Theory of high electric field nanoscience

Start date

01 July 2011

End date

20 July 2012


High Electric Field NanoScience (HEFNS) is a recently introduced name for the science that underlies a large group of related effects that can occur when very high electric fields are applied to liquid or solid surfaces. HEFNS involves: (1) the science of the charged surface itself and of relevant surface processes; the physics of the emission of electrons, ions, charged clusters and charged droplets from charged surfaces; and the physics of the processes that occur in space above the emitting surface. HEFNS should be seen as an alternative scientific focus that involves many of the traditional divisions of physics but concentrates on the effects of high (positive and negative) electric fields.

Aims and objectives

The general research aims in HEFNS are as follows:

  1. Develop the basic technical physics involved in the practical use of field emitters as electron or ion sources, whether in electronic devices (e.g., displays) or in machines of modern nanotechnology (such as electron and ion microscopes, FIB machines, and atom probes).
  2. Develop an integrated understanding of the nanoscience of surfaces subject to very high electric fields (typically between 1 and 100 V/nm) and of related  processes. This can involve fundamental aspects of quantum and statistical physics.
  3. Where necessary, correct and "reconstruct" basic theory, and re-present it in a form that can be easily understood by applied scientists and engineers.

This research proceeds via several linked series of short-projects, often collaborative, each of which aims to generate a publication and/or related conference reports. These short-projects have been grouped under six headings (each of which is entered as a "project"), as follows:

  • Wave-mechanical transmission theory for approximately triangular barriers
  • Reconstruction of Fowler-Nordheim-type equations
  • Theory of cold field electron emission from small emitters
  • Field ion emission and its applications
  • Charged-particle optics of field emitters
  • Electrical thermodynamics as applied to nanoscale processes.



Dr R.G. Forbes has presented several general overviews of research in HEFNS or in its field electron emission component. The most significant presentations in the academic period 2009 to 2011 are:

  1. The theory of field electron emission. Tutorial lecture, 22nd IVNC, Hamamatsu, July 2009.
  2. Recent progress in understanding field electron emission. Seminar, Free University of Brussells, July 2009.
  3. Progress in reconstructing the basic theory of field electron emission. Invited talk, High-Field-Nanoscience Workshop, Wroclaw, May 2010.
  4. High-electric-field nanoscience. Invited Tutorial Lecture, Pre-Conference Workshop, 52nd International Field Emission Symposium, Sydney, July 2010.
  5. Recent developments in the theory of cold field electron emission. Multi-poster, 1st MeVARC Workshop, Helsinki, June 2011.