Cathode Ray Experiment

What is Cathode Ray Tube?

A cathode-ray tube (CRT) is a vacuum tube in which an electron beam, deflected by applied electric or magnetic fields, produces a trace on a fluorescent screen.

The function of the cathode ray tube is to convert an electrical signal into a visual display. Cathode rays or streams of electron particles are quite easy to produce, electrons orbit every atom and move from atom to atom as an electric current.

Table of Contents

In a cathode ray tube, electrons are accelerated from one end of the tube to the other using an electric field. When the electrons hit the far end of the tube they give up all the energy they carry due to their speed and this is changed to other forms such as heat. A small amount of energy is transformed into X-rays.

Cathode Ray Tube

The cathode ray tube (CRT), invented in 1897 by the German physicist Karl Ferdinand Braun, is an evacuated glass envelope containing an electron gun a source of electrons and a fluorescent light, usually with internal or external means to accelerate and redirect the electrons. Light is produced when electrons hit a fluorescent tube.

The electron beam is deflected and modulated in a manner that allows an image to appear on the projector. The picture may reflect electrical wave forms (oscilloscope), photographs (television, computer monitor), echoes of radar-detected aircraft, and so on. The single electron beam can be processed to show movable images in natural colours.

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J. J. Thomson Experiment – The Discovery of Electron

The Cathode ray experiment was a result of English physicists named J. J. Thomson experimenting with cathode ray tubes. During his experiment he discovered electrons and it is one of the most important discoveries in the history of physics. He was even awarded a Nobel Prize in physics for this discovery and his work on the conduction of electricity in gases.

However, talking about the experiment, J. J. Thomson took a tube made of glass containing two pieces of metal as an electrode. The air inside the chamber was subjected to high voltage and electricity flowing through the air from the negative electrode to the positive electrode.

Cathode Ray Tube

J. J. Thomson designed a glass tube that was partly evacuated, i.e. all the air had been drained out of the building. He then applied a high electric voltage at either end of the tube between two electrodes. He observed a particle stream (ray) coming out of the negatively charged electrode (cathode) to the positively charged electrode (anode). This ray is called a cathode ray and is called a cathode ray tube for the entire construction.

The experiment Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) conducted by J. J. Thomson, is one of the most well-known physical experiments that led to electron discovery. In addition, the experiment could describe characteristic properties, in essence, its affinity to positive charge, and its charge to mass ratio. This paper describes how J is simulated. J. Thomson experimented with Cathode Ray Tube.

The major contribution of this work is the new approach to modelling this experiment, using the equations of physical laws to describe the electrons’ motion with a great deal of accuracy and precision. The user can manipulate and record the movement of the electrons by assigning various values to the experimental parameters.

Apparatus Setup

Cathode Ray Tube Experiment

A Diagram of JJ.Thomson Cathode Ray Tube Experiment showing Electron Beam – A cathode-ray tube (CRT) is a large, sealed glass tube.

The apparatus of the experiment incorporated a tube made of glass containing two pieces of metals at the opposite ends which acted as an electrode. The two metal pieces were connected with an external voltage. The pressure of the gas inside the tube was lowered by evacuating the air.

Procedure of the Experiment

  1. Apparatus is set up by providing a high voltage source and evacuating the air to maintain the low pressure inside the tube.
  2. High voltage is passed to the two metal pieces to ionize the air and make it a conductor of electricity.
  3. The electricity starts flowing as the circuit was complete.
  4. To identify the constituents of the ray produced by applying a high voltage to the tube, the dipole was set up as an add-on in the experiment.
  5. The positive pole and negative pole were kept on either side of the discharge ray.
  6. When the dipoles were applied, the ray was repelled by the negative pole and it was deflected towards the positive pole.
  7. This was further confirmed by placing the phosphorescent substance at the end of the discharge ray. It glows when hit by a discharge ray. By carefully observing the places where fluorescence was observed, it was noted that the deflections were on the positive side. So the constituents of the discharge tube were negatively charged.


After completing the experiment J.J. Thomson concluded that rays were and are basically negatively charged particles present or moving around in a set of a positive charge. This theory further helped physicists in understanding the structure of an atom. And the significant observation that he made was that the characteristics of cathode rays or electrons did not depend on the material of electrodes or the nature of the gas present in the cathode ray tube. All in all, from all this we learn that the electrons are in fact the basic constituent of all the atoms.

Most of the mass of the atom and all of its positive charge are contained in a small nucleus, called a nucleus. The particle which is positively charged is called a proton. The greater part of an atom’s volume is empty space.

The number of electrons that are dispersed outside the nucleus is the same as the number of positively charged protons in the nucleus. This explains the electrical neutrality of an atom as a whole.

Uses of Cathode Ray Tube

  1. Used as a most popular television (TV) display.
  2. X-rays are produced when fast-moving cathode rays are stopped suddenly.
  3. The screen of a cathode ray oscilloscope, and the monitor of a computer, are coated with fluorescent substances. When the cathode rays fall off the screen pictures are visible on the screen.

Frequently Asked Questions – FAQs


What are cathode ray tubes made of?

The cathode, or the emitter of electrons, is made of a caesium alloy. For many electronic vacuum tube systems, Cesium is used as a cathode, as it releases electrons readily when heated or hit by light.


Where can you find a cathode ray tube?

Cathode rays are streams of electrons observed in vacuum tubes (also called an electron beam or an e-beam). If an evacuated glass tube is fitted with two electrodes and a voltage is applied, it is observed that the glass opposite the negative electrode glows from the electrons emitted from the cathode.


How did JJ Thomson find the electron?

In the year 1897 J.J. Thomson invented the electron by playing with a tube that was Crookes, or cathode ray. He had shown that the cathode rays were charged negatively. Thomson realized that the accepted model of an atom did not account for the particles charged negatively or positively.


What are the properties of cathode rays?

They are formed in an evacuated tube via the negative electrode, or cathode, and move toward the anode. They journey straight and cast sharp shadows. They’ve got strength, and they can do the job. Electric and magnetic fields block them, and they have a negative charge.


What do you mean by cathode?

A device’s anode is the terminal on which current flows in from outside. A device’s cathode is the terminal from which current flows out. By present, we mean the traditional positive moment. Because electrons are charged negatively, positive current flowing in is the same as outflowing electrons.


Who discovered the cathode rays?

Studies of cathode-ray began in 1854 when the vacuum tube was improved by Heinrich Geissler, a glassblower and technical assistant to the German physicist Julius Plücker. In 1858, Plücker discovered cathode rays by sealing two electrodes inside the tube, evacuating the air and forcing it between the electrode’s electric current.


Which gas is used in the cathode ray experiment?

For better results in a cathode tube experiment, an evacuated (low pressure) tube is filled with hydrogen gas that is the lightest gas (maybe the lightest element) on ionization, giving the maximum charge value to the mass ratio (e / m ratio = 1.76 x 10 ^ 11 coulombs per kg).


What is the Colour of the cathode ray?

Cathode-ray tube (CRT), a vacuum tube which produces images when electron beams strike its phosphorescent surface. CRTs can be monochrome (using one electron gun) or coloured (using usually three electron guns to produce red, green, and blue images that render a multicoloured image when combined).


How cathode rays are formed?

Cathode rays come from the cathode because the cathode is charged negatively. So those rays strike and ionize the gas sample inside the container. The electrons that were ejected from gas ionization travel to the anode. These rays are electrons that are actually produced from the gas ionization inside the tube.


What are cathode rays made of?

Thomson showed that cathode rays were composed of a negatively charged particle, previously unknown, which was later named electron. To render an image on a screen, Cathode ray tubes (CRTs) use a focused beam of electrons deflected by electrical or magnetic fields.

For more information about cathode ray experiment, the discovery of electron or other sub-atomic particles, you can download BYJU’S – The learning app. You can also keep visiting the website or subscribe to our YouTube channel for more content.

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