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Electric field breakdown at micrometre separations in air and nitrogen at atmospheric pressure

TitleElectric field breakdown at micrometre separations in air and nitrogen at atmospheric pressure
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2000
AuthorsDhariwal, R. S., J. - M. Torres, and M. P. Y. Desmulliez
JournalScience, Measurement and Technology, IEE Proceedings -
Pagination261 -265
Date Publishedsep
Keywords0.5 to 15 mu, 0.5 to 15 mum, 4 mum, air, atmospheric pressure, breakdown voltage, electric breakdown, electric field breakdown, electrode spacings, energy dispersive analysis, m, micrometre separations, microprotrusions, N2, nitrogen, Paschen law, quantum tunnelling, tunnelling, up to 4 mu, voltage measurement, work function

For efficient operation, micromotors and microactuators, such as those employed in microsystems, are required to operate with high electric fields at electrode separations of the order of micrometres. An apparatus was built to accurately measure the breakdown voltage for electrode spacings as low as 0.5 mu;m. Breakdown voltage measurements in air and nitrogen are presented and discussed for the gap range 0.5 to 15 mu;m. Energy dispersive analysis of X-rays (EDAX) confirms the transfer of material from cathode to anode and vice versa during the breakdown mechanism. The Paschen law has been confirmed not to be applicable at gap settings of less than 4 mu;m. The shape of the curve and the breakdown voltage values are found to be the same for different gases and different high pressures up to 4 mu;m separation. Below this value, an analytical explanation of the breakdown voltage based on quantum tunnelling of electrons is obtained in terms of electrical field enhancement at microprotrusions and the work function of the electrode material