dielectric (dĪˌĭlĕkˈtrĭk) [key], material that does not conduct electricity readily, i.e., an insulator (see insulation). A good dielectric should also have other properties: It must resist breakdown under high voltages; it should not itself draw appreciable power from the circuit; it must have reasonable physical stability; and none of its characteristics should vary much over a fairly wide temperature range. One important application of dielectrics is as the material separating the plates of a capacitor. A capacitor with plates of a given area will vary in its ability to store electric charge depending on the material separating the plates. On the basis of this variation each insulating material can be assigned a dielectric constant. Generally, the dielectric constant of air is defined as 1 and other dielectric constants are determined with reference to it. Other properties of interest in a dielectric are dielectric strength, a measure of the maximum voltage it can sustain without significant conduction, and the degree to which it is free from power losses.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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