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Proceedings of the 2014 IEEE Conference on Electrical Insulation and Dielectric Phenomena

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Highly disordered insulating materials exposed to high electric fields will, over time, degrade and fail, potentially causing catastrophic damage to devices. Step-up to electrostatic discharge (ESD) tests were performed for two common polymer dielectrics, low density polyethylene and polyimide. Pre-breakdown transient current spikes or arcs were observed, using both slow and high speed detection. These pre-ESD discharge phenomena are explained in terms of breakdown modes and defect generation on a microscopic scale. The field at which pre-breakdown arcing begins was compared to the onset field for electrostatic discharge at which complete breakdown occurs for each material studied. We present evidence that these two threshold fields are the same. Thus, the important parameter to consider in design may not be the maximum field for breakdown, as much as the defect structure in the materials and the field where pre-breakdown arcing begins in a material.