Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




J. R. Dennison


D. Mark Riffe


Lee H. Pearson


Electrical insulation under high voltage can eventually fail, causing critical damage to electronics. Such electrostatic discharge (ESD) is the primary source of anomalies or failures on spacecraft due to charged particles from the Sun or planetary radiation belts accumulating in spacecraft insulators. Highvoltage direct current power distribution is another example of a growing industry that needs to estimate the operational lifetime of electrical insulation. My research compares laboratory tests of ESD events in common insulating materials to a physics-based model of breakdown. This model of breakdown is based on the approximation that there are two primary types of defects in structurally amorphous insulators. One of the two defect modes can switch on and off depending on the material temperature. This dual-defect model can be used to explain both ESD and less-destructive transient partial discharges. I show that the results of ESD tests agree reasonably well with the dual defect model. I also show that transient partial discharges, which are usually ignored during ESD tests, are closely related to the probability of catastrophic ESD occurring. Since many partial discharges are typically seen during one ESD test, this relationship suggests that the measurements of partial discharges could accelerate the testing needed to characterize the likelihood of ESD in insulating materials.



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