Measuring High Vacuum Pressure with Goal Posts


Most vacuum technologist are familiar with the construction of a Bayard-Alpert gauge. A filament  emits electrons that are accelerated into a grid where ions are formed. Ions striking the collector cause a current to flow through an ammeter which is proportional to the pressure inside the gauge.

Back in the 1990s, Granville-Phillips embarked on a project to create an inexpensive OEM gauge for the semiconductor market. We had just finished the development of the Stabil-Ion® gauge. The Stabil-Ion was designed to be an extremely stable and reproducible gauge (Arnold et. al. 1994) to serve customers with the demanding vacuum requirements. We learned many techniques to make a gauge stable and reproducible, but it was not attractive to the OEM market because of the price.


Granville-Phillips Stabil-Ion gauge. (Arnold et. al. 1994.)

We turned out attention to a lower cost, compact gauge that could be offered at a lower price. One of the problems with all compact gauges is that volume inside the grid where the ions are formed is much smaller than a conventional B-A gauge. This means that the number of ions that are formed in the region where they can be collected is greatly reduce. So it is important that we collect as many ions as possible.

Inside a B-A gauge grid, ions  formed with certain angular momentum values cannot be collected because they form stable orbits around the collector as shown below.

precessing ion.gif

A dual collector design was introduced to solve that problem. Since the grid is at 180 volts and the collector is at 0 volts the electric field well has as saddle shape. The analogy would be like trying to place a basketball on the back of a horse. It will try to fall off either side of the horse rather than staying on its back.

MicroIo ion paths.gif

Ions formed on on the saddle shaped potential field are driven towards the the collectors. (Understanding Modern Vacuum Technology, pg. 101. Courtesy of MKS Instruments, Inc.) 

MicroIon Patent image

Cutaway drawing of a Granville-Phillips MicroIon® gauge. The dual collectors are labeled 140a and 140b. (Knott 2008)

The result of this design was that the sensitivity for this gauge is 3 to 4 times the other gauges in its class.

You can lean more about Bayard-Alpert gauges and other vacuum metrology devices by reading Understanding Modern Vacuum Technology. 

Arnold, Bills, Borenstein and Borichevsky (1994) J. Vac. Sci. Technol. A, 12, 568

Knott (2008) Patent No. US 7,456,634 B2

MicroIon and Stabil-Ion are registered trade marks of MKS Instruments, Inc.

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