Thermal emission of electrons is ordinarily considered to be exclusively a property of macroscopic condensed matter. Slow electron emission occurs for certain small metal clusters as well as for silicon and carbon clusters, but the nature of this process has not been established. Electron emission rates have been obtained and analyzed from extensive real-time measurements on negatively charged fullerenes for several sizes and over a wide, continuous range of energies. These results confirm that delayed electron emission is a simple activated process that depends strongly on the internal energy and size of the cluster and that it has a common underlying mechanism, independent of size. However, the Arrhenius form deduced is inconsistent with the emission rate theory used for bulk surfaces. These results allow the question of the correct microscopic description of this newly observed electron emission process to be assessed.
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