Dielectric strength

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In physics, the term dielectric strength has the following meanings:

Physics Study of the fundamental properties of matter and energy

Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its motion and behavior through space and time, and that studies the related entities of energy and force. Physics is one of the most fundamental scientific disciplines, and its main goal is to understand how the universe behaves.


Electric field Vector field representing the Coulomb force per unit charge that would be exerted on a test charge at each point due to other electric charges

An electric field surrounds an electric charge, and exerts force on other charges in the field, attracting or repelling them. Electric field is sometimes abbreviated as E-field. The electric field is defined mathematically as a vector field that associates to each point in space the force per unit of charge exerted on an infinitesimal positive test charge at rest at that point. The SI unit for electric field strength is volt per meter (V/m). Newtons per coulomb (N/C) is also used as a unit of electric field strength. Electric fields are created by electric charges, or by time-varying magnetic fields. Electric fields are important in many areas of physics, and are exploited practically in electrical technology. On an atomic scale, the electric field is responsible for the attractive force between the atomic nucleus and electrons that holds atoms together, and the forces between atoms that cause chemical bonding. Electric fields and magnetic fields are both manifestations of the electromagnetic force, one of the four fundamental forces of nature.

Electrical breakdown when current flows through an electrical insulator when the voltage applied across it exceeds the breakdown voltage

Electrical breakdown or dielectric breakdown is when current flows through an electrical insulator when the voltage applied across it exceeds the breakdown voltage. This results in the insulator becoming electrically conductive. Electrical breakdown may be a momentary event, or may lead to a continuous arc if protective devices fail to interrupt the current in a power circuit.

Breakdown voltage

The breakdown voltage of an insulator is the minimum voltage that causes a portion of an insulator to become electrically conductive.

The theoretical dielectric strength of a material is an intrinsic property of the bulk material, and is independent of the configuration of the material or the electrodes with which the field is applied. This "intrinsic dielectric strength" corresponds to what would be measured using pure materials under ideal laboratory conditions. At breakdown, the electric field frees bound electrons. If the applied electric field is sufficiently high, free electrons from background radiation may be accelerated to velocities that can liberate additional electrons by collisions with neutral atoms or molecules, in a process known as avalanche breakdown. Breakdown occurs quite abruptly (typically in nanoseconds), resulting in the formation of an electrically conductive path and a disruptive discharge through the material. In a solid material, a breakdown event severely degrades, or even destroys, its insulating capability.

Dielectric electrically poorly conducting or non-conducting, non-metallic substance of which charge carriers are generally not free to move

A dielectric is an electrical insulator that can be polarized by an applied electric field. When a dielectric is placed in an electric field, electric charges do not flow through the material as they do in an electrical conductor but only slightly shift from their average equilibrium positions causing dielectric polarization. Because of dielectric polarization, positive charges are displaced in the direction of the field and negative charges shift in the opposite direction. This creates an internal electric field that reduces the overall field within the dielectric itself. If a dielectric is composed of weakly bonded molecules, those molecules not only become polarized, but also reorient so that their symmetry axes align to the field.

Background radiation is a measure of the level of ionizing radiation present in the environment at a particular location which is not due to deliberate introduction of radiation sources.

Avalanche breakdown is a phenomenon that can occur in both insulating and semiconducting materials. It is a form of electric current multiplication that can allow very large currents within materials which are otherwise good insulators. It is a type of electron avalanche. The avalanche process occurs when carriers in the transition region are accelerated by the electric field to energies sufficient to create mobile or free electron-hole pairs via collisions with bound electrons.

Factors affecting apparent dielectric strength

An operating temperature is the temperature at which an electrical or mechanical device operates. The device will operate effectively within a specified temperature range which varies based on the device function and application context, and ranges from the minimum operating temperature to the maximum operating temperature. Outside this range of safe operating temperatures the device may fail.

Breakdown field strength

The field strength at which breakdown occurs depends on the respective geometries of the dielectric (insulator) and the electrodes with which the electric field is applied, as well as the rate of increase of the applied electric field. Because dielectric materials usually contain minute defects, the practical dielectric strength will be a significantly less than the intrinsic dielectric strength of an ideal, defect-free, material. Dielectric films tend to exhibit greater dielectric strength than thicker samples of the same material. For instance, the dielectric strength of silicon dioxide films of thickness around 1 μm is about 0.5 GV/m. [4] However very thin layers (below, say, 100 nm) become partially conductive because of electron tunneling.[ clarification needed ] Multiple layers of thin dielectric films are used where maximum practical dielectric strength is required, such as high voltage capacitors and pulse transformers. Since the dielectric strength of gases varies depending on the shape and configuration of the electrodes, [5] it is usually measured as a fraction of the dielectric strength of nitrogen gas.

Capacitor Passive two-terminal electronic component that stores electrical energy in an electric field

A capacitor is a device that stores electrical energy in an electric field. It is a passive electronic component with two terminals.

Transformer electrical device that transfers energy through electromagnetic induction

A transformer is a passive electrical device that transfers electrical energy between two or more circuits. A varying current in one coil of the transformer produces a varying magnetic flux, which, in turn, induces a varying electromotive force across a second coil wound around the same core. Electrical energy can be transferred between the two coils, without a metallic connection between the two circuits. Faraday's law of induction discovered in 1831 described the induced voltage effect in any coil due to changing magnetic flux encircled by the coil.

Dielectric strength (in MV/m, or 106volt/meter) of various common materials:

SubstanceDielectric strength
Helium (relative to nitrogen) [6]
[ clarification needed ]
Air [7] 3
Sulfur hexafluoride (uniform electric field)
Sulfur hexafluoride (non-uniform electric field)
Alumina [6] 13.4
Window glass [6]
Borosilicate glass [6]
Silicone oil, mineral oil [6] [8]
Benzene [6] 163
Polystyrene [6] 19.7
Polyethylene [9]
Neoprene rubber [6]
Distilled water [6]
High vacuum
(field emission limited) [10]
Fused silica [6]
Waxed paper [11]
PTFE (Teflon, extruded ) [6] 19.7
PTFE (Teflon, insulating film) [6] [12]
PEEK (Polyether ether ketone)
Mica [6] 118
Diamond [13] 2,000


In SI, the unit of dielectric strength is volts per meter (V/m). It is also common to see related units such as volts per centimeter (V/cm), megavolts per meter (MV/m), and so on.

Volt SI derived unit of voltage

The volt is the derived unit for electric potential, electric potential difference (voltage), and electromotive force. It is named after the Italian physicist Alessandro Volta (1745–1827).

In United States customary units, dielectric strength is often specified in volts per mil (a mil is 1/1000 inch). [16] The conversion is:

See also

Related Research Articles

Insulator (electricity) Material which does not conduct an electric current

An electrical insulator is a material whose internal electric charges do not flow freely; very little electric current will flow through it under the influence of an electric field. This contrasts with other materials, semiconductors and conductors, which conduct electric current more easily. The property that distinguishes an insulator is its resistivity; insulators have higher resistivity than semiconductors or conductors.

Van de Graaff generator Electrostatic particle accelerator driven by the triboelectricity effect

A Van de Graaff generator is an electrostatic generator which uses a moving belt to accumulate electric charge on a hollow metal globe on the top of an insulated column, creating very high electric potentials. It produces very high voltage direct current (DC) electricity at low current levels. It was invented by American physicist Robert J. Van de Graaff in 1929. The potential difference achieved by modern Van de Graaff generators can be as much as 5 megavolts. A tabletop version can produce on the order of 100,000 volts and can store enough energy to produce a visible spark. Small Van de Graaff machines are produced for entertainment, and for physics education to teach electrostatics; larger ones are displayed in some science museums.

Electrostatic discharge sudden flow of electricity between two electrically charged objects caused by contact, an electrical short, or dielectric breakdown

Electrostatic discharge (ESD) is the sudden flow of electricity between two electrically charged objects caused by contact, an electrical short, or dielectric breakdown. A buildup of static electricity can be caused by tribocharging or by electrostatic induction. The ESD occurs when differently-charged objects are brought close together or when the dielectric between them breaks down, often creating a visible spark.

Electrical discharge machining

Electrical discharge machining (EDM), also known as spark machining, spark eroding, burning, die sinking, wire burning or wire erosion, is a manufacturing process whereby a desired shape is obtained by using electrical discharges (sparks). Material is removed from the work piece by a series of rapidly recurring current discharges between two electrodes, separated by a dielectric liquid and subject to an electric voltage. One of the electrodes is called the tool-electrode, or simply the "tool" or "electrode," while the other is called the workpiece-electrode, or "work piece." The process depends upon the tool and work piece not making actual contact.

Space charge is a concept in which excess electric charge is treated as a continuum of charge distributed over a region of space rather than distinct point-like charges. This model typically applies when charge carriers have been emitted from some region of a solid—the cloud of emitted carriers can form a space charge region if they are sufficiently spread out, or the charged atoms or molecules left behind in the solid can form a space charge region. Space charge usually only occurs in dielectric media because in a conductive medium the charge tends to be rapidly neutralized or screened. The sign of the space charge can be either negative or positive. This situation is perhaps most familiar in the area near a metal object when it is heated to incandescence in a vacuum. This effect was first observed by Thomas Edison in light bulb filaments, where it is sometimes called the Edison effect, but space charge is a significant phenomenon in many vacuum and solid-state electronic devices.

Lichtenberg figure

Lichtenberg figures, or "Lichtenberg dust figures", are branching electric discharges that sometimes appear on the surface or in the interior of insulating materials. Lichtenberg figures are often associated with the progressive deterioration of high voltage components and equipment. The study of planar Lichtenberg figures along insulating surfaces and 3D electrical trees within insulating materials often provides engineers with valuable insights for improving the long-term reliability of high voltage equipment. Lichtenberg figures are now known to occur on or within solids, liquids, and gases during electrical breakdown.

Lead zirconate titanate intermetallic inorganic chemical compound

Lead zirconate titanate is an inorganic compound with the chemical formula Pb[ZrxTi1−x]O3 (0≤x≤1). Also called PZT, it is a ceramic perovskite material that shows a marked piezoelectric effect, meaning that the compound changes shape when an electric field is applied. It is used in a number of practical applications such as ultrasonic transducers and piezoelectric resonators. It is a white to off-white solid.

High voltage electrical energy at voltages high enough to inflict harm on living organisms (numerical definition depends on context)

The term high voltage usually means electrical energy at voltages high enough to inflict harm on living organisms. Equipment and conductors that carry high voltage warrant particular safety requirements and procedures. In certain industries, high voltage means voltage above a particular threshold (see below). High voltage is used in electrical power distribution, in cathode ray tubes, to generate X-rays and particle beams, to demonstrate arcing, for ignition, in photomultiplier tubes, and in high power amplifier vacuum tubes and other industrial, military and scientific applications.

Coulomb blockade increased resistance at small bias voltages of an electronic device comprising at least one low-capacitance tunnel junction

In mesoscopic physics, a Coulomb blockade (CB), named after Charles-Augustin de Coulomb's electrical force, is the decrease in electrical conductance at small bias voltages of a small electronic device comprising at least one low-capacitance tunnel junction. Because of the CB, the conductance of a device may not be constant at low bias voltages, but disappear for biases under a certain threshold, i.e. no current flows.

Capacitor types Quantitative

Capacitors are manufactured in many forms, styles, lengths, girths, and from many materials. They all contain at least two electrical conductors separated by an insulating layer. Capacitors are widely used as parts of electrical circuits in many common electrical devices.

Electric spark kind of electrical discharge

An electric spark is an abrupt electrical discharge that occurs when a sufficiently high electric field creates an ionized, electrically conductive channel through a normally-insulating medium, often air or other gases or gas mixtures. Michael Faraday described this phenomenon as "the beautiful flash of light attending the discharge of common electricity".

The gate oxide is the dielectric layer that separates the gate terminal of a MOSFET from the underlying source and drain terminals as well as the conductive channel that connects source and drain when the transistor is turned on. Gate oxide is formed by thermal oxidation of the silicon of the channel to form a thin insulating layer of silicon dioxide. The insulating silicon dioxide layer is formed through a process of self-limiting oxidation, which is described by the Deal Grove model. A conductive gate material is subsequently deposited over the gate oxide to form the transistor. The gate oxide serves as the dielectric layer so that the gate can sustain as high as 1 to 5 MV/cm transverse electric field in order to strongly modulate the conductance of the channel.

Zener effect

In electronics, the Zener effect is a type of electrical breakdown, discovered by Clarence Melvin Zener. It occurs in a reverse biased p-n diode when the electric field enables tunneling of electrons from the valence to the conduction band of a semiconductor, leading to a large number of free minority carriers which suddenly increase the reverse current.

Film capacitor

Film capacitors, plastic film capacitors, film dielectric capacitors, or polymer film capacitors, generically called "film caps" as well as power film capacitors, are electrical capacitors with an insulating plastic film as the dielectric, sometimes combined with paper as carrier of the electrodes.

Field effect (semiconductor)

In physics, the field effect refers to the modulation of the electrical conductivity of a material by the application of an external electric field.

Niobium capacitor

A niobium electrolytic capacitor is a polarized capacitor whose anode electrode (+) is made of passivated niobium metal or niobium monoxide on which an insulating niobium pentoxide layer acts as the dielectric of the niobium capacitor. A solid electrolyte on the surface of the oxide layer serves as the second electrode (cathode) (-) of the capacitor.


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