Cavity magnetron

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The cavity magnetron is a high-powered vacuum tube that generates microwaves using the interaction of a stream of electrons with a magnetic field. The 'resonant' cavity magnetron variant of the earlier magnetron tube was invented by Randall and Boot in 1940.[1] The high power of pulses from the cavity magnetron made centimetre-band radar practical. Shorter wavelength radars allowed detection of smaller objects. The compact cavity magnetron tube drastically reduced the size of radar sets[2] so that they could be installed in anti-submarine aircraft[3] and escort ships.[2] At present, cavity magnetrons are commonly used in microwave ovens and in various radar applications.[4]


Construction and operation

All cavity magnetrons consist of a hot cathode with a high (continuous or pulsed) negative potential by a high-voltage, direct-current power supply. The cathode is built into the center of an evacuated, lobed, circular chamber. A magnetic field parallel to the filament is imposed by a permanent magnet. The magnetic field causes the electrons, attracted to the (relatively) positive outer part of the chamber, to spiral outward in a circular path rather than moving directly to this anode. Spaced around the rim of the chamber are cylindrical cavities. The cavities are open along their length and connect the common cavity space. As electrons sweep past these openings, they induce a resonant, high-frequency radio field in the cavity, which in turn causes the electrons to bunch into groups. A portion of this field is extracted with a short antenna that is connected to a waveguide (a metal tube usually of rectangular cross section). The waveguide directs the extracted RF energy to the load, which may be a cooking chamber in a microwave oven or a high-gain antenna in the case of radar.

The sizes of the cavities determine the resonant frequency, and thereby the frequency of emitted microwaves. However, the frequency is not precisely controllable. The operating frequency varies with changes in load impedance, with changes in the supply current, and with the temperature of the tube.[5] This is not a problem in uses such as heating, or in some forms of radar where the receiver can be synchronized with an imprecise magnetron frequency. Where precise frequencies are needed, other devices such as the klystron are used.

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