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  A klystron is a specialized linear-beam vacuum tube (evacuated electron tube). The pseudo-Greek word klystron comes from the stem form κλυσ- (klys) of a Greek verb referring to the action of waves breaking against a shore, and the end of the word electron.

The brothers Russell and Sigurd Varian of Stanford University are generally considered to be the inventors of the klystron. Their prototype was completed in August 1937. Upon publication in 1939,[1] news of the klystron immediately influenced the work of US and UK researchers working on radar equipment. The Varians went on to found Varian Associates to commercialize the technology (for example to make small linear accelerators to generate photons for external beam radiation therapy). In their 1939 paper, they acknowledged the contribution of A. Arsenjewa-Heil and O. Heil (wife and husband) for their velocity modulation theory in 1935[2].

During the second World War, the Axis powers relied mostly on (then low-powered) klystron technology for their radar system microwave generation, while the Allies used the far more powerful but frequency-drifting technology of the cavity magnetron for microwave generation. Klystron tube technologies for very high-power applications such as synchrotrons and radar systems, have since been developed.



Klystrons are used as an oscillator (such as the reflex klystron) or amplifier at microwave and radio frequencies to produce both low-power reference signals for superheterodyne radar receivers and to produce high-power carrier waves for communications and the driving force for linear accelerators. All modern klystrons are amplifiers, since reflex klystrons have been surpassed by alternative technologies. Klystron amplifiers have the advantage (over the magnetron) of coherently amplifying a reference signal so its output may be precisely controlled in amplitude, frequency and phase. Many klystrons have a waveguide for coupling microwave energy into and out of the device, although it is also quite common for lower power and lower frequency klystrons to use coaxial couplings instead. In some cases a coupling probe is used to couple the microwave energy from a klystron into a separate external waveguide.

Two-cavity klystron amplifier

In the two-chamber klystron, an electron beam from the cathode of an electron gun is injected into a resonant cavity. The electron beam is constrained by an axial magnetic field and is accelerated by a positive potential into a connecting passage (called a drift tube) to a second resonant chamber containing a positively charged anode. While passing through the first cavity, the electron beam is velocity modulated (periodically bunched) by the weak RF signal. In the moving frame of the electron beam, the velocity modulation is equivalent to a plasma oscillation, so in a quarter of one period of the plasma frequency, the velocity modulation is converted to density modulation, i.e. bunches of electrons. As the bunched electrons enter the second chamber they induce standing waves at the same frequency as the input signal. The signal induced in the second chamber is much stronger than that in the first.

Two-cavity klystron oscillator

The two-cavity amplifier klystron is readily turned into an oscillator klystron by providing a feedback loop between the input and output cavities. Two-cavity oscillator klystrons have the advantage of being among the lowest-noise microwave sources available, and for that reason have often been used in the illuminator systems of missile targeting radars. The two-cavity oscillator klystron normally generates more power than the reflex klystron—typically watts of output rather than milliwatts. Since there is no reflector, only one high-voltage supply is required; however, to cause the tube to oscillate, the voltage must be adjusted to a particular value. This is because the electron beam must produce the bunched electrons in the second cavity in order to generate output power. Voltage must be adjusted by varying the velocity of the electron beam to a suitable level due to the fixed physical separation between the two cavities. Often several "modes" of oscillation can be observed in a given klystron.

Reflex klystron

In the reflex klystron, the electron beam passes through a single resonant cavity. The electrons are fired into one end of the tube by an electron gun. After passing through the resonant cavity they are reflected by a negatively charged reflector electrode for another pass through the cavity, where they are then collected. The electron beam is velocity modulated when it first passes through the cavity. The formation of electron bunches takes place in the drift space between the reflector and the cavity. The voltage on the reflector must be adjusted so that the bunching is at a maximum as the electron beam re-enters the resonant cavity, thus ensuring a maximum of energy is transferred from the electron beam to the RF oscillations in the cavity.The voltage should always be switched on before providing the input to the reflex klystron as the whole function of the reflex klystron would be destroyed if the supply is provided after the input. The reflector voltage may be varied slightly from the optimum value, which results in some loss of output power, but also in a variation in frequency. This effect is used to good advantage for automatic frequency control in receivers, and in frequency modulation for transmitters. The level of modulation applied for transmission is small enough that the power output essentially remains constant. At regions far from the optimum voltage, no oscillations are obtained at all. This tube is called a reflex klystron because it repels the input supply or performs the opposite function of a [Klystron].

There are often several regions of reflector voltage where the reflex klystron will oscillate; these are referred to as modes. The electronic tuning range of the reflex klystron is usually referred to as the variation in frequency between half power points—the points in the oscillating mode where the power output is half the maximum output in the mode.

Modern semiconductor technology has effectively replaced the reflex klystron in most applications.

Multicavity klystron

In all modern klystrons, the number of cavities exceeds two. A larger number of cavities may be used to increase the gain of the klystron, or to increase the bandwidth.

Tuning a klystron

Some klystrons have cavities that are tunable.Tuning a klystron is delicate business that if not done properly can cause damage to equipment (klystrons can cost as much as a house or a luxury car) or even injury to the technician. By adjusting the graduated knobs found on the body of the klystron, metal grids inside the klystron cavities change the resonant frequency that the cavities resonates at delivering peak transmitter power output (TPO) for the desired frequency. The technician is careful not to exceed the limits of the graduations, because the grid can fall off the corkscrew which the grid rides on, inside the cavity. This permanently damages the klystron and may even result in a wave of improperly reflected power back into upstream equipment, causing further damage.

Manufacturers generally send a card with the unique calibrations for a klystron's performance characteristics, that lists the graduations that are to be set, for any given frequency. No two klystrons are alike (even when comparing like part/model number klystrons) so that every card is specific to the individual unit. Klystrons have serial numbers on each of them that distinguishes them uniquely, and for which manufacturers may (hopefully) have the performance characteristics in a database. If not, loss of the calibration card may be an insoluble problem, making the klystron unusable or perform marginally un-tuned.

Other precautions taken when tuning a klystron include using nonferrous tools. If ferrous (magnetically reactive) tools come too close to the intense magnetic fields that contain the electron beam (even when turned off, these fields are present since they are due to permanent magnets) the tool can be pulled into the unit by the intense magnetic force, smashing fingers, hurting the technician, or damaging the klystron. Special lightweight nonmagnetic tools made of beryllium alloy have been used for tuning U.S. Air Force klystrons.

Precautions are routinely taken when transporting klystron devices freely in aircraft, as the intense magnetic field can interfere with magnetic navigation equipment. Special overpacks are designed to help limit this field "in the field," and thus transport the klystron safely.

Optical klystron

In an optical klystron the cavities are replaced with undulators. Very high voltages are needed. The electron gun, the drift tube and the collector are still used.

Floating drift tube klystron

The floating drift tube klystron has a single cylindrical chamber containing an electrically isolated central tube. Electrically, this is similar to the two cavity oscillator klystron with a lot of feedback between the two cavities. Electrons exiting the source cavity are velocity modulated by the electric field as they travel through the drift tube and emerge at the destination chamber in bunches, delivering power to the oscillation in the cavity. This type of oscillator klystron has an advantage over the two-cavity klystron on which it is based. It only needs one tuning element to effect changes in frequency. The drift tube is electrically insulated from the cavity walls, and DC bias is applied separately. The DC bias on the drift tube may be adjusted to alter the transit time through it, thus allowing some electronic tuning of the oscillating frequency. The amount of tuning in this manner is not large and is normally used for frequency modulation when transmitting.


After the RF energy has been extracted from the electron beam, the beam is destroyed in a collector. Some klystrons include depressed collectors, which recover energy from the beam before collecting the electrons, increasing efficiency. Multistage depressed collectors enhance the energy recovery by "sorting" the electrons in energy bins.


Klystrons produce microwave power far in excess of that developed by solid state. In modern systems, they are used from UHF (100's of MHz) up through hundreds of gigahertz (as in the Extended Interaction Klystrons in the CloudSat satellite). Klystrons can be found at work in radar, satellite and wideband high-power communication (very common in television broadcasting and EHF satellite terminals), and high-energy physics (particle accelerators and experimental reactors). At SLAC, for example, klystrons are routinely employed which have outputs in the range of 50 megawatts (pulse) and 50 kilowatts (time-averaged) at frequencies nearing 3 GHz [1] Popular Science's "Best of What's New 2007"[2][3] included a company[4] using a klystron to convert the hydrocarbons in everyday materials, automotive waste, coal, oil shale, and oil sands into natural gas and diesel fuel.

Confusion with krytron

A misleadingly similarly named tube, the krytron, is used in simple switching applications. It has recently gained fame as a rapid switch which can be used in nuclear weapons to precisely detonate explosives at high speeds, in order to start the fission process. Krytrons have also been used in photocopiers, raising issues of war technology transfer to countries for items such as this, which have a "dual use."


  1. ^ Russell H. Varian and Sigurd F. Varian, "A high frequency oscillator and amplifier", J. Appl. Phys., vol. 10, no. 5 (May 1939), pp. 321-327.
  2. ^ A. Arsenjewa-Heil and O. Heil, "New method of producing short, undamped waves of great intensity (translated title)", Zeitschrift fur Physik, vol. 95, no. 11-12 (12 July 1935), pp. 752-762 (Germany).

Klystron tube trivia/popular culture

  • Klystron tubes (acting as "relays") feature in the vast Krell machine of Forbidden Planet.
  • A klystron tube is used by Dan Aykroyd's character in the 1988 comedy film, My Stepmother Is an Alien. In this case, the equipment overloads after coming in contact with the metal buttons of a jacket, causing a reaction that sends a powerful signal to a distant world. That signal gains the attention of aliens who come to Earth to investigate. Later, the original malfunction is intentionally reproduced and an alien creature is destroyed by contact with the electrified tube.

See also

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Klystron". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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