A Wehnelt cylinder (also known as Wehnelt cap, grid cap or simply Wehnelt) is an electrode in the electron gun assembly of some thermionic devices, used for focusing and control of the electron beam. It is named after Arthur Rudolph Berthold Wehnelt, a German physicist, who invented it during the years 1902 and 1903. Wehnelt cylinders are found in the electron guns of cathode ray tubes and electron microscopes, and in other applications where a thin, well-focused electron beam is required.
A Wehnelt cap has the shape of a topless, hollow cylinder. The bottom side of the cylinder has an aperture (through hole) located at its center, with a diameter that typically ranges from 200 to 1200 µm. The bottom face of the cylinder is often made from platinum or tantalum foil.
A Wehnelt acts as a control grid and it also serves as a convergent electrostatic lens. An electron emitter is positioned directly above the Wehnelt aperture, and an anode is located below the Wehnelt. The anode is biased to a high positive voltage (typically +1 to +30 kV) relative to the emitter so as to accelerate electrons from the emitter towards the anode, thus creating an electron beam that passes through the Wehnelt aperture.
The Wehnelt is biased to a negative voltage (typically −200V to −300V) relative to the emitter, which is usually a tungsten filament or Lanthanum hexaboride (LaB6) hot cathode. The Wehnelt bias voltage creates a repulsive electrostatic field that condenses the cloud of primary electrons produced by the filament. The filament tip is formed into a "v" shape and located near the aperture so that the beam is emitted from a small area that is, effectively, a circular emission region.