A dielectric (or dielectric material) 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.[1] 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.[1]

The study of dielectric properties concerns storage and dissipation of electric and magnetic energy in materials.[2][3][4] Dielectrics are important for explaining various phenomena in electronics, optics, solid-state physics, and cell biophysics.

Capacitor schematic with dielectric
A polarized dielectric material


Although the term insulator implies low electrical conduction, dielectric typically means materials with a high polarizability. The latter is expressed by a number called the relative permittivity. The term insulator is generally used to indicate electrical obstruction while the term dielectric is used to indicate the energy storing capacity of the material (by means of polarization). A common example of a dielectric is the electrically insulating material between the metallic plates of a capacitor. The polarization of the dielectric by the applied electric field increases the capacitor's surface charge for the given electric field strength.[1]

The term dielectric was coined by William Whewell (from dia- + electric) in response to a request from Michael Faraday.[5][6] A perfect dielectric is a material with zero electrical conductivity (cf. perfect conductor),[7] thus exhibiting only a displacement current; therefore it stores and returns electrical energy as if it were an ideal capacitor.

Electric susceptibility

The electric susceptibility χe of a dielectric material is a measure of how easily it polarizes in response to an electric field. This, in turn, determines the electric permittivity of the material and thus influences many other phenomena in that medium, from the capacitance of capacitors to the speed of light.

It is defined as the constant of proportionality (which may be a tensor) relating an electric field E to the induced dielectric polarization density P such that

where ε0 is the electric permittivity of free space.

The susceptibility of a medium is related to its relative permittivity εr by

So in the case of a vacuum,

The electric displacement D is related to the polarization density P by

Dispersion and causality

In general, a material cannot polarize instantaneously in response to an applied field. The more general formulation as a function of time is

That is, the polarization is a convolution of the electric field at previous times with time-dependent susceptibility given by χet). The upper limit of this integral can be extended to infinity as well if one defines χet) = 0 for Δt < 0. An instantaneous response corresponds to Dirac delta function susceptibility χet) = χeδt).

It is more convenient in a linear system to take the Fourier transform and write this relationship as a function of frequency. Due to the convolution theorem, the integral becomes a simple product,

Note the simple frequency dependence of the susceptibility, or equivalently the permittivity. The shape of the susceptibility with respect to frequency characterizes the dispersion properties of the material.

Moreover, the fact that the polarization can only depend on the electric field at previous times (i.e., χet) = 0 for Δt < 0), a consequence of causality, imposes Kramers–Kronig constraints on the real and imaginary parts of the susceptibility χe(ω).

Dielectric polarization

Basic atomic model

Dielectric model
Electric field interaction with an atom under the classical dielectric model.

In the classical approach to the dielectric model, a material is made up of atoms. Each atom consists of a cloud of negative charge (electrons) bound to and surrounding a positive point charge at its centre. In the presence of an electric field the charge cloud is distorted, as shown in the top right of the figure.

This can be reduced to a simple dipole using the superposition principle. A dipole is characterized by its dipole moment, a vector quantity shown in the figure as the blue arrow labeled M. It is the relationship between the electric field and the dipole moment that gives rise to the behavior of the dielectric. (Note that the dipole moment points in the same direction as the electric field in the figure. This isn't always the case, and is a major simplification, but is true for many materials.)

When the electric field is removed the atom returns to its original state. The time required to do so is the so-called relaxation time; an exponential decay.

This is the essence of the model in physics. The behavior of the dielectric now depends on the situation. The more complicated the situation, the richer the model must be to accurately describe the behavior. Important questions are:

  • Is the electric field constant or does it vary with time? At what rate?
  • Does the response depend on the direction of the applied field (isotropy of the material)?
  • Is the response the same everywhere (homogeneity of the material)?
  • Do any boundaries or interfaces have to be taken into account?
  • Is the response linear with respect to the field, or are there nonlinearities?

The relationship between the electric field E and the dipole moment M gives rise to the behavior of the dielectric, which, for a given material, can be characterized by the function F defined by the equation:


When both the type of electric field and the type of material have been defined, one then chooses the simplest function F that correctly predicts the phenomena of interest. Examples of phenomena that can be so modeled include:

Dipolar polarization

Dipolar polarization is a polarization that is either inherent to polar molecules (orientation polarization), or can be induced in any molecule in which the asymmetric distortion of the nuclei is possible (distortion polarization). Orientation polarization results from a permanent dipole, e.g., that arising from the 104.45° angle between the asymmetric bonds between oxygen and hydrogen atoms in the water molecule, which retains polarization in the absence of an external electric field. The assembly of these dipoles forms a macroscopic polarization.

When an external electric field is applied, the distance between charges within each permanent dipole, which is related to chemical bonding, remains constant in orientation polarization; however, the direction of polarization itself rotates. This rotation occurs on a timescale that depends on the torque and surrounding local viscosity of the molecules. Because the rotation is not instantaneous, dipolar polarizations lose the response to electric fields at the highest frequencies. A molecule rotates about 1 radian per picosecond in a fluid, thus this loss occurs at about 1011 Hz (in the microwave region). The delay of the response to the change of the electric field causes friction and heat.

When an external electric field is applied at infrared frequencies or less, the molecules are bent and stretched by the field and the molecular dipole moment changes. The molecular vibration frequency is roughly the inverse of the time it takes for the molecules to bend, and this distortion polarization disappears above the infrared.

Ionic polarization

Ionic polarization is polarization caused by relative displacements between positive and negative ions in ionic crystals (for example, NaCl).

If a crystal or molecule consists of atoms of more than one kind, the distribution of charges around an atom in the crystal or molecule leans to positive or negative. As a result, when lattice vibrations or molecular vibrations induce relative displacements of the atoms, the centers of positive and negative charges are also displaced. The locations of these centers are affected by the symmetry of the displacements. When the centers don't correspond, polarization arises in molecules or crystals. This polarization is called ionic polarization.

Ionic polarization causes the ferroelectric effect as well as dipolar polarization. The ferroelectric transition, which is caused by the lining up of the orientations of permanent dipoles along a particular direction, is called an order-disorder phase transition. The transition caused by ionic polarizations in crystals is called a displacive phase transition.

In cells

Ionic polarization enables the production of energy-rich compounds in cells (the proton pump in mitochondria) and, at the plasma membrane, the establishment of the resting potential, energetically unfavourable transport of ions, and cell-to-cell communication (the Na+/K+-ATPase).

All cells in animal body tissues are electrically polarized – in other words, they maintain a voltage difference across the cell's plasma membrane, known as the membrane potential. This electrical polarization results from a complex interplay between ion transporters and ion channels.

In neurons, the types of ion channels in the membrane usually vary across different parts of the cell, giving the dendrites, axon, and cell body different electrical properties. As a result, some parts of the membrane of a neuron may be excitable (capable of generating action potentials), whereas others are not.

Dielectric dispersion

In physics, dielectric dispersion is the dependence of the permittivity of a dielectric material on the frequency of an applied electric field. Because there is a lag between changes in polarization and changes in the electric field, the permittivity of the dielectric is a complicated function of frequency of the electric field. Dielectric dispersion is very important for the applications of dielectric materials and for the analysis of polarization systems.

This is one instance of a general phenomenon known as material dispersion: a frequency-dependent response of a medium for wave propagation.

When the frequency becomes higher:

  1. dipolar polarization can no longer follow the oscillations of the electric field in the microwave region around 1010 Hz;
  2. ionic polarization and molecular distortion polarization can no longer track the electric field past the infrared or far-infrared region around 1013 Hz, ;
  3. electronic polarization loses its response in the ultraviolet region around 1015 Hz.

In the frequency region above ultraviolet, permittivity approaches the constant ε0 in every substance, where ε0 is the permittivity of the free space. Because permittivity indicates the strength of the relation between an electric field and polarization, if a polarization process loses its response, permittivity decreases.

Dielectric relaxation

Dielectric relaxation is the momentary delay (or lag) in the dielectric constant of a material. This is usually caused by the delay in molecular polarization with respect to a changing electric field in a dielectric medium (e.g., inside capacitors or between two large conducting surfaces). Dielectric relaxation in changing electric fields could be considered analogous to hysteresis in changing magnetic fields (e.g., in inductor or transformer cores). Relaxation in general is a delay or lag in the response of a linear system, and therefore dielectric relaxation is measured relative to the expected linear steady state (equilibrium) dielectric values. The time lag between electrical field and polarization implies an irreversible degradation of Gibbs free energy.

In physics, dielectric relaxation refers to the relaxation response of a dielectric medium to an external, oscillating electric field. This relaxation is often described in terms of permittivity as a function of frequency, which can, for ideal systems, be described by the Debye equation. On the other hand, the distortion related to ionic and electronic polarization shows behavior of the resonance or oscillator type. The character of the distortion process depends on the structure, composition, and surroundings of the sample.

Debye relaxation

Debye relaxation is the dielectric relaxation response of an ideal, noninteracting population of dipoles to an alternating external electric field. It is usually expressed in the complex permittivity ε of a medium as a function of the field's frequency ω:

where ε is the permittivity at the high frequency limit, Δε = εsε where εs is the static, low frequency permittivity, and τ is the characteristic relaxation time of the medium. Separating the real and imaginary parts of the complex dielectric permittivity yields:[8]

The dielectric loss is also represented by:

This relaxation model was introduced by and named after the physicist Peter Debye (1913).[9] It is characteristic for dynamic polarization with only one relaxation time.

Variants of the Debye equation

Cole–Cole equation
This equation is used when the dielectric loss peak shows symmetric broadening.
Cole–Davidson equation
This equation is used when the dielectric loss peak shows asymmetric broadening.
Havriliak–Negami relaxation
This equation considers both symmetric and asymmetric broadening.
Kohlrausch–Williams–Watts function
Fourier transform of stretched exponential function.
Curie–von Schweidler law
This shows the response of dielectrics to an applied DC field to behave according to a power law, which can be expressed as an integral over weighted exponential functions..


Paraelectricity is the ability of many materials (specifically ceramics) to become polarized under an applied electric field. Unlike ferroelectricity, this can happen even if there is no permanent electric dipole that exists in the material, and removal of the fields results in the polarization in the material returning to zero.[10] The mechanisms that cause paraelectric behaviour are the distortion of individual ions (displacement of the electron cloud from the nucleus) and polarization of molecules or combinations of ions or defects.

Paraelectricity can occur in crystal phases where electric dipoles are unaligned and thus have the potential to align in an external electric field and weaken it.

An example of a paraelectric material of high dielectric constant is strontium titanate.

The LiNbO3 crystal is ferroelectric below 1430 K, and above this temperature it transforms into a disordered paraelectric phase. Similarly, other perovskites also exhibit paraelectricity at high temperatures.

Paraelectricity has been explored as a possible refrigeration mechanism; polarizing a paraelectric by applying an electric field under adiabatic process conditions raises the temperature, while removing the field lowers the temperature.[11] A heat pump that operates by polarizing the paraelectric, allowing it to return to ambient temperature (by dissipating the extra heat), bringing it into contact with the object to be cooled, and finally depolarizing it, would result in refrigeration.


Tunable dielectrics are insulators whose ability to store electrical charge changes when a voltage is applied.[12][13]

Generally, strontium titanate (SrTiO
) is used for devices operating at low temperatures, while barium strontium titanate (Ba
) substitutes for room temperature devices. Other potential materials include microwave dielectrics and carbon nanotube (CNT) composites.[12][14][15]

In 2013 multi-sheet layers of strontium titanate interleaved with single layers of strontium oxide produced a dielectric capable of operating at up to 125 GHz. The material was created via molecular beam epitaxy. The two have mismatched crystal spacing that produces strain within the strontium titanate layer that makes it less stable and tunable.[12]

Systems such as Ba
have a paraelectric–ferroelectric transition just below ambient temperature, providing high tunability. Such films suffer significant losses arising from defects.



Capacitor schematic with dielectric
Charge separation in a parallel-plate capacitor causes an internal electric field. A dielectric (orange) reduces the field and increases the capacitance.

Commercially manufactured capacitors typically use a solid dielectric material with high permittivity as the intervening medium between the stored positive and negative charges. This material is often referred to in technical contexts as the capacitor dielectric.[16]

The most obvious advantage to using such a dielectric material is that it prevents the conducting plates, on which the charges are stored, from coming into direct electrical contact. More significantly, however, a high permittivity allows a greater stored charge at a given voltage. This can be seen by treating the case of a linear dielectric with permittivity ε and thickness d between two conducting plates with uniform charge density σε. In this case the charge density is given by

and the capacitance per unit area by

From this, it can easily be seen that a larger ε leads to greater charge stored and thus greater capacitance.

Dielectric materials used for capacitors are also chosen such that they are resistant to ionization. This allows the capacitor to operate at higher voltages before the insulating dielectric ionizes and begins to allow undesirable current.

Dielectric resonator

A dielectric resonator oscillator (DRO) is an electronic component that exhibits resonance of the polarization response for a narrow range of frequencies, generally in the microwave band. It consists of a "puck" of ceramic that has a large dielectric constant and a low dissipation factor. Such resonators are often used to provide a frequency reference in an oscillator circuit. An unshielded dielectric resonator can be used as a dielectric resonator antenna (DRA).

BST thin films

From 2002 to 2004, the Army Research Laboratory (ARL) conducted research on thin film technology. Barium strontium titanate (BST), a ferroelectric thin film, was studied for the fabrication of radio frequency and microwave components, such as voltage-controlled oscillators, tunable filters, and phase shifters.[17]

The research was part of an effort to provide the Army with highly-tunable, microwave-compatible materials for broadband electric-field tunable devices, which operate consistently in extreme temperatures.[18] This work improved tunability of bulk barium strontium titanate, which is a thin film enabler for electronics components.[19]

In a 2004 research paper, ARL researchers explored how small concentrations of acceptor dopants can dramatically modify the properties of ferroelectric materials such as BST.[20]

Researchers “doped” BST thin films with magnesium, analyzing the “structure, microstructure, surface morphology and film/substrate compositional quality” of the result. The Mg doped BST films showed “improved dielectric properties, low leakage current, and good tunability,” meriting potential for use in microwave tunable devices.[17]

Some practical dielectrics

Dielectric materials can be solids, liquids, or gases. In addition, a high vacuum can also be a useful,[21] nearly lossless dielectric even though its relative dielectric constant is only unity.

Solid dielectrics are perhaps the most commonly used dielectrics in electrical engineering, and many solids are very good insulators. Some examples include porcelain, glass, and most plastics. Air, nitrogen and sulfur hexafluoride are the three most commonly used gaseous dielectrics.

  • Industrial coatings such as parylene provide a dielectric barrier between the substrate and its environment.
  • Mineral oil is used extensively inside electrical transformers as a fluid dielectric and to assist in cooling. Dielectric fluids with higher dielectric constants, such as electrical grade castor oil, are often used in high voltage capacitors to help prevent corona discharge and increase capacitance.
  • Because dielectrics resist the flow of electricity, the surface of a dielectric may retain stranded excess electrical charges. This may occur accidentally when the dielectric is rubbed (the triboelectric effect). This can be useful, as in a Van de Graaff generator or electrophorus, or it can be potentially destructive as in the case of electrostatic discharge.
  • Specially processed dielectrics, called electrets (which should not be confused with ferroelectrics), may retain excess internal charge or "frozen in" polarization. Electrets have a semipermanent electric field, and are the electrostatic equivalent to magnets. Electrets have numerous practical applications in the home and industry.
  • Some dielectrics can generate a potential difference when subjected to mechanical stress, or (equivalently) change physical shape if an external voltage is applied across the material. This property is called piezoelectricity. Piezoelectric materials are another class of very useful dielectrics.
  • Some ionic crystals and polymer dielectrics exhibit a spontaneous dipole moment, which can be reversed by an externally applied electric field. This behavior is called the ferroelectric effect. These materials are analogous to the way ferromagnetic materials behave within an externally applied magnetic field. Ferroelectric materials often have very high dielectric constants, making them quite useful for capacitors.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Dielectric. Encyclopædia Britannica: "Dielectric, insulating material or a very poor conductor of electric current. When dielectrics are placed in an electric field, practically no current flows in them because, unlike metals, they have no loosely bound, or free, electrons that may drift through the material."
  2. ^ Arthur R. von Hippel, in his seminal work, Dielectric Materials and Applications, stated: "Dielectrics... are not a narrow class of so-called insulators, but the broad expanse of nonmetals considered from the standpoint of their interaction with electric, magnetic, or electromagnetic fields. Thus we are concerned with gases as well as with liquids and solids, and with the storage of electric and magnetic energy as well as its dissipation." (Technology Press of MIT and John Wiley, NY, 1954).
  3. ^ Thoms, E.; Sippel, P.; et., al. (2017). "Dielectric study on mixtures of ionic liquids". Sci. Rep. 7 (1): 7463. arXiv:1703.05625. Bibcode:2017NatSR...7.7463T. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-07982-3. PMC 5547043. PMID 28785071.
  4. ^ Belkin, A.; Bezryadin, A.; Hendren, L.; Hubler, A. (2017). "Recovery of Alumina Nanocapacitors after High Voltage Breakdown". Sci. Rep. 7: 932. Bibcode:2017NatSR...7..932B. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-01007-9. PMID 28428625.
  5. ^ Daintith, J. (1994). Biographical Encyclopedia of Scientists. CRC Press. p. 943. ISBN 978-0-7503-0287-6.
  6. ^ James, Frank A.J.L., editor. The Correspondence of Michael Faraday, Volume 3, 1841–1848, "Letter 1798, William Whewell to Faraday, p. 442". The Institution of Electrical Engineers, London, United Kingdom, 1996. ISBN 0-86341-250-5
  7. ^ Microwave Engineering – R. S. Rao (Prof.). Retrieved 2013-11-08.
  8. ^ Kao, Kwan Chi (2004). Dielectric Phenomena in Solids. London: Elsevier Academic Press. pp. 92–93. ISBN 978-0-12-396561-5.
  9. ^ Debye, P. (1913), Ver. Deut. Phys. Gesell. 15, 777; reprinted 1954 in collected papers of Peter J.W. Debye. Interscience, New York
  10. ^ Chiang, Y. et al. (1997) Physical Ceramics, John Wiley & Sons, New York
  11. ^ Kuhn, U.; Lüty, F. (1965). "Paraelectric heating and cooling with OH—dipoles in alkali halides". Solid State Communications. 3 (2): 31. Bibcode:1965SSCom...3...31K. doi:10.1016/0038-1098(65)90060-8.
  12. ^ a b c Lee, Che-Hui; Orloff, Nathan D.; Birol, Turan; Zhu, Ye; Goian, Veronica; Rocas, Eduard; Haislmaier, Ryan; Vlahos, Eftihia; Mundy, Julia A.; Kourkoutis, Lena F.; Nie, Yuefeng; Biegalski, Michael D.; Zhang, Jingshu; Bernhagen, Margitta; Benedek, Nicole A.; Kim, Yongsam; Brock, Joel D.; Uecker, Reinhard; Xi, X. X.; Gopalan, Venkatraman; Nuzhnyy, Dmitry; Kamba, Stanislav; Muller, David A.; Takeuchi, Ichiro; Booth, James C.; Fennie, Craig J.; Schlom, Darrell G. (2013). "Self-correcting crystal may lead to the next generation of advanced communications". Nature. 502 (7472): 532–6. Bibcode:2013Natur.502..532L. doi:10.1038/nature12582. PMID 24132232.
  13. ^ Lee, C. H.; Orloff, N. D.; Birol, T.; Zhu, Y.; Goian, V.; Rocas, E.; Haislmaier, R.; Vlahos, E.; Mundy, J. A.; Kourkoutis, L. F.; Nie, Y.; Biegalski, M. D.; Zhang, J.; Bernhagen, M.; Benedek, N. A.; Kim, Y.; Brock, J. D.; Uecker, R.; Xi, X. X.; Gopalan, V.; Nuzhnyy, D.; Kamba, S.; Muller, D. A.; Takeuchi, I.; Booth, J. C.; Fennie, C. J.; Schlom, D. G. (2013). "Exploiting dimensionality and defect mitigation to create tunable microwave dielectrics". Nature. 502 (7472): 532–536. Bibcode:2013Natur.502..532L. doi:10.1038/nature12582. hdl:2117/21213. PMID 24132232.
  14. ^ Kong, L.B.; Li, S.; Zhang, T.S.; Zhai, J.W.; Boey, F.Y.C.; Ma, J. (2010-11-30). "Electrically tunable dielectric materials and strategies to improve their performances". Progress in Materials Science. 55 (8): 840–893. doi:10.1016/j.pmatsci.2010.04.004.
  15. ^ Giere, A.; Zheng, Y.; Maune, H.; Sazegar, M.; Paul, F.; Zhou, X.; Binder, J. R.; Muller, S.; Jakoby, R. (2008). "Tunable dielectrics for microwave applications". 2008 17th IEEE International Symposium on the Applications of Ferroelectrics. p. 1. doi:10.1109/ISAF.2008.4693753. ISBN 978-1-4244-2744-4.
  16. ^ Müssig, Hans-Joachim. Semiconductor capacitor with praseodymium oxide as dielectric, U.S. Patent 7,113,388 published 2003-11-06, issued 2004-10-18, assigned to IHP GmbH- Innovations for High Performance Microelectronics/Institute Fur Innovative Mikroelektronik
  17. ^ a b "Novel tunable acceptor doped BST thin films for high quality tunable microwave devices". Revista Mexicana de Fi´sica.
  18. ^ Nair, K. M.; Guo, Ruyan; Bhalla, Amar S.; Hirano, S.-I.; Suvorov, D. (2012-04-11). Developments in Dielectric Materials and Electronic Devices: Proceedings of the 106th Annual Meeting of The American Ceramic Society, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA 2004. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 9781118408193.
  19. ^ Nair, K. M.; Bhalla, Amar S.; Hirano, S.-I.; Suvorov, D.; Schwartz, Robert W.; Zhu, Wei (2012-04-11). Ceramic Materials and Multilayer Electronic Devices. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 9781118406762.
  20. ^ Cole, M. W.; Hubbard, C.; Ngo, E.; Ervin, M.; Wood, M.; Geyer, R. G. (July 2002). "Structure–property relationships in pure and acceptor-doped Ba1−xSrxTiO3 thin films for tunable microwave device applications". Journal of Applied Physics. 92 (1): 475–483. Bibcode:2002JAP....92..475C. doi:10.1063/1.1484231. ISSN 0021-8979.
  21. ^ Lyon, David (2013). "Gap size dependence of the dielectric strength in nano vacuum gaps". IEEE Transactions on Dielectrics and Electrical Insulation. 20 (4): 1467–1471. doi:10.1109/TDEI.2013.6571470.

Further reading

External links

Capacitance probe

Capacitance sensors (or Dielectric sensors) use capacitance to measure the dielectric permittivity of a surrounding medium.

The configuration is like the neutron probe where an access tube made of PVC is installed in the soil; probes can also be modular (comb-like) and connected to a logger. The sensing head consists of an oscillator circuit, the frequency is determined by an annular electrode, fringe-effect capacitor, and the dielectric constant of the soil.

Each capacitor sensor consists of two metal rings mounted on the circuit board at some distance from the top of the access tube. These rings are a pair of electrodes, which form the plates of the capacitor with the soil acting as the dielectric in between. The plates are connected to an oscillator, consisting of an inductor and a capacitor. The oscillating electrical field is generated between the two rings and extends into the soil medium through the wall of the access tube. The capacitor and the oscillator form a circuit, and changes in dielectric constant of surrounding media are detected by changes in the operating frequency. The capacitance sensors are designed to oscillate in excess of 100 MHz inside the access tube in free air. The output of the sensor is the frequency response of the soil’s capacitance due to its soil moisture level.


A capacitor is a passive two-terminal electronic component that stores electrical energy in an electric field. The effect of a capacitor is known as capacitance. While some capacitance exists between any two electrical conductors in proximity in a circuit, a capacitor is a component designed to add capacitance to a circuit. The capacitor was originally known as a condenser or condensator. The original name is still widely used in many languages, but not commonly in English.

The physical form and construction of practical capacitors vary widely and many capacitor types are in common use. Most capacitors contain at least two electrical conductors often in the form of metallic plates or surfaces separated by a dielectric medium. A conductor may be a foil, thin film, sintered bead of metal, or an electrolyte. The nonconducting dielectric acts to increase the capacitor's charge capacity. Materials commonly used as dielectrics include glass, ceramic, plastic film, paper, mica, and oxide layers. Capacitors are widely used as parts of electrical circuits in many common electrical devices. Unlike a resistor, an ideal capacitor does not dissipate energy.

When two conductors experience a potential difference, for example, when a capacitor is attached across a battery, an electric field develops across the dielectric, causing a net positive charge to collect on one plate and net negative charge to collect on the other plate. No current actually flows through the dielectric. However, there is a flow of charge through the source circuit. If the condition is maintained sufficiently long, the current through the source circuit ceases. If a time-varying voltage is applied across the leads of the capacitor, the source experiences an ongoing current due to the charging and discharging cycles of the capacitor.

Capacitance is defined as the ratio of the electric charge on each conductor to the potential difference between them. The unit of capacitance in the International System of Units (SI) is the farad (F), defined as one coulomb per volt (1 C/V). Capacitance values of typical capacitors for use in general electronics range from about 1 picofarad (pF) (10−12 F) to about 1 millifarad (mF) (10−3 F).

The capacitance of a capacitor is proportional to the surface area of the plates (conductors) and inversely related to the gap between them. In practice, the dielectric between the plates passes a small amount of leakage current. It has an electric field strength limit, known as the breakdown voltage. The conductors and leads introduce an undesired inductance and resistance.

Capacitors are widely used in electronic circuits for blocking direct current while allowing alternating current to pass. In analog filter networks, they smooth the output of power supplies. In resonant circuits they tune radios to particular frequencies. In electric power transmission systems, they stabilize voltage and power flow. The property of energy storage in capacitors was exploited as dynamic memory in early digital computers.

Capacitor types

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

Capacitors, together with resistors, and inductors, belong to the group of "passive components" used in electronic equipment. Although, in absolute figures, the most common capacitors are integrated capacitors (e.g. in DRAMs or flash memory structures), this article is concentrated on the various styles of capacitors as discrete components.

Small capacitors are used in electronic devices to couple signals between stages of amplifiers, as components of electric filters and tuned circuits, or as parts of power supply systems to smooth rectified current. Larger capacitors are used for energy storage in such applications as strobe lights, as parts of some types of electric motors, or for power factor correction in AC power distribution systems. Standard capacitors have a fixed value of capacitance, but adjustable capacitors are frequently used in tuned circuits. Different types are used depending on required capacitance, working voltage, current handling capacity, and other properties.

Coaxial cable

Coaxial cable, or coax (pronounced ), is a type of electrical cable that has an inner conductor surrounded by a tubular insulating layer, surrounded by a tubular conducting shield. Many coaxial cables also have an insulating outer sheath or jacket. The term coaxial comes from the inner conductor and the outer shield sharing a geometric axis. Coaxial cable was invented by English engineer and mathematician Oliver Heaviside, who patented the design in 1880.Coaxial cable is a type of transmission line, used to carry high frequency electrical signals with low losses. It is used in such applications as telephone trunklines, broadband internet networking cables, high speed computer data busses, carrying cable television signals, and connecting radio transmitters and receivers to their antennas. It differs from other shielded cables because the dimensions of the cable and connectors are controlled to give a precise, constant conductor spacing, which is needed for it to function efficiently as a transmission line.

Dielectric heating

Dielectric heating, also known as electronic heating, radio frequency heating, and high-frequency heating, is the process in which a radio frequency (RF) alternating electric field, or radio wave or microwave electromagnetic radiation heats a dielectric material. At higher frequencies, this heating is caused by molecular dipole rotation within the dielectric.

RF dielectric heating at intermediate frequencies, due to its greater penetration over microwave heating, shows greater promise than microwave systems as a method of very rapidly heating and uniformly preparing certain food items, and also killing parasites and pests in certain harvested crops.

Dielectric resonator antenna

A dielectric resonator antenna (DRA) is a radio antenna mostly used at microwave frequencies and higher, that consists of a block of ceramic material of various shapes, the dielectric resonator, mounted on a metal surface, a ground plane. Radio waves are introduced into the inside of the resonator material from the transmitter circuit and bounce back and forth between the resonator walls, forming standing waves. The walls of the resonator are partially transparent to radio waves, allowing the radio power to radiate into space.An advantage of dielectric resonator antennas is they lack metal parts, which become lossy at high frequencies, dissipating energy. So these antennas can have lower losses and be more efficient than metal antennas at high microwave and millimeter wave frequencies. Dielectric waveguide antennas are used in some compact portable wireless devices, and military millimeter-wave radar equipment. The antenna was first proposed by Robert Richtmyer in 1939. In 1982, Long et al. did the first design and test of dielectric resonator antennas considering a leaky waveguide model assuming magnetic conductor model of the dielectric surface .An antenna like effect is achieved by periodic swing of electrons from its capacitive element to the ground plane which behaves like an inductor. The authors further argued that the operation of a dielectric antenna resembles the antenna conceived by Marconi, the only difference is that inductive element is replaced by the dielectric material.

Dielectric strength

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

Of a pure insulating material, the maximum electric field that the material can withstand under ideal conditions without breaking down (i.e. without failure of its insulating properties).

For a specific configuration of dielectric material and electrodes, the minimum applied electric field (i.e. the applied voltage divided by electrode separation distance) that results in breakdown. This is the concept of breakdown voltage.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.

Electrical breakdown

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 (as in an electrostatic discharge), or may lead to a continuous arc if protective devices fail to interrupt the current in a power circuit.

Under sufficient electrical stress, electrical breakdown can occur within solids, liquids, gases or vacuum. However, the specific breakdown mechanisms are different for each kind of dielectric medium.

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.

When the voltage between the two electrodes is increased, the intensity of the electric field in the volume between the electrodes becomes greater than the strength of the dielectric (at least in some places), which breaks down, allowing current to flow between the two electrodes. This phenomenon is the same as the breakdown of a capacitor (condenser) (see also breakdown voltage). As a result, material is removed from the electrodes. Once the current stops (or is stopped, depending on the type of generator), new liquid dielectric is usually conveyed into the inter-electrode volume, enabling the solid particles (debris) to be carried away and the insulating properties of the dielectric to be restored. Adding new liquid dielectric in the inter-electrode volume is commonly referred to as "flushing." Also, after a current flow, the difference of potential between the electrodes is restored to what it was before the breakdown, so that a new liquid dielectric breakdown can occur.

Frequency domain sensor

Frequency domain (FD) sensor is an instrument developed for measuring soil moisture content. The instrument has an oscillating circuit, the sensing part of the sensor is embedded in the soil, and the operating frequency will depend on the value of soil's dielectric constant.

There are two types of sensors:

Capacitance probe, or fringe capacitance sensor. Capacitance probes use capacitance to measure the dielectric permittivity of the soil. The volume of water in the total volume of soil most heavily influences the dielectric permittivity of the soil because the dielectric constant of water (80) is much greater than the other constituents of the soil (mineral soil: 4, organic matter: 4, air: 1). Thus, when the amount of water changes in the soil, the probe will measure a change in capacitance (from the change in dielectric permittivity) that can be directly correlated with a change in water content. Circuitry inside some commercial probes change the capacitance measurement into a proportional millivolt output. Other configuration are like the neutron probe where an access tube made of PVC is installed in the soil. The probe consists of sensing head at fixed depth. The sensing head consists of an oscillator circuit, the frequency is determined by an annular electrode, fringe-effect capacitor, and the dielectric constant of the soil.

Electrical impedance sensor, which consists of soil probes and using electrical impedance measurement. The most common configuration is based on the standing wave principle (Gaskin & Miller, 1996). The device comprises a 100 MHz sinusoidal oscillator, a fixed impedance coaxial transmission line, and probe wires which is buried in the soil. The oscillator signal is propagated along the transmission line into the soil probe, and if the probe's impedance differs from that of the transmission line, a proportion of the incident signal is reflected back along the line towards the signal source.Compared to time domain reflectometer (TDR), FD sensors are cheaper to build and have a faster response time. However, because of the complex electrical field around the probe, the sensor needs to be calibrated for different soil types. Some commercial sensors have been able to remove the soil type sensitivity by using a high frequency.

High-κ dielectric

The term high-κ dielectric refers to a material with a high dielectric constant κ (as compared to silicon dioxide). High-κ dielectrics are used in semiconductor manufacturing processes where they are usually used to replace a silicon dioxide gate dielectric or another dielectric layer of a device. The implementation of high-κ gate dielectrics is one of several strategies developed to allow further miniaturization of microelectronic components, colloquially referred to as extending Moore's Law.

Sometimes these materials are called "high-k" instead of "high-κ" (high kappa).


In electromagnetism, absolute permittivity, often simply called permittivity, usually denoted by the Greek letter ε (epsilon), is the measure of capacitance that is encountered when forming an electric field in a particular medium. More specifically, permittivity describes the amount of charge needed to generate one unit of electric flux in a particular medium. Accordingly, a charge will yield more electric flux in a medium with low permittivity than in a medium with high permittivity. Permittivity is the measure of a material's ability to store an electric field in the polarization of the medium.

The SI unit for permittivity is farad per meter (F/m or F·m−1).

The lowest possible permittivity is that of a vacuum. Vacuum permittivity, sometimes called the electric constant, is represented by ε0 and has a value of approximately 8.85×10−12 F/m.

The permittivity of a dielectric medium is often represented by the ratio of its absolute permittivity to the electric constant. This dimensionless quantity is called the medium’s relative permittivity, sometimes also called "permittivity". Relative permittivity is also commonly referred to as the dielectric constant, a term which has been deprecated in physics and engineering as well as in chemistry.

By definition, a perfect vacuum has a relative permittivity of exactly 1. The difference in permittivity between a vacuum and air can often be considered negligible, as κair = 1.0006.

Relative permittivity is directly related to electric susceptibility (χ), which is a measure of how easily a dielectric polarizes in response to an electric field, given by

otherwise written as

Polarization density

In classical electromagnetism, polarization density (or electric polarization, or simply polarization) is the vector field that expresses the density of permanent or induced electric dipole moments in a dielectric material. When a dielectric is placed in an external electric field, its molecules gain electric dipole moment and the dielectric is said to be polarized. The electric dipole moment induced per unit volume of the dielectric material is called the electric polarization of the dielectric.Polarization density also describes how a material responds to an applied electric field as well as the way the material changes the electric field, and can be used to calculate the forces that result from those interactions. It can be compared to magnetization, which is the measure of the corresponding response of a material to a magnetic field in magnetism. The SI unit of measure is coulombs per square meter, and polarization density is represented by a vector P.

Relative permittivity

The relative permittivity of a material is its (absolute) permittivity expressed as a ratio relative to the permittivity of vacuum.

Permittivity is a material property that affects the Coulomb force between two point charges in the material. Relative permittivity is the factor by which the electric field between the charges is decreased relative to vacuum.

Likewise, relative permittivity is the ratio of the capacitance of a capacitor using that material as a dielectric, compared with a similar capacitor that has vacuum as its dielectric. Relative permittivity is also commonly known as dielectric constant, a term deprecated in engineering as well as in chemistry.

Sulfur hexafluoride

Sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) is an inorganic, colorless, odorless, non-flammable, extremely potent greenhouse gas, and an excellent electrical insulator. SF6 has an octahedral geometry, consisting of six fluorine atoms attached to a central sulfur atom. It is a hypervalent molecule. Typical for a nonpolar gas, it is poorly soluble in water but quite soluble in nonpolar organic solvents. It is generally transported as a liquefied compressed gas. It has a density of 6.12 g/L at sea level conditions, considerably higher than the density of air (1.225 g/L).

Thick-film dielectric electroluminescent technology

Thick-film dielectric electroluminescent (TDEL) technology is a phosphor-based flat panel display technology developed by Canadian company iFire Technology Corp. TDEL is based on inorganic electroluminescent (IEL) technology and has a novel structure that combines both thick- and thin-film processes. An IEL device generates light by applying an alternating electrical field to inorganic light-emitting phosphors. Traditional IEL displays are bright, very fast in video response time and highly tolerant of environmental extremes. However, the lack of full-color capability and large-size scalability has limited their application for the mainstream consumer television market. iFire has addressed these limitations by replacing the thin-film dielectric of traditional IEL technology with its patented thick-film, high-K dielectric material and structure. The result is a unique flat panel display technology that provides iFire displays with high performance and low cost potential. iFire was unable to develop displays competitive with LCD, plasma and OLED devices and wound up research and development in 2007.

Vacuum permittivity

The physical constant ε0 (pronounced as “epsilon nought” or “epsilon zero”), commonly called the vacuum permittivity, permittivity of free space or electric constant or the distributed capacitance of the vacuum, is an ideal, (baseline) physical constant, which is the value of the absolute dielectric permittivity of classical vacuum. It has an exactly defined value that can be approximated as

ε0 = 8.854187817...×10−12 F⋅m−1 (farads per metre).

It is the capability of the vacuum to permit electric field lines. This constant relates the units for electric charge to mechanical quantities such as length and force. For example, the force between two separated electric charges (in the vacuum of classical electromagnetism) is given by Coulomb's law:

The value of the constant fraction is approximately 9 × 109 N⋅m2⋅C−2, q1 and q2 are the charges, and r is the distance between them. Likewise, ε0 appears in Maxwell's equations, which describe the properties of electric and magnetic fields and electromagnetic radiation, and relate them to their sources.

Waveguide (electromagnetism)

In electromagnetics and communications engineering, the term waveguide may refer to any linear structure that conveys electromagnetic waves between its endpoints. However, the original and most common meaning is a hollow metal pipe used to carry radio waves. This type of waveguide is used as a transmission line mostly at microwave frequencies, for such purposes as connecting microwave transmitters and receivers to their antennas, in equipment such as microwave ovens, radar sets, satellite communications, and microwave radio links.

A dielectric waveguide employs a solid dielectric rod rather than a hollow pipe. An optical fibre is a dielectric guide designed to work at optical frequencies. Transmission lines such as microstrip, coplanar waveguide, stripline or coaxial cable may also be considered to be waveguides.

The electromagnetic waves in a (metal-pipe) waveguide may be imagined as travelling down the guide in a zig-zag path, being repeatedly reflected between opposite walls of the guide. For the particular case of rectangular waveguide, it is possible to base an exact analysis on this view. Propagation in a dielectric waveguide may be viewed in the same way, with the waves confined to the dielectric by total internal reflection at its surface. Some structures, such as non-radiative dielectric waveguides and the Goubau line, use both metal walls and dielectric surfaces to confine the wave.

Waveguide (optics)

An optical waveguide is a physical structure that guides electromagnetic waves in the optical spectrum. Common types of optical waveguides include optical fiber and rectangular waveguides.

Optical waveguides are used as components in integrated optical circuits or as the transmission medium in local and long haul optical communication systems.

Optical waveguides can be classified according to their geometry (planar, strip, or fiber waveguides), mode structure (single-mode, multi-mode), refractive index distribution (step or gradient index) and material (glass, polymer, semiconductor).

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