My watch list  

Turbomolecular pump


A turbomolecular pump is a type of vacuum pump, superficially similar to a turbopump, used to obtain and maintain high vacuum. These pumps work on the principle that gas molecules can be given momentum in a desired direction by repeated collision with a moving solid surface. In a turbopump, a rapidly spinning turbine rotor 'hits' gas molecules from the inlet of the pump towards the exhaust in order to create or maintain a vacuum.


Operating principles

Most turbomolecular pumps employ multiple stages consisting of rotor/stator pairs mounted in series. Gas captured by the upper stages is pushed into the lower stages and successively compressed to the level of the fore-vacuum pressure. As the gas molecules enter through the inlet, the rotor, which has a number of angled blades, impacts on the molecules. Thus the mechanical energy of the blades is transferred to the gas molecules. With this newly acquired momentum, the gas molecules enter into the gas transfer holes in the stator. This leads them to the next stage where they again collide with the rotor surface, and this process is continued, finally leading them outwards through the exhaust.

Because of the relative motion of rotor and stator molecules preferably hit the lower side of the blades. Because the blade surface looks down, most of the scattered molecules will leave it downwards. The surface is rough, so no reflection will occur. A blade needs to be thick and stable for high pressure operation and as thin as possible and slightly bent for maximum compression.

Because the compression of each stage is ~10, each stage closer to the outlet is considerably smaller than the preceding inlet stages. This has two consequences. The geometric progression tells us that infinite stages could ideally fit into a finite axial length. The finite length in this case is the full height of the housing as the bearings, the motor, and controller and some of the coolers can be installed inside on the axis. Radially, to grasp as much of the thin gas at the entrance, the inlet-side rotors would ideally have a larger radius, and correspondingly higher centrifugal force; ideal blades would get exponentially thinner towards their tips and carbon fibers should reinforce the aluminium blades. This ideally leads to a conical housing. However, most commercial turbomolecular pumps are cylindrical, each stage has the same diameter, and manufacturing considerations impose a minimum thickness on the outlet stages.

Turbomolecular pumps must operate at very high speeds, and the friction heat buildup imposes design limitations. Some turbomolecular pumps use magnetic bearings to reduce friction and oil contamination. Because the magnetic bearings and the temperature cycles allow only for a finite clearance between rotor and stator, the blades at the high pressure stages are somewhat degenerated into spirals. Laminar flow cannot be used for pumping, because laminar turbines stall when not used at the designed flow. The pump can be cooled down to improve the compression, but should not be so cold as to condense ice on the blades. When a turbopump is stopped, the oil from the backing vacuum may backstream through the turbopump and contaminate the chamber. One way to prevent this is to introduce a laminar flow of nitrogen through the pump. The transition from vacuum to nitrogen and from a running to a still turbopump has to be synchronized precisely to avoid mechanical stress to the pump and overpressure at the exhaust. A thin membrane and a valve at the exhaust should be added to protect the turbopump from excessive back pressure (e.g. after a power failure or leaks in the backing vacuum).

The rotor is stabilized in all of its six degrees of freedom. One degree is governed by the electric motor. Minimally, this degree must be stabilized electronically (or by a diamagnetic material, which is too unstable to be used in a precision pump bearing). Another way to construct this bearing is to see it as an axis with a sphere at each end. These spheres are inside hollow static spheres. On the surfaces of all spheres are checkerboard patterns of inwards and outwards going magnetic field lines. As the checkerboard pattern of the static spheres is rotated, the rotor rotates. In this construction no axis is made stable on the cost of making another axis unstable, but all axes are neutral and the electronic regulation is less stressed and will be more dynamically stable. Hall effect sensors can be used to sense the rotational position and the other degrees of freedom can be measured capacitively.

Maximum pressure

  At atmospheric pressure the mean free path of air is about 70 nm. Turbomolecular blades cannot be built with anything close to such a small clearance, so this type of pump stalls if exhausted directly to the atmosphere. Nonetheless Varian, Inc. since 2006 offers a pump where the last stages have blades optimized for zero flow and can pump against a pressure of one atmosphere. Because the low pressure stages are limiting the flow, the high pressure stages can be fixed to zero flow. Theoretically centrifugal pumps could be used, but it is more compact to use a circulating flow between hollow threads in the rotor and the stator. In other cases the exhaust is connected to a backing pump, which produces a pressure low enough for the turbomolecular pump to work efficiently. Typically, this pressure must be below 10 Pa with 1-2 Pa as common averages.

The turbomolecular pump can be a very versatile pump. It can generate many degrees of vacuum from intermediate vacuum (~10-2 Pa) up to ultra-high vacuum levels (~10-8 Pa).

Multiple turbomolecular pumps in a lab or manufacturing-plant can be connected by tubes to a small backing pump. Automatic valves and diffusion pump like injection into a large buffer-tube in front of the backing pump prevents any overpressure from one pump to stall another pump.

Practical considerations

Laws of fluid dynamics do not apply in high vacuum environments. The maximum compression varies linearly with circumferential rotor speed. In order to obtain extremely low pressures down to 1 micropascal, rotation rates of 20,000 to 90,000 revolutions per minute are often necessary. Unfortunately, the compression ratio varies exponentially with the square root of the molecular weight of the gas. Thus, heavy molecules are pumped much more efficiently than light molecules. Most gases are heavy enough to be well pumped but it is difficult to pump hydrogen and helium efficiently.

An additional drawback stems from the high rotor speed of this type of pump: very high grade bearings are required, which increase the cost.


  The turbomolecular pump was invented in 1958 by Becker, based on the older molecular drag pumps developed by Gaede in 1913, Holweck in 1923 and Siegbahn in 1944.[1]


  1. ^ "Vacuum Techniques". The Encyclopedia of Physics (3rd edition). (1990). Ed. Robert M. Besançon. Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York. pp. 1278-1284. ISBN 0-442-00522-9. 
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Turbomolecular_pump". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
Your browser is not current. Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 does not support some functions on Chemie.DE