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Thermionic emission is the thermally 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 work function of the material. The charge carriers can be electrons or ions, and in older literature are sometimes referred to as "thermions". After emission, a charge that is equal in magnitude and opposite in sign to the total charge emitted is initially left behind in the emitting region. But if the emitter is connected to a battery, the charge left behind is 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.

An electron gun (also called electron emitter) is an electrical component in some vacuum tubes that produces a narrow, collimated electron beam that has a precise kinetic energy. The largest use is in cathode ray tubes (CRTs), used in nearly all television sets, computer displays and oscilloscopes that are not flat-panel displays. They are also used in FED displays, which are essentially flat-panel displays made out of rows extremely small cathode ray tubes. They are also used in microwave linear beam vacuum tubes such as klystrons, inductive output tubes, travelling wave tubes, and gyrotrons, as well as in scientific instruments such as electron microscopes and particle accelerators. Electron guns may be classified by the type of electric field generation (DC or RF), by emission mechanism (thermionic, photocathode, cold emission, plasmas source), by focusing (pure electrostatic or with magnetic fields), or by the number of electrodes.

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