center pins on the INPUT and HV connectors are the signal input and ground reference input, respectively, to the 9103.

9103 HV option

Step one is to build an isolated (floating) power source.  A very easy way to do this is to use a 9 volt transistor battery and a resistor. For this example, I used a 9V battery with a 10 Meg ohm resistor to get about 900nA of current. Using Ohms law you can create any current that you would like to use for this test as long as it is in the range of 1nA to about 1mA.  A 9 volt battery works well because it is small and a very clean source of DC voltage and current.

simple isolated current source

Next, I wrapped the battery in electrical tape and mounted the battery in an enclosure.

9103 float test box

9103 float test box

One end of the resistor is connected to the INPUT on the 9103 and the other end of the resistor is connected to the battery. The battery is referenced to the HV input ground on the 9103.

Finally, I connected a high voltage power supply to the ground reference via a 1 Meg ohm current limit resistor as show in the schematic below.  The current limit resistor helps to reduce noise and current surges from the high voltage supply.

Current limit resistor.jpg

After connecting the INPUT and HV leads to the 9103, I am ready to measure current. It is important to note that the 9103 Input should be set to Normal and not Grounded. (The “Grounded” Input is used to short the specimen stage to ground when not measuring current. This is useful when measuring electron or ion currents in vacuum, but when floating the 9103 you do not want to short out the input or you may damage the 9103 or your high voltage supply.)

normal not grounded

We can now measure current and can see that we are getting 913.2 nA of current.

Using the Data recorder we can monitor the current vs. time to see a graphical representation of the current.

The signal ground reference on the 9103 is tied to the high voltage supply.  As I increase the high voltage supply from 0 to 1500V DC in increments of 500V (a limitation of the high voltage supply I am using) you can see some small instabilities in the data.  This is normal; there is some capacitive coupling as the ground reference voltage is changed.  It looks like a lot of noise but in fact is only about 20 pA.

9103 graph spikes when increasing voltage

1500V DC voltage source

If you look at the data referenced to zero you can see that the instabilities are very minor and also that the output is very stable once the high voltage supply stabilizes.  If you were to measure the voltage on the 9103 HV reference to earth ground you would measure 1,500V DC.  So for this example the 9103 ground is floating by 1,500V DC.

9103 graph zero base line

In this test I changed the high voltage supply from +1500V to -1500V DC with no change in my current reading which demonstrates how well isolated the 9103 input is from earth ground.

Applications for a floating input picoammeter include measuring the output of an electron multiplier directly, as well as bias experiments with electron and ion beams.  For more information on our new 5kV floating 9103 please contact us by emailing us at sales@rbdinstruments dot com or visiting our website at www.rbdinstruments dot com.


Reusing a Helicoflex gasket

Can you re-use a Helicoflex gasket?  The answer is yes, sometimes.

A Helicoflex gasket uses the concept of plastically deforming to seal between two flat and polished surfaces instead of the much more common knife edge seal used with copper gaskets and CF flanges.

On Physical Electronics X-ray Photoelectron spectrometers Helicoflex gaskets are used on the monochromator, the SCA (spherical capacitive analyzer) and the LS specimen stage.

Here is a link to information on how a Helicoflex gasket works –

First of all, Helicoflex gaskets are designed to be used only once.   However,  since these gaskets are expensive it may be worth trying to reuse it as long as you have a new gasket on hand in case the trick I will show  you in this blog post does not work.  My success rate with this trick is about 50%.  RBD Instruments provides most of the Helicoflex gaskets used on PHI XPS systems.

For this example, I will attempt to make it possible to reuse a monochromator gasket as shown in the picture below.


mono-chromator gasket

Note that once compressed, the center surface of the gasket is flattened out.


Step one is to uncompress the gasket.   To do that, find a spot on the outside edge of the gasket where you can insert a small screw driver and gently spread open the two lips of the gasket enough to get a large flat head screwdriver inside.


Then, carefully work the large flat head screw driver around the perimeter of the gasket until the entire gasket is un-compressed.  Try not to deform the edges of the slit.


During this process the gasket will become deformed.  Use a round surface such as a Philips screwdriver to smooth out the bumps without re-compressing the gasket.


Next, using a very fine emery cloth (I used some 30uM 3M sand paper) smooth out the edges of the flat surface on the gasket.  You just want to break the edges, not make it round.


Clean the gasket with isopropanol or methanol to remove the small particles.


Finally, use a small amount of Apiezon L or other HV or UHV vacuum grease to the surface of the gasket (on the flat area).   You want to use a very small amount and spread it out evenly.  The vacuum grease will help to fill in any small scratches.   Wipe off the inside and outside of the gasket.   You only want a small amount on the flat area.


You are now ready to install the gasket.   Good luck!

The gasket that I used in this blog post did seal fine, so I got lucky.  🙂