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Cathode Ray Tube

Display Screen

The actual conversion of electrical to light energy takes place on the display screen when electrons strike a material known as a phosphor. A phosphor is a chemical that glows when exposed to electrical energy. A commonly used phosphor is the compound zinc sulfide. When pure zinc sulfide is struck by an electron beam, it gives off a greenish glow. The exact color given off by a phosphor also depends on the presence of small amounts of impurities. For example, zinc sulfide with silver metal as an impurity gives off a bluish glow and with copper metal as an impurity, a greenish glow.

The selection of phosphors to be used in a cathode ray tube is very important. Many different phosphors are known, and each has special characteristics. For example, the phosphor known as yttrium oxide gives off a red glow when struck by electrons, and yttrium silicate gives off a purplish blue glow.

The rate at which a phosphor responds to an electron beam is also of importance. In a color television set, for example, the glow produced by a phosphor has to last long enough, but not too long. Remember that the screen is being scanned 25 times every second. If the phosphor continues to glow too long, color will remain from the first scan when the second scan has begun, and the overall picture will become blurred. On the other hand, if the color from the first scan fades out before the second scan has begun, there will be a blank moment on the screen, and the picture will appear to flicker.

Cathode ray tubes differ in their details of construction depending on the use to which they will be put. In an oscilloscope, for example, the electron beam has to be able to move about on the screen very quickly and with high precision, although it needs to display only one color. Factors such as size and durability are also more important in an oscilloscope than they might be in a home television set.

In a commercial television set, on the other hand, color is obviously an important factor. In such a set, a combination of three electron guns is needed, one for each of the primary colors used in making the color picture.



Keller, Peter A. The Cathode-Ray Tube: Technology, History, and Applications. Palisades Press, 1992.

Parr, Geoffrey, and O.H. Davie. The Cathode-Ray Tube and Its Applications. London: Chapman and Hall, 1959.

David E. Newton


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—A chemical that emits a glow when struck by a beam of electrons.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Categorical judgement to ChimaeraCathode Ray Tube - Envelope Or Container, Electron Gun, Focusing And Deflection Systems, Display Screen