Vacuum tubes are electronic
components. In electronics
, a vacuum tube, electron tube (in North America), thermionic valve, tube, or valve is a device controlling electric current through a vacuum in a sealed container. The container is often thin transparent glass in a roughly cylindrical shape. The simplest vacuum tube, the diode, is essentially an incandescent light bulb with an extra electrode inside. When the bulb's filament is heated white–hot, electrons are boiled off its surface and into the vacuum inside the bulb. If the extra electrode (also called a "plate" or "anode") is made more positive than the hot filament, a direct current flows through the vacuum to the anode.
The introduction of a third electrode, a grid between the filament and the plate, also yields another function. If a signal is applied to the grid, it modulates the current flowing from the filament to the plate. Thus, it allows the device to act as an electronic amplifier. Vacuum tubes are thus used for rectification, amplification, switching, or similar processing or creation of electrical signals. Vacuum tubes were critical to the development of electronic technology, which drove the expansion and commercialization of radio broadcasting, television, radar, sound reinforcement, sound recording and reproduction, large telephone networks, analog and digital computers, and industrial process control. Although some applications had counterparts using earlier technologies such as the spark gap transmitter or mechanical
computers, it was the invention of the vacuum tube with three electrodes (called a triode) and its capability of electronic amplification that made these technologies widespread and practical. Electronic logic gates
can be build with vacuum tubes. The Z22 was the first computer developed by Konrad Zuse's
company that used vacuum tubes. Supplement:
In most applications, solid–state devices such as transistors
and semiconductor devices have replaced tubes. Solid–state devices last longer and are smaller, more efficient, more reliable, and cheaper than tubes. Tubes can be fragile, sometimes generate significant unwanted heat, and can take many seconds–many minutes in critical applications–after powering on to warm to a temperature where they perform within operational tolerance. However, tubes still find uses where solid–state devices have not been developed, are impractical, or where a tube has superior performance, as with some devices in professional audio and high–power radio transmitters. Tubes are still produced for such applications.