A method of forming a field emitter comprises disposing a first layer on a substrate. The first layer is seeded with nanodiamond particles. The substrate with the first layer disposed thereon is maintained at a first temperature and a first pressure in a mixture of gases which includes nitrogen. The first layer is exposed to a microwave plasma to form a nitrogen doped ultrananocrystalline diamond film on the first layer, which has a percentage of nitrogen in the range of about 0.05 atom % to about 0.5 atom %. The field emitter has about 10.sup.12 to about 10.sup.14 emitting sites per cm.sup.2. A photocathode can also be formed similarly by forming a nitrogen doped ultrananocrystalline diamond film on a substrate similar to the field emitter, and then hydrogen terminating the film. The photocathode is responsive to near ultraviolet light as well as to visible light.
This invention was made with government support in part under "Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR)" Program Award Number NNX13AB222A awarded by the National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA), under "Space Grant" Program Award Number NNX10AM80H awarded by NASA, and under "Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)" Program Award Number DE-SC0009572 by the Department of Energy (DOE). The United States Government claims certain rights in this invention pursuant to Contract No. W-31-109-ENG-38 between the United States Government and the University of Chicago and/or pursuant to DE-AC02-06CH11357 between the United States Government and UChicago Argonne, LLC representing Argonne National Laboratory.