Old TV tubes are used as cold cathode x-ray emitters in a simple apparatus developed by Bob Templeman of Chicago, Illinois. With selected beam power tubes of the type used in the high voltage section of TV receivers, the intensity is adequate to make x-rays photographs of objects using standard films. The earliest x-ray tubes were of the cold cathode variety. These tubes, referred to as Crookes or Hittorf tubes, were of the general class of gas tubes since the pressure had to be in the ‘soft’ vacuum range (about 10-3 to 10-4 Torr) to permit the passage of electrons from the cathode to the x-ray producing target in a so-called ‘dark’ discharge.
Higher pressures would result in a luminous discharge (as in a neon lamp) with only a small potential drop across the tube. Lower pressures (a 'hard' vacuum) would result in no current flow regardless of applied voltage.
The cold cathode tube went out of use shortly after 1910 when W. D. Coolidge introduced a tube with a hot cathode (thermionic) electron emitter. The Coolidge tube, which uses high vacuum (typically below 10-5 Torr), has a number of advantages over the gas tube.
With the gas tube, the electron current, at a given voltage, is dependent the voltage across the tube which, in turn, can vary depending upon the degree of vacuum. Furthermore, the degree of vacuum will change over time. This will affect the spectrum (hence the penetrating quality) of the x-ray output as well as the intensity. With a heated cathode in a high vacuum tube, the electron current may be controlled simply by varying the filament temperature. Then, by varying the voltage across the tube, the penetrating power of the x-rays (a function of the x-ray energy) may be varied. Thus, two important parameters may be controlled independently. Bob Templeman has been able to use conventional vacuum tubes as cold cathode x-ray tubes. He has done most of his work with the 6BK4B, a beam triode used for voltage regulation of high voltage, low current dc power supplies in color and black-and-white television sets. The tube has an octal base and a...