# Is dielectric necessary in capacitors?

Why do capacitors need dielectrics (insulators) in between the two plates(conductors)?What if there is no dielectric in capacitors ?Function of a capacitor is " a capacitor stores energy in the form of an electrostatic field between its plates"
Let's say there is a conductor is between them instead of an insulator I think electrostatic field would be formed in between the plates and hence capacitor will store energy.So,it comes out that what is necessary for formation of capacitor is there has to be some separation in between the two conductors (plates)of capacitor .
Is dielectric necessary in capacitors?
should be "NO",Right?

Is dielectric necessary in capacitors?
Of course not. You can have capacitors where a vacuum exists between the plates.

Of course not. You can have capacitors where a vacuum exists between the plates.

While there doesn't need to be a dielectric, there can't just be a conductor between the plates. There needs to be some sort of barrier to stop current from flowing. gracy, if there were a conductor, then the current would just flow from one plate to the other and there would not be any charges built up on either plate.

While there doesn't need to be a dielectric, there can't just be a conductor between the plates. There needs to be some sort of barrier to stop current from flowing. gracy, if there were a conductor, then the current would just flow from one plate to the other and there would not be any charges built up on either plate.
I think you've quoted me when you actually intended to quote the OP.

I meant to add to what you said in response to OP.

berkeman
Mentor
Is dielectric necessary in capacitors?
should be "NO",Right?
As has been explained, the correct answer is indeed No.

*But* why do we use dielectrics in capacitors? They have a purpose that goes beyond just providing insulation between the plates. Can you post the Relevant Equation and explain why dielectric materials are used in capacitors?

Seems the term "dielectric just means the 2 plates are held apart, because if they touch then the charge would equalize. So the spacer ( dielectric) needs to be a non-conductor, in other words, an insulator. Of course it doesn't need to be 'stuff" it could be air or as someone pointed out, in space the distance wouldn't even have air molecules between the plates.
Me thinks this is what you are asking, Mike

*But* why do we use dielectrics in capacitors? They have a purpose that goes beyond just providing insulation between the plates. Can you post the Relevant Equation and explain why dielectric materials are used in capacitors?

Of course it doesn't need to be 'stuff" it could be air or as someone pointed out, in space the distance wouldn't even have air molecules between the plates.
Me thinks this is what you are asking, Mike

If I found the correct formula that berkeman was referring to, I think that the use of a dielectric increases the amount of charge that can be stored for a given applied voltage. The larger the value of permittivity, ##\epsilon##, the more charge can be stored.

I could be wrong. I never quite did well with electricity although this is more on the theoretical side which is good. Back in school when we started talking circuits all of the engineering students got excited and the physics students tried to hide in our rooms with our frictionless spheres* and vacuums.

*unless it is rolling in which case the friction is unbounded, of course.

berkeman
Mentor
If I found the correct formula that berkeman was referring to, I think that the use of a dielectric increases the amount of charge that can be stored for a given applied voltage. The larger the value of permittivity, ϵ\epsilon, the more charge can be stored.
That is correct.

If I found the correct formula that berkeman was referring to, I think that the use of a dielectric increases the amount of charge that can be stored for a given applied voltage. The larger the value of permittivity, ϵ\epsilon, the more charge can be stored.
berkeman had asked this question to the OP (to help her learn the concept). It wasn't supposed to be answered by us!

berkeman
berkeman
Mentor
berkeman had asked this question to the OP (to help her learn the concept). It wasn't supposed to be answered by us!
True, but Gracy was a bit slow in responding, and this poster seemed to learn from the question. I'm okay with it in this case.

fresh_42
Mentor
True, but Gracy was a bit slow in responding, and this poster seemed to learn from the question. I'm okay with it in this case.
And so was I, since I had been waiting for any answers, too. Although I was hoping for something less obvious. Reading about it left me same as Mike with 'dielectric' being used for any spacer, even vacuum. Additionally in Wiki I've read the following: (my translation)

"Vacuum capacitors are of advantage at high frequency currents and voltages in the kV range. They are preferably used in radio transmitters with a high output power."

Why?

sophiecentaur
Gold Member
2020 Award
" a capacitor stores energy in the form of an electrostatic field between its plates"
That reads more like a Dictionary entry than a useful piece of technical description.

They are preferably used in radio transmitters with a high output power."

Why?
1. They have good insulation properties.
2. There is very little loss involved - which can be very relevant when dealing with high power RF (little heating of the device)
3. The low Capacitances of Vacuum Capacitors is appropriagte to high RF frequencies.
4. They are very reliable
5. They also look very pretty; like an expensive designer table lamp.

nsaspook
fresh_42
Mentor
Thank you, esp. for #5

And so was I, since I had been waiting for any answers, too. Although I was hoping for something less obvious. Reading about it left me same as Mike with 'dielectric' being used for any spacer, even vacuum. Additionally in Wiki I've read the following: (my translation)

"Vacuum capacitors are of advantage at high frequency currents and voltages in the kV range. They are preferably used in radio transmitters with a high output power."

Why?

I only posted the part that you could guess. If you check on the wiki page you can find the pertinent integral that will give a better understanding.

You are right about the extra charge with the choice of dielectric material and it is not just something that keeps the plates apart
Both Myself and Gracie have benefited and learned something here

Best, Mike

gracy
NascentOxygen
Staff Emeritus

"Vacuum capacitors are of advantage at high frequency currents and voltages in the kV range. They are preferably used in radio transmitters with a high output power."

Why?
Somewhere in here you'll find the advantage that a vacuum has of being "self-healing": if there's a flashover between the plates due to momentary excessive voltage, the capacitor is undamaged and immediately again "good to go" like new.

DrewD, sophiecentaur and fresh_42
sophiecentaur
Gold Member
2020 Award
It's worth mentioning something of how the dielectric works. Although it is an insulator, it allows displacement of charges in its molecules (polarisation) with a modest Elecric Field across it although the charges cannot actually flow. So, given the E field between just two metal plates, will permit a small amount of polarisation for a given PD (i.e. a low Capacitance). Adding a dielectric will increase the polarisation by a factor of the 'dielectric constant' of the dielectric. The dielectric has allowed charges to appear right next to each plate, rather than the full separation would allow, which is the equivalent of having the plates much closer together. Apart from the small problem of its conductivity, a block of metal would do the same - leaving a tiny gap between this block and the plates. Much higher capacitance but it would only operate at a tiny PD before breakdown.
When the operating frequency is very low, there are many dielectrics that can be used but. when AC is put across them, the continual reciprocating movement of the charges (polarisation) dissipates energy. This gets worse ( pro rata with frequency). For high frequency Capacitors, more expensive dielectrics, with lower dielectric constants have to be used. Ceramics are used for the highest frequencies. (Vac-caps aren't suitable for PCB mounting!).
It is an interesting exercise to look in a electronics supplier's catalogue and see how the maximum value of Capacitance for a given construction type, relates to the maximum suitable frequency. For significantly high frequencies, the parasitic Inductance of the Capacitor becomes relevant, too. But that's another story.

berkeman
fresh_42
Mentor
So, finally, there is only one more question left behind.