Electron clouds are created when accelerated charged particles disturb stray electrons already floating in the tube, and bounce or slingshot the electrons into the wall. These stray electrons can be photo-electrons from synchrotron radiation or electrons from ionized gas molecules. When an electron hits the wall, the wall emits more electrons due to secondary emission. These electrons in turn hit another wall, releasing more and more electrons into the accelerator chamber.
The electron cloud produces a few very undesirable effects including impeding the flow of the accelerated particles, and creating a wake field which throws the particles off course.
This effect is especially a problem in positron accelerations, where electrons are attracted and slingshot into the walls at variable incident angles. Negatively charged electrons liberated from the accelerator walls are attracted to the positively charged beam, and form a "cloud" around it.
The effect is most pronounced for electrons with around 300eV of kinetic energy - with a steep drop-off of the effect at less than that energy, and a gradual drop-off at higher energies, which occurs because electrons "bury" themselves deep inside the walls of the accelerator tube, making it difficult for secondary electrons to escape into the tube.
The effect is also more pronounced for higher incidence angles (angles farther from the normal).
Electron cloud growth can be a severe limitation in bunch currents and total beam currents if multipacting occurs. Multipacting can occur when the electron cloud dynamics can achieve a resonance with the bunch spacing of the accelerator beam. This can cause instabilities along a bunch train and even instabilities within a single bunch, which are known as head-tail instabilities.
A few remedies have been proposed to deal with this, such as putting ridges in the accelerator tube, adding antechambers to the tube, coating the tube to reduce the yield of electrons from the surface, or creating an electric field to pull in stray electrons. At the PEP-II accelerator at SLAC, the vacuum pipe which contains the positron ring has a wire coiled around its entire length. Running a current through this wire creates a solenoidal magnetic field which tends to contain the electrons liberated from the beam pipe walls.
There are many different ways of measuring the electron cloud in a vacuum chamber. Each one gives insight into a different aspect of the electron cloud. Retarding field analyzers are local grids in the chamber wall that allow some of the cloud to escape. These electron can be filtered by an electric field and the resultant current can be measured. A limitation is that retarding field analyzers measure only local cloud, and because they measure current, there is inherently some time averaging involved. Witness bunch studies measure the tune shift along successive bunches in a train and in a witness bunch that is places at varying locations behind the train. Since tune shift is related to the ring-averaged central cloud density if the tune shift is known the central cloud density can be calculated. A great advantage of the witness bunch studies is because the tunes can be measured bunch by bunch the time evolution of the cloud can be measured.