13.1: Introduction to Electron Tubes
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An often neglected area of study in modern electronics is that of tubes, more precisely known as vacuum tubes or electron tubes. Almost completely overshadowed by semiconductor, or “solid-state” components in most modern applications, tube technology once dominated electronic circuit design.
In fact, the historical transition from “electric” to “electronic” circuits really began with tubes, for it was with tubes that we entered into a whole new realm of circuit function: a way of controlling the flow of electrons (current) in a circuit by means of another electric signal (in the case of most tubes, the controlling signal is a small voltage). The semiconductor counterpart to the tube, of course, is the transistor. Transistors perform much the same function as tubes: controlling the flow of electrons in a circuit by means of another flow of electrons in the case of the bipolar transistor, and controlling the flow of electrons by means of a voltage in the case of the field-effect transistor. In either case, a relatively small electric signal controls a relatively large electric current. This is the essence of the word “electronic,” so as to distinguish it from “electric,” which has more to do with how electron flow is regulated by Ohm’s Law and the physical attributes of wire and components.
Though tubes are now obsolete for all but a few specialized applications, they are still a worthy area of study. If nothing else, it is fascinating to explore “the way things used to be done” in order to better appreciate modern technology.