Phenomenology of streamer propagation during pulsed dielectric surface flashover

George Laity, Andreas Neuber, Andrew Fierro, James Dickens, Lynn Hatfield

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


There is a growing demand for understanding the physics of surface flashover, as it relates to the breakdown of electric fields on high power systems in the aerospace community. Specifically, the quantitative role of vacuum ultraviolet (VUV) radiation which is self-produced during the initial nanoseconds of surface flashover is virtually unknown. An experiment was constructed which allows detailed electrical and optical measurements of VUV emission during the timescales in which streamers are propagating before the transition into spark discharge. Repeated surface flashover events are generated using a solid-state high voltage pulser, with breakdown recorded in a number of gases at atmospheric pressure. Streamers are photographed using fast optical imaging with 3 ns resolution. Fast voltage and current diagnostics revealed a number of distinct stages of streamer development ranging from the onset of cathode directed streamers to the sharp current rise during final voltage collapse. The emission of VUV radiation is discussed in context to the observed streamer and electrical characteristics.

Original languageEnglish
Article number5976080
Pages (from-to)946-953
Number of pages8
JournalIEEE Transactions on Dielectrics and Electrical Insulation
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2011


  • Surface flashover
  • electrical breakdown
  • pulsed power
  • spectroscopy
  • streamers
  • ultraviolet radiation


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