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Can an extreme electric field break down a conductor?

  1. Dec 19, 2008 #1
    Suppose you have a long wire. One end of the wire is close to a very very strong source of electric field. It is my understanding that the electrons responsible for bonding in a metal are also those responsible for conduction. If you have an extreme electric field near to the conductor, and those conduction electrons are pushed away, would this lead to breaking of bonds and discintigration of the conductor?

    Perhaps my view of bonding in metals is far too simplistic?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 19, 2008 #2
    In case you have a very strong electrical field applying to the wire, the free electrons in the wire would be swept to the other end so in the first end, there are no electrons and the metarial is just like an insulator. The 'metal' then may become crusty
  4. Dec 20, 2008 #3


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    Having a strong electric field at the surface of a conductor can lead to electron emission (cold emission). It is a phenomenon that is used in many things.

    Inside a conductor, an electric field will lead to a current, and in fact, before the field becomes strong, your main problem will be the joule effect: you will melt your conductor long before the field itself becomes a problem.

    The same applies also to the emission of electrons: if you would put two conductors near eachother in a vacuum, and apply such a strong field between them that you get strong electron emission, I guess (but I'm not sure here) that you would get much more problems with heat development by the electron beam you are now generating than by disrupting the atomic structure of the material due to the field strength.
  5. Dec 20, 2008 #4
    The phenomena is called field emission and needs a potential gradient which depends on the separating medium.It has several applications and to see the effect at its most dramatic look at a lightning strike.
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