Getters are reactive materials used for removing traces of gas from vacuum systems.
"Flashed getters" are prepared by arranging a reservoir of a volatile and reactive material inside the vacuum system; once the system is sealed, the material is heated, usually by induction heating and evaporates, reacting with residual gas, and depositing itself on the walls to leave a silvery coating. They are commonly used in vacuum tubes; the standard flashed getter material is barium. Large transmitting and specialized tubes often use more exotic getters, including aluminum, magnesium, calcium, sodium, strontium, caesium and phosphorus.
If the tube is broken, the getter reacts with incoming air leaving a white deposit on the tube, and becomes useless; for this reason, flashed getters are not used in systems which are intended to be opened. A functioning phosphorus getter looks very like an oxidised metal getter, though has an iridescent appearance which oxidised metal getters lack.
For systems which need to be opened to air for maintenance, nonevaporable getters which work at high temperature are used instead. Generally, these consist of a film of a special alloy, often consisting primarily of zirconium; the requirement is that the alloy materials must form a passivation layer at room temperature which disappears when heated. Common alloys have names of the form St followed by a number; St 707 is 70% zirconium, 24.6% vanadium and the balance iron, St 787 is 80.8% zirconium, 14.2% cobalt and balance mischmetal, St 101 is 84% zirconium and 16% aluminium . In tubes used in electronics, the getter material coats plates within the tube which are heated in normal operation; when getters are used within more general vacuum systems, such as in semiconductor manufacturing, they are introduced as separate pieces of equipment in the vacuum chamber, and turned on when needed.
It is of course important not to heat the getter when the system is not already in a good vacuum.
Even slight amounts of gas within a vacuum insulation panel can greatly compromise the insulation value of the wall, and the materials used to support the walls can outgas, so getters are used there to maintain the vacuum.